Why Blue Monk is 2010’s Most Anticipated Restaurant
When Mike Shatzel, heir to the Cole’s empire, partnered with the Brinkworth family to turn Elmwood’s moldering Merlin’s into a Belgian beer bar, Buffalo’s restaurant world held its breath. And so did everyone and anyone within 20 miles who likes to drink quality beer.
After a complete overhaul of the building, a prolonged approval process with the State Liquor Authority and the resolution of a zoning issue, Blue Monk finally opened its freshly polished doors at the beginning of October. While the kitchen readied itself for a surge of excited eaters enticed by the promise of Buffalo’s first gastropub, beer drinkers broke in every glass in the house. A bevy of fine Belgian beers and handcrafted niche ales fill the towering wall-mounted chalkboard menus, and a full arrangement of traditional European beer glasses line the shelves behind the bar. The new hotspot has been so busy that passers by have lost the ability to see into the location, the view blocked by the constant mass of beer connoisseurs pressed against the front window.
Just last Wednesday the kitchen unleashed their well-thought yet modest menu, laden with dishes that are both beer-friendly and beer inspired. The kitchen, guided by Shatzel and unsung kitchen hero Chef Dino DeBell, is headed up by Chef Rich Hollister and his sous, RJ Marvin. In preparation, Shatzel and DeBell visited some of the world’s best bars, including Father’s Office in Los Angeles, Toronado Pub in San Francisco and Gollem in Amsterdam. Working with Hollister they’ve launched a menu that serves as an introduction to their overall goals for the location. Approachable, focused and innovative, the offerings hover around the $12 mark and are of good quality, often in portions designed to share.
Many of the dishes incorporate beer in their preparation. Bleu cheese - a good friend to many Belgian-style beers - can be found in multiple applications.
Starters include poutine served in a large cast iron crock. Piled high with handcut French fries and drizzled in flavorful brown gravy, the classic Canadian dish is topped with a melted cap of remarkably un-greasy cheese. Other fries are offered, as are housemade chips, cooked in glorious duck fat and served with your choice of flavor-infused aiolis or ketchups (the chipotle and bacon is very good, but the roasted garlic with sea salt is better).
Mussels are here as well, served three ways. Perhaps the best dish on the menu is one of them, a hefty portion served with a perfectly balanced (and drinkable) broth of lemon, leeks, garlic, cream and Ommegang Witte. The fritto misto is easily one of the city’s best interpretations of the classic dish. A mix of ground Arborio rice and flour make for a crispy exterior on tender calamari, plump shrimp, green olives and lemon wedges. The accompanying mustard sauce – served in a shallow pool on the bottom of the plate as it should be, rather than poured on top – is bright and addictive-- a perfect complement to the rest of the ingredients.
A duck confit reuben, meatballs made with bleu cheese and served with veal demi glace (pictured), a prime bleu cheese burger and other meat-centric dishes fill out the menu, with a daily family-style mac and cheese special winding things up.
Although light on offerings for true vegetarians (the no chicken or fish variety), the Blue Monk menu offers ample complex and beer-friendly flavors sure to delight any discerning foodie.
Blue Monk doesn’t yet have a website, and it is likely that the menu will evolve over the next month or two. Daily specials are expected to be seasonal in nature, using local ingredients when available. And, as with everything these days, it seems the best way to stay on top of Blue Monk’s new beer arrivals and daily specials is to “like” them on Facebook.
727 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo. 886-1449