Charlie O’Brien’s – Home Sweet Home Away From Home

Posted on: July 2, 2009
21 comments so far (is that a lot?)

It’s been weeks, months even, since I was invited for a jaunt over to the famous South Buffalo joint Charlie O’Brien’s (865 Elk St.).  I was invited by fellow food blogger and all ’round amazing guy, Donnie Burtless from www.BuffaloEats.org (the “Food Porn” guy).

Ever since I did “Episode 3” of All Access Pass, I’ve developed a keen curiosity about the classic places in the Old First Ward, South Buffalo, and anything that juxtaposes my rather provincial Northtown heritage.  And just past “the Ward”, heading east, you’ll find such a place.

“Charlie’s”, as some call it, looks kinda small but somehow manages to grow larger once you enter (wait, that didn’t sound right!?).  Anyway, they have a big-a** bar with a respectable collection of tap and bottled beers.  …which we got down to drinking, forthwith, once we entered.

Hanging out with us were some friends of Donnie’s and Nate, my “assistant” – who thinks he’s in charge frankly (and often is) – and some of his gal pals.  It was quite the entourage – and we partied like we were (HBO’s) Entourage.

After some consultation with Donnie and all the crew, we ordered up some recommended slash famous menu items.  Here’s the run-down:

Appetizers:
Stuffed Hot Peppers
Spinach Artichoke Dip
Bread Bowl of Seafood Chowder

Wings and Fingers:
Charlie’s Style (wings)
Smitty’s Style (wings)

Seafood Entrees:
Broiled Cajun Haddock
Fish Fry

Alright, let’s dissect it as well as we can (“we” equals “me”).  Shucks, I am an honest food critic, so I really am constitutionally unable to say something is great if it sucks.  Luckily, nothing did suck!  In fact, two items, for me, were pretty revelatory.  But we’ll get to those soon enough.

The stuffed hot peppers were spicy hot, which is as they should be – bravo.  I definitely needed some extra cold beer to mollify the heat.  They had a unique stuffing, a bit unorthodox, but that’s often good.  The Chef (whose name eludes the author because the author was drunk at the time and forgot to pen it down) confided that the stuffing is composed of a “white pasta sauce” (hint, it starts with an “a”), some “pizza cheese” (…an “m”) and some “cream that has gone…” (… an “s”).  If you can’t figure that out, you’re an… (starts with an “i”).

As for the spinach artichoke dip, it was that standard, good, so-super-fattening-that-it’ll-put-cellulite-on-your-toes kinda heap of glop (that’s a compliment, BTW) served with, I could easily tell and a perfect choice, Father Sam’s pitas.  Donnie’s pick, the seafood chowder, was a bit skimpy on the seafood part – but I’m picky about that.  For me, if there are not hunks of lobster, real crab, and jumbo shrimp, it’s not worth it!  This was more like the imitation crab, Neptune type thing mixed with a decent cream chowder type deal.  Not big on that.

I’ll side-step the wings for now and get to the fish.  Nothing fishy here except for lots of quality oceanic protein – one version beer battered and fry-o-latored, the other broiled with cajun seasoning.  The cajun one was well done but probably wouldn’t win any awards in the NOLA seafood tourney.  Just a good, well hung piece of haddock (I assume that species?) with some quality cajun rub plentifully applied to the fillet.  Nice!  As for the fish fry, now you’re talking!  A very sizable piece of haddock fried to perfection with crunchy-a** crust ready to crack off and emit vapor to melt your lip off.  When it comes to fish fry, Buffalo is the top of the crop – and this particular example is pretty near the Platonic ideal!  This fish fry was downright immoral in its succulence and opulence – one hedonistic-ally decadent piece of fish. As could be expected, it pretty near evaporated faster than a moonshine flambe – except down our now vastly swollen gullets.  (Take that Donnie – food porn poetry!)

Ever since I heard about this Charlie O’Brien’s place, I’ve heard about how great their wings are.  Sure, whatever…prove it!  Boy, I was in for a surprise!  So maybe their hot wings are just awesome – and that’s a pretty great and accurate assessment.  But they also feature two kinds of wings that, I have to say, fascinated the hell outta me for being way off-the-grid, preparation-wise.

First, the Charlie’s Style wings… Hold on people, I’d have to say that they’re not even Buffalo style wings (or are they?) his comment is here.  It’s become part of the Buffalo style wing canon that you can’t bread or batter wings.  I even snidely remarked about that on my original Travel Channel video for No Reservations.  Yet, I have to admit, when I was a kid (and that’s a long time ago… the 60’s, 70’s), we used to pretty regularly get wings with a batter on them.  Back in those “olden times”, there was far less of a formulaic approach to wing-making, like there is today.  Hey, it was before cable and the internet !  Now, it seems like “everyone knows” that you just deep fry ’em and mix them around in butter and Franks.  But no!  I remember a different time – was it just a dream?  No it was not just a dream!  …and in places like Rochester – yes that terrible place – they still kinda do the battered wing thing.

Going back to Buffalo, the Charlie’s Style wing IS just such a creature!!  But if I can divert for just another second with a new question?  Have you ever heard foodies dish on their definition of comfort food?  Well, it usually has a whole lot to do with what Mom used to make when you were a kid.  Mom’s this or that is usually people’s ultimate comfort food (and often people’s hypothetical death row meal).  Well, I have to say that these battered Charlie’s Style wings brought back images, feelings, cute cuddly little memories of childhood – eating wings at M&E’s on Military with my Grandparents and Uncles.  I haven’t had a wing like this in… probably thirty years.  How cool!!  What really made it extra-super-cool was that the sauce was a singularly unique blend of minced jar garlic, butter, hot sauce and …whatever else?  It brought my childhood reminiscence straight into modernity.  What a ride…or should I say glide?! …get it – wings!  So, yes, the Charlie’s Style wings are a must have, a wing-a-licious tour de force!

Another weird wing concoction is this Smitty’s Style wing thing.  I muttered, “Is that nutmeg I taste?”  Yes, as was confirmed by our fine, yet anonymous, chef!  It IS a touch o’ nutmeg!  Hmmm… that’s kind of an Indian (as in South Asian) touch.  “These hot, spicy, un-battered (i.e. – normal in that regard), nutmeg-ed wings are damned good!”  And yes they certainly were.  In fact, I might have to say these were my favorite – and easily the most unique, due to the original spice mix employed.

Well, there’s my official run-down; my experience eating at Charlie’s!  Wait, I forgot to finish talking about the drinking part!  Holy heck!  Wow, well, we proceeded to tie one on pretty properly – in a way that might make the Irish namesake of the bar, whoever that Charlie guy actually is, very proud.  During the festivities, the very classy and party savvy Dino Pinelli Jr. hosted us all to quite a few complimentary rounds of beer, shots, and other assorted cocktails – besides the gratis food presentation.  A heartfelt thanks to Dino!!!  …and the chef, the staff …and that Van Gogh dude with the great coffee vodka.

I’d have to say, judging from the vibe of this place, Dino’s generosity, and the ear to ear grins on rest of the gang, that Charlie O’Brien’s has a way of conjuring up devilishly good spirits any day of the week!  I’d come back in a heartbeat for the fish fry, the signature wings, or just a cold beer.  Charlie O’Brien’s is a place you don’t need a reason to visit.  Like home, it’s just somewhere where you automatically belong.  Cheers to that!!

~ Nelson

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21 Responses to “Charlie O’Brien’s – Home Sweet Home Away From Home”

  1. nelson Says:

    I hate to leave the first comment but… I want to make clear that this joint (Charlie O’Brien’s) seriously rocks!

    Also, I want everyone to know that Charlie’s has regular Buffalo style hot wings too – for which they are basically famous! I chose to focus more on their uniquely styled wing versions/ styles/ versions/ styles …because they are, well, unique…and very, very good!

    And lastly, please know that my excessive blathering, poor writing, and embarrassingly bad humor sadly takes precedence over accuracy, clarity, and all other matters of good taste and journalistic excellence.

    to beneficent insomnia,
    the Host

  2. Jess Says:

    Great review! Just to let you know, the chef’s name is Brian Kumrow.

  3. Melissa Says:

    Thanks for the great review of my most favorite place in all the world. I was also going to add that Brian is the chef at Charlie’s but i see that Jess has already taken care of that.

  4. An Evening With Nelson Starr and TrueBlueBuffalo… « Buffalo Eats Says:

    […] we dinned and ate all night (thanks to Dino’s generosity).  Please check out Nelson’s review he just posted a couple days ago on their blog, and if you haven’t been swayed into trying Charlie’s, […]

  5. Rochestergirl Says:

    Decent post, but Rochester is, in fact, pretty near the platonic ideal of awesome and you would be hard pressed to find breaded wings within Monroe County.

    Just saying.

  6. nelson Says:

    Rochestergirl,

    I actually have nothing against Rochester. I just like to start fights…controversy is a good thing.

    I do remember Rochester natives talking about breaded, or rather, battered wings with Boss Sauce on ’em. I think that Rochester, like Buffalo, has become more ubiquitous (there’s that word again, meaning in this case, “predictably uniform”) in their wing presentations… it seems like everyone does them like the basic Anchor Bar recipe these days. I was actually praising Charlie’s for doing something different – and having it actually turn out delicious!
    ~N

  7. Restaurants + Twitter = Food 2.0 « Buffalo Eats Says:

    […] @CharlieOBRiens – South Buffalo’s own Charlie O’Briens, known for their Charlie Wings that were reviewed by Nelson Starr on True Blue Buffalo. […]

  8. Buffalo Foodies: Dino Pinelli « Buffalo Eats Says:

    […] O’Briens.  It’s been featured several times on our site along with being featured on True Blue Buffalo and Buffalo Rising.  It’s a great place to grab a drink, enjoy some of their Charlie Style […]

  9. EdibleMarie Says:

    Nelson,

    I am wondering why you don’t use links in your blog. Granted, I could copy-and-paste the Buffalo Eats site, but one click is much easier.

  10. Buffalo Foodies: Nelson Starr | Buffalo Eats Says:

    […] After his appearance, Nelson became one of Buffalo’s “Culinary Ambassador’s” and started working with some really cool people to showcase what Buffalo has to offer.  Along with his buddy John Paget (whom he worked with for his No Reservations audition tapes), they filmed 4 episodes of “All Access Pass“.  It was short lived series but I was introduced to some fantastic restaurants; Chow Chocolat, Bistro Europa and Swannie House to name a few.  I met Nelson back in May of 2009, a couple weeks before the airing of his infamous episode, and we had a great meal at Charlie O’Briens. […]

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  18. Buffalo Foodies: Nelson Starr | Buffalo Eats Says:

    […] After his appearance, Nelson became one of Buffalo’s “Culinary Ambassador’s” and started working with some really cool people to showcase what Buffalo has to offer.  Along with his buddy John Paget (whom he worked with for his No Reservations audition tapes), they filmed 4 episodes of “All Access Pass“.  It was short lived series but I was introduced to some fantastic restaurants; Chow Chocolat, Bistro Europa and Swannie House to name a few.  I met Nelson back in May of 2009, a couple weeks before the airing of his infamous episode, and we had a great meal at Charlie O’Briens. […]

  19. Buffalo Foodies: Dino Pinelli | Buffalo Eats Says:

    […] O’Briens.  It’s been featured several times on our site along with being featured on True Blue Buffalo and Buffalo Rising.  It’s a great place to grab a drink, enjoy some of their Charlie Style […]

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