The Stanley O’Brien—a study in working-class ethnic ecumenism.
The Stanley O’Brien—a study in working-class ethnic ecumenism.

Spotlight: Buffalo Distilling Co.

by / Oct. 4, 2017 4pm EST

Spotlight: Buffalo Distilling Co.

At the distillery’s Larkinville tasting room, Roy Bakos has created a heartwarming and delicious bar menu

You can find Buffalo Distilling Co. (860 Seneca Street) on the outer edge of Larkinville. Once inside the distillery and tasting room, there is a great chance you might start up a conversation with an affable man named Roy Bakos. While Roy seems like the perfect patron to run into—moving from politics, to sports, and then to literature—he actually works there and has one of the best titles in Buffalo’s food and beverage industry: Director of Hospitality and Pleasures. 

Bakos was telling a group of four multi-generational women out for a birthday party, myself, and my dining companion why Buffalo Distilling’s Tasting Room has Genesee Cream Ale available: “There’s a bar on the East Side that I absolutely love. First time I went there, I looked at the menu, I tried to order a couple of different things, and the woman who runs it said, ‘We don’t have that. You’ll get what we have.’” In betweens smiles and guffaws, he continued, “When I asked what kind of beer they had she answered, ‘Genny Cream.’ So I had a Genny Cream Ale.”

While the old mom-and-pop may not have the most customer-friendly model, Bakos does admire the simplicity of the approach. When tasked with creating a food menu for a tasting room that uses a toaster oven, he kept it simple. And tasty. In fact, it is a perfect pub menu created by a man who has spent his life surrounded by rye bread, Polish sausage, sauerkraut, and Bison chip dip.

And let’s start with the housemade chip dip. It has all the ingredients you would expect to find in the Buffalo staple, with the addition of citrus zest, which brightens the entire experience. Can you have chips, dip, and cocktails? Perhaps some establishments would frown upon it, but not on the outskirts of South Buffalo—and let me be clear, that is a good thing. 

The Stanley O’Brien ($9) is, essentially, Polish Villa II in sandwich form: smoked Polish sausage, kapusta, and horseradish-beet mayo on Mazurek’s rye. Kapusta, for those who may be unaware, is braised sauerkraut with bacon, mushrooms, onions, and garlic. It adds a lovely crunch to the sandwich. Eating this creation sent me back to my grandmother’s house on Weiss Street in Kaisertown. My grand-uncles used to sit in her kitchen, drink, smoke, and argue about politics. I like to think that at the end of the night, or at some point the following afternoon, they would’ve put this together, sat down, and apologized for the outbursts of the previous night.

The Meatball Bomber ($9) is exactly that. The Raintree meatballs are moist, and the attention to detail comes through in the construction. The bottom of the roll has a light layer of cheese topped with “just a little” red sauce. The cheese melts and protects the integrity of the roll from the sauce. On top of the base layer are then the meatballs, of course, and more sauce and cheese. It wasn’t a rush job either, as the cheese spent enough time in the oven to brown a bit.

The closest the menu gets to fusion would have to be the Polska/Cubano ($9). Representing the pork element is, you guessed it, smoked Polish sausage. Combine that with pickles, Webster’s mustard, and cheese and Bakos has his tribute to Junot Díaz and Gabriel García Márquez. For meat-eaters, I would suggest splitting this sandwich and the Stanley O’Brien and then you get the best of both worlds.

My own personal “Man v. Food” quest finished with one of the cheesiest grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever encountered. Undergrounds Grilled Cheese ($7) is made with cheddar, Buffalo Distilling Apple Brandy sweet onions, and horseradish-beet mayo on Mazurek’s rye. One of my favorite things is burnt cheese. There is just something about the combination of the Maillard reaction (basic version: a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars against a hot surface) and the natural umami of cheese that can help me get through the day.

Vegetarians have more options than just the Undergrounds Grilled Cheese. There is a Banh-OFC ($8) made with tofu that can easily be made vegan by omitting the spicy mayonnaise, as well as the ubiquitous Hummus and Veggies ($6) plate.

Should you eat these kind of sandwiches every day? Not if you want to get work done. But, especially as autumn approaches and gives way to winter, you can expect to find me sidled up to the bar having a sandwich and chatting with the Director of Hospitality and Pleasures.