When Soho opened on the corner of Franklin and West Chippewa in 1999, it brought new life to the strip. A new build replete with outdoor patios and a mature vibe, it stood out amongst its neighborhood's many taverns and clubs whose focus seemed to be on attracting young drinkers to the well-known party district.
This upcoming Tuesday, on what is nearly its twelfth anniversary, Soho will reopen its doors as a burger bar. After several hundred thousand dollars in renovations, the two-story corner lounge has been transformed into a full-fledged restaurant with seating in the downstairs dining room for around 80, and a flexible space upstairs that can be used for private parties, dining, or cocktailing.
Partner owner Jay Manno is a foodie of the highest caliber who has dedicated much of his spare time over the course of his life to eating in restaurants all over the country and poring over cookbooks and memoirs penned by restaurateurs. "I’ve always been a restaurant kinda guy," he says, standing in the newly installed kitchen abuzz with crew members learning the ropes of a new menu. "I’ve managed bars most my life, but I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant, or a few restaurants, even. I’m getting older, this is how I want to spend the rest of my career."
Manno has investigated restaurant ownership in the past. And even more recently, when a bid to open an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood didn’t pan out. But as they say, when a door closes, a window opens, and before he knew it, his partner was suggesting that Soho reinvent itself.
"I love this concept," Manno says, and you can tell he’s done his research. Soho Burger Bar seeks to fill a hole in the downtown Buffalo market by serving fresh, artisanally crafted burgers in a casual setting and for a fair price. Soho’s menu makes many types of burgers available—including varieties such as veggie, shrimp, chicken, and tuna—but the proof of Manno’s commitment to the big time burger world is his use of a custom blended meat from local butcher shop, Johnny’s Meats. "We looked at bringing in a really well-known national brand of custom-blend burger that a lot of top chefs use, but I wasn’t okay with using frozen meat. In our kitchen, the only thing that will ever see the freezer is the ice cream and the chicken wings." So Manno went to Johnny’s, the Hertel Avenue butcher he patronizes for his home cooking needs. "Together we came up with a really fantastic blend of fresh, high-quality beef that I know people are going to love."
Manno also wanted to use a really good roll, full of flavor and of the perfect consistency, so he turned to Romeo & Juliet’s, another Hertel Avenue purveyor. "What I really wanted was a brioche roll, so we started with their panettone recipe and tweaked it until we had just what we were looking for. "
We know real burger aficionados will want to know how Soho plans to cook their burgers. Delicate burgers, like the shrimp and veggie, will be cooked on a flat top, while the beef burgers are chargrilled. But serious proponents of the flat top can ask for their preferred cooking method when ordering.
Burgers and salads are priced from $10-$14, and a kids menu is available. Listed below are just a few of the thirty-five sample menu items I was permitted to preview. These items may be adjusted upon opening.
Oven roasted tomato, applewood smoked bacon, chive garlic aoli, and arugula
Peppercorn crusted, wild mushrooms, Gruyere, arugula, and horseradish cream sauce
STEAK AND EGGS
Fried egg, herb hollandaise, and crispy potato
Chile relleno (stuffed with black beans, tomato, and smoked cheddar), and housemade verde sauce
AHI TUNA BURGER
Grilled pineapple salsa, pea shoots, and wasabi aoli
NAKED CHICKEN BURGER
Granny smith apples, brown mustard seeds, avocado, endive, and jalapeno vinaigrette
Brie cheese and jalapeno cranberry chutney
Marinated tomatoes, pickled red onion, arugula, and ricotta salad with a balsamic reduction
Avocado, orange supremes, cucumber, and bean sprouts with a grapefruit vinaigrette
Additional menu items include shrimp cocktail, mini burger and dogs, zucchini corn fritters, wings, chili and spiked ,milkshakes. All burgers are served with handcut housemade chips, but handcut fries, sweet potato fries, and buttermilk-soaked onion rings will also be available.
Soho will officially open this Tuesday, June 14th. Soho plans to be open seven days a week, serving food late into the night. It should be a great place for families or folks catching a show or a game to grab a tasty and fresh bite to eat.
Over time it will be interesting to see how the re-vamping of Soho and the recent opening of Bambino (log on to BuffaloSpree.com for a review next week) will impact the changing face of Buffalo's Chippewa strip.
64 West Chippewa St., Buffalo. 856-7646
*Lead image is not from Soho Burger Bar, it is merely a representation.