No Jacket Required / The Mess Hall
Carefree and satisfying, Mess Hall hits the spot for casual dining, says reviewer Nick Guy
Photo by kc kratt
The Mess Hall
717 Ridge Road, Lackawanna;
827-1134 or messhallbuffalo.com
From the moment we walked in The Mess Hall’s door, we felt welcome and comfortable. That comfort was a thread throughout the meal, from the decor to the menu. It’s creative and fun, but wholly approachable. There’s no pretentiousness about this place, even though it’s putting out some of the best food in Lackawanna.
At the bar, it’s again clear that this is more than the usual neighborhood joint. There are twelve taps, and, on our visit, a full half were local brews. A chalkboard announces eight featured bottles of wine, all reasonably priced at less than $40. A handful of cocktails emphasizes sweet flavors, including Susie’s Cosmo and a cinnamon cream martini made with Fireball, Captain Morgan, and Rumchata. We were happy to see fresh citrus juice being squeezed to order, and found the red sangria (also available in white) refreshingly fruity and effervescent. The bar seats about ten.
Local craft beer, a selection of cocktails, and wine can be found at the bar.
A simple basket of Italian bread, butter, and oil preceded our appetizers. We had planned on ordering the homemade Mudd McGrath corned beef and kraut ravioli as a starter, but found it 86’d due to a dinner rush. In its place, we went with short rib tots and “Barone” stuffed peppers. We expected the tots to be taters fried and topped with meat, but were pleasantly surprised that they are actually more like meat croquettes, larger versions of their namesake tots. The tender meat is packed inside a breadcrumb coating and fried to a perfect, crunchy golden brown. Peppers are served three to an order and ours were pleasantly spicy with healthy browning on either side. The stuffing, a blend of sundried tomato, gorgonzola cheese, pine nuts, and caramelized onion, is smoky and salty.
Short rib tots; "Barone" stuffed peppers
There are a baker’s dozen pizzas on the menu. At about a foot across, they’re large enough to serve as either entree or appetizer. Sure, there is the aptly named Plain Jane, with cheese and pepperoni, and a white pizza, but the more creative toppings caught our eye. ‘Nduja is a spicy, spreadable salami, here paired with fresh jalapeño. We opted for the WTF?, which pairs not-too-crazy Fontina cheese and porcini mushrooms with rich truffle cream and sweet blueberry-thyme compote. These two very, very strong flavors stand out, at first fighting for supremacy but, in the end, playing well off of one another.
We felt obliged to order the Dirty Mess and Hot Mess entrees at a place called the Mess Hall. The former is a meatloaf sandwich served on brioche french toast and covered in barbecue sauce. The meatloaf is nicely seasoned, although a bit softer than we prefer, and the sweet sauce plays well against the rich bacon and egg. The Hot Mess is also breakfast-inspired. Think fried chicken with sausage gravy over biscuits, but swap in a few chicken fingers as the protein. It’s decadent and heavy, like the best comfort foods are.
The WTF? pizza with Fontina, porcini mushrooms, and blueberry-thympe compote
A playful section asks “what if,” taking familiar dishes and changing their form. What if cheesesteak was a pasta dish? includes all the elements of the Philly sandwich served on tagliatelle instead of bread. Unlisted mushrooms offer an umami boost, while the cherry peppers provide a vinegary bite. What if french onion soup was ravioli? is a sherry-rich play; we missed the melted, crusty cheese from its inspiration, but otherwise enjoyed the dish.
The kitchen makes its own desserts, which, on our visit, were a selection of pies and cakes. Peanut butter chiffon pie defied our expectations. What can often be a dense slice is light and airy; chocolate and jelly sauces on the plate are worthy complements.
a homemade dessert
Lunch and dinner are available Tuesday through Saturday, while Sunday is limited to brunch. The lunch menu is mostly a selection of dishes also available for dinner, although there are a few unique-to-daytime items including wings, a chopped steak sandwich, and a Reuben. There’s also some dinner-menu crossover into brunch, but about half the menu is dedicated to dishes including eggs, french toast, and hashes.
Nick Guy writes for Wirecutter, among other outlets.