It’s not all meat and potatoes at this historic German-American tavern in Downtown Buffalo
Ulrich’s 1868 Tavern, located at 674 Ellicott Street in Buffalo, NY, doesn’t just throw ‘1868’ in there arbitrarily. First listed under the business title “Grocery-Saloon” back in 1969 by German-immigrant owner Frederick Schrerier, Ulrich’s building has outlasted crazy moments in history, from Prohibition to the heavy anti-German sentiment during the World Wars. Throughout the years Ulrich’s has been a grocery store, barber shop, hotel, and finally what resembles the tavern today. You can read all about it’s nearly 150 year span in Buffalo on the History page on Ulrich’s website.
In case withstanding Father Time for a century and a half wasn’t enough, Ulrich’s Tavern has also featured on Anthony Bourdain’s hit show No Reservations. That is pretty cool; I am quite the fan of Bourdain as both an author and TV personality. I’m sure his food is great too, but alas I haven’t tried it.
But Vegetarian Buffalo isn’t about how long a restaurant has been around or if it’s been featured on TV (which are all additional perks), this blog is about vegetarian food and whether a restaurant serves good vegetarian dishes or not!
Ulrich’s 1868 Tavern is…OK. I know, normally I rave about how good vegetarian food is, but this place actually kind of fell short of my expectations.
Let me first explain my expectations: I spent a majority of my life in Southwest Missouri. My maiden name is an English surname, so it made sense that everyone else’s name might as well be English too. Believe it or not, I genuinely thought that Schriner, Boyd, Vogt, Adler, Baumann, Fischer, and just about every other German surname you can think of were English, merely because I had never given it the least bit of attention as to where the name originated. Along with the German surnames were served German influenced dishes in the family owned restaurants, recipes passed down from generation to generation. It wasn’t until I moved to Buffalo in my twenties that I realized just exactly how German influenced my food expectations are, from food prep to flavors, so my German palette is quite refined.
I first sampled a tasting of Ulrich’s Tavern food at the 2014 Yelpies! and absolutely loved it. The morsel was a red beet and herbed goat cheese salad with honey dijon dressing and was absolutely delectable! With that I decided to venture out and try a few more things, but I wasn’t as impressed.
Granted it was a Friday evening and the bar and seating floor were packed full of city folk catching up noisily and having a good time, which is great; I never have a problem when a tavern is jovial. However it took several minutes (read: about 10) for my husband and I to get drinks served to us, and then our server didn’t even offer to take our order, just rushed off again. Regardless if you’re busy, even a trailing sentence of “I’ll be right back to get your order!” is appreciated as you dash off to run food or whatever.
Maybe 20 minutes after we sat down, our server came back to take our order. We decided to split a schmorgesborg of small things, so my husband ordered the Borscht (not vegetarian, don’t order that), and I ordered a house salad with scalloped potatoes and we split an appetizer of pretzels.
While he enjoyed the soup, growing up in a thoroughly German-American atmosphere, my husband said that it wasn’t borscht. Sure, it was of the German hot variety made with a base of sausage rather than beets, but Borscht is a leftover soup which is known for it’s depth of flavors that meld together, and while my husband liked it, he said it wasn’t exactly what it should be. The flavor was superficial and the accompaniments of pickled beets, horseradish, hard-boiled egg, beet juice, and rye bread were scattered, but they severed their purpose of adding some more substance to the soup. It should have been heartier, but being served as an appetizer, he understood what Ulrich’s was doing and appreciated the soup for what it was.
My House Salad was presented beautifully, but dressed a little too heavily. It had lost its chill while sitting out and the lettuce had begun to wilt, so I quickly ate it before the texture became any more unappealing. The blue cheese dressing was rich and flavorful; I did like that even if it was a little much.
The Scalloped Potatoes fell even flatter on flavor than the borscht had. The potatoes were sliced a little thicker than we expected, however they were cooked perfectly. The tasty sharp cheese sauce didn’t penetrate the dish and very little seasoning was involved, so while there were a few bites of savory cheese sauce and a casserole crust, it was basically boiled red potatoes.
Finally, the Pretzels. For over a year during my high school years, I worked about 30 hours a week at Auntie Anne’s when the menu was still only pretzels, so I am well qualified to recognize a perfectly cooked and fresh pretzel when I see one, let alone taste one. The pretzels were severed with 3 mustards which I enjoyed each of them: a whole grain dijon mustard, a beer mustard, and a mustard cheese sauce. I love all kinds of mustards, an appreciation that I could not deal with as a child (actually, it formed while working at Auntie Anne’s as I realized mustard and pretzels were practically made for each other), and all these mustard creations were wonderful! The texture of the cheese sauce was spot on and blended beautifully, the whole grains were diluted perfectly in the smooth dijon, and the beer mustard might have been the best I’ve tasted yet.
The traditional pretzel was cooked well, lightly salted, and paired perfectly with all the mustards. We loved it, the traditional pretzel was a complete win. The second pretzel served is a cheese stuffed pretzel. “It’s like Cheeze Whiz was injected into it,” My husband observed. I agreed, but it worked for me. That is until I left him the outer piece and took the twist portion for myself. While the outside had crusted, the inside was completely raw. I stretched the pretzel apart to be certain I wasn’t mistaken. I wasn’t; raw dough stretched in between my fingers. I dropped the pretzel twist back into the basket and acknowledged to myself I was actually full anyways and didn’t need to finish the pretzel as it was. The raw dough just made certain of it. Hence, I didn’t say anything as our server silently took our empty plates away, no point in making a fuss if I was finished and not going to eat it anyways, it would have been left whether it was cooked or not.
Overall, I wasn’t impressed. For the price we paid (an our sever didn’t even charge me the full price for the house salad, just added it on as a side salad price, which was very kind of him), the value didn’t equate the meal. There were elements that were very good, and I’m certain the meat dishes are incredible, but I can’t help but feel that the true mastery of a skill comes from some of the simplest products, and the meatless dishes I had were not outstanding.
Again, it was incredibly busy on a Friday evening. Albeit, it was a weekend and the kitchen and front house staff should have been prepared. I won’t entirely sentence judgement on a place, especially such a well established place, until I give it another chance on perhaps a weeknight or lunch. I do want to give their Potato Pancakes a shot, and there are vegetarian options such as a few panini’s and a Grilled Portobello Open-Faced Sandwich to choose from, so they are catering to non-meat eaters which it very much appreciated. I just wish that the taste was more worth the price.
Check out what we have to say about Ulrich’s Tavern on Yelp!