The Review / The Place maintains its old school appeal
A longtime neighborhood fave gets gently updated
Diners enjoy a still-cozy, but updated environment
Photos by Stephen Gabris
299 Lexington Avenue
822-7522 or theplacebuffalo.com
When approaching longtime Elmwood Village mainstay The Place, whether from the sidewalk or via the restaurant’s website, one might notice that what’s for sale, as much as burgers and fish frys, is nostalgia.
I don’t have a history of frequenting what I will call “the old Place” (pre-renovation and ownership changes), but, as I approached “the new Place” (spruced up and re-opened in 2016), I felt that nostalgia immediately. The decor, the music, the dark lighting inside, the deep booths, and long wooden bar—all were reminiscent of my 1980s childhood. I’m sure many little kids sat here in a bar chair, feet swinging high above the ground, sipping a Shirley Temple as their grandparents drank martinis, openly smoked cigarettes indoors, and showed them off to their friends.
Today, The Place serves classics gently updated and upgraded, but the items that hew most closely to tradition shine the brightest.
After my friends and I requested a table one Friday night, I asked the bartender for something refreshing. He suggested a gin and tonic and made it with Hendrick’s and some muddled cucumber. At $8, I thought it was a reasonable price for a top shelf cocktail, but then, I once lived in Manhattan. The restaurant was bustling, but not overly packed, and we had a booth within twenty minutes. Sitting there in the near-dark (you can barely see to read menus in some corners of the room), tucked away from any jostling or excessive noise despite being within sight of the bar, being able to actually relax in a busy restaurant on a Friday night, I could start to see what people miss about the past.
Our first order of the night, the skillet mac and cheese, a “small plate” that can easily feed a table, was also our favorite. We went for the classic version, no bacon or mushrooms, served still bubbling in a cast-iron pan. The spiral-shaped pasta had a nice, firm bite and the sauce was suitably sharp with a good texture. We also liked the crushed cracker topping.
Traditional macaroni and cheese served in a skillet
I enjoyed my fish fry, which I ordered not fried but broiled with Cajun seasoning. The skin-on fries were hot, crispy, and tasted fresh. The dish also came with a raisin-and-kale-enhanced coleslaw and a macaroni salad. My Buffalo-raised friend was surprisingly okay with the pretzel roll that replaced the kimmelweck on her beef on ’weck, though she noted the beef could have been more tender. The burger was described as well-seasoned and the bun it came on also got a thumbs-up.
Buffalo chicken sandwich; The Place burger and handcut fries
Other choices include classics such as Caesar salad, French onion soup, wedge salad, wings, a Reuben, and strip steak, as well as slightly more modern options like poached pear salad and vegetarian eggplant Napoleon. Appetizers, salads, and sandwiches run about $8 to $12; entrees are closer to $20. There is a $17 special featured every weekday: meatloaf on Mondays, corned beef on Tuesdays, turkey on Wednesdays, a changing chicken dish on Thursdays; and, of course, Friday fish fry. The Flynnie’s Thinnie and Tom & Jerry’s, menu mainstays since the 1940s, remain.
We happily enjoyed the oldies soundtrack and classic dishes and looked askance at the kale-enhanced coleslaw. Later, on my walk home, I found myself thinking, what is it we’re nostalgic for, anyway? It’s a question that, as Americans and as Buffalonians, we could all stand to ask ourselves, looking at the ways we continue to resist change. As much as I miss that time with my grandparents, as a progressive person in 2018, I cannot promote the past as something we should return to. Change is for the best and we need more of it, not less.
The best takeaway from a genuinely pleasant evening at The Place is this: enjoy what was good about the past while remembering the importance of moving forward. I want equality and justice for all, but I’d also like a really big deep booth to sit in when I go out to dinner on a Friday night.