Budget Crunch: O'Brien's Smokehouse
The intoxicating aroma of O’Brien’s Farm Fresh Meats and Smokehouse envelops you as soon as you walk through the door. Although vegetarians could eat here—the cafe serves a gooey Smoky Grilled Cheese ($6.99, with cheddar and provolone)—this is a place for conscientious carnivores who want to know where their beef comes from and how it is raised. O’Brien’s corn-fed beef grazes in nearby North Collins, where there is ample land to roam.
The Village of Hamburg is one of the main gateways between Buffalo and the abundant farmlands of Western New York, where small-scale farmers are contributing to a renaissance in the food distribution system by selling directly to customers at farmers’ markets or once removed through co-ops, delis, and local butchers. O’Brien’s is tapping into a growing trend that has produced places like New York City’s Eataly, which is filled with people eating smack in the middle of the grocers, butchers, fishmongers, and specialty producers that provide the ingredients for their meals.
Although it was cooked beyond the medium rare requested, my luncheon companion found her six-ounce hamburger ($6.99) thoroughly enjoyable. Crunchy coleslaw was substituted for the usual french fries at no extra charge; it was a touch too sweet, but had a nice mayonnaise quotient. If so inclined, she could have stepped over to the counter and bought her own patties and fresh Constanzo’s rolls to prepare the same meal at home. That is if she was not enticed by the melt-in-your-mouth domestic lamb loin chops ($12.99 lb.) and house-made Chicken Spinach Feta Sausage ($4.79 lb.). Be warned: if you go to O’Brien’s during your lunch hour, factor in a quick stop at home or make sure that your coworkers don’t mind you turning the communal refrigerator into a meat locker. I confess that beef broth made from O’Brien’s marrow-filled soup bones simmers away as I write.
Other lunch options include a nod to Buffalo’s Italian American heritage, the Grilled Stromboli ($7.99), a triple-decker starring their smoked meats—pepperoni, salami, and ham—topped with fried onions, peppers, and provolone cheese delightfully spilling out from the sides of a Kaiser roll. Despite sounding wickedly decadent, the bread-to-meat ratio kept a potentially fatty, overly salty affair in check. And of course there is the requisite beef on weck ($5.50) with its horseradish sidekick. The sandwich was nicely proportioned if a bit dry.
O’Brien’s straightforward comfort food is presented in a chic convivial setting that acknowledges its rural roots without succumbing to kitsch. A fan constructed from rustic doors hangs parallel to a high ceiling strewn with stylish strings of large light bulbs, while toy farm equipment dangles over a simple wooden bar that serves local wine and draft beer. My only quibble is that a commitment to locally sourced beef and eggs, as well as products like Constanzo’s and Yancey’s Cheeses, has not extended to poultry, pork, and—most of all—vegetables. Granted, I went in the dead of winter. Come spring, one hopes that the abundant produce grown on farms all around Hamburg will be featured in O’Brien’s menu, making it hospitable not just to carnivores, but to vegetarians and omnivores as well.
32 Main St., Hamburg
Sandra Firmin is curator at UB Art Galleries.