I stopped mid-sentence, absorbed by one of those across-a-crowded-room moments. My friend Jen saw where my attention was now directed, and she was a little intrigued as well. Our eyes followed this super-sexy heap of buttermilk fried chicken, fluffy whipped potatoes, and an ethereal biscuit ($15.95) as it made its way to one lucky diner perched at the big bar anchoring the first floor of TRATA, also known as (and an acronym for) The Restaurant At The Armory. The patron in question noticed our slack jaws and even kindly offered us a taste, but we demurred, content with our generous portion of juicy chicken fingers ($7.95) served with whole-grain honey mustard. But as I took a refreshing pull off of my fruity Lambic Bellini ($5.50), I silently plotted my next visit.
Perhaps one of the more inspired repurposings of a local structure, TRATA occupies three floors of the former Culver Road Armory, now a mixed-use space that also houses an art gallery along with professional offices. It's the latest venture from restaurateur Charlie Fitzsimmons, who shuffled talent like chef Aaron Bolton and general manager Allie Greco from his high-end Black & Blue eateries over to TRATA, which Greco describes as "casual upscale." Surprisingly elegant despite The Armory's utilitarian roots, TRATA incorporates the exposed brick and rustic woods into its multi-level layout. The restaurant can seat more than 300 people, and features a cozy second-floor lounge area, a soon-to-open rooftop beer garden, and expansive windows that overlook Cobbs Hill Park.
And the food? "Contemporary American," says Greco. "Anyone can find something they like." TRATA serves up its take on timeless comforts like pigs in a blanket ($6.95) and loaded fries ($11.95) and deliciously towering burgers done six different ways ($11.95). But our country's proverbial melting pot is especially evident in inventive appetizers like a quesadilla that fills housemade tortillas with duck confit, gruyere, dried cranberries, and sage mascarpone ($9.95). A couple of soups and a handful of salads round out the small plates; I was totally smitten with a vivid green Brussels sprouts salad, which tosses the poached-then-chilled leaves with sweet cherry tomatoes, smoky bacon, crispy truffled shallots, and an asiago-lemon vinaigrette ($7.95).
The entrées offer playful twists on classic tastes as well; a thick-cut yellow-fin tuna steak is seared with black and pink peppercorns and bedded down on "an old-school noodle casserole" ($24.95), while twin 4 oz. beef tenderloins, a mushroom and puff pastry napoleon, and sherry-porcini cream evoke a deconstructed Wellington ($18.95). The wine and beer lists are both extensive and informative (and that 4 oz. draft is a smart option), while the nicely priced craft-cocktail menu incorporates top-shelf liquors, beers, housemade mixers, and fresh herbs and fruits.
And by the way, I was able to get back for that fried chicken. It was worth waiting for.
TRATA is located at 145 Culver Road. It is open Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday-Saturday until 1 a.m. Lunch served Monday-Friday until 3 p.m., dinner served 4:30-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday until 11 p.m. Food prices range from $5.95 to $24.95. For more information, call 270-5460 or visit tratarochester.com.
Say "¡Hola!" to the roomy outpost of Itacate in the former location of Los Amigos at 1859 Penfield Road. The flagship stand inside the Buffalo Road Arrowmart gas station remains open, as the new space enables the Abarca family to build on its popular taco and burrito offerings with traditional dishes illustrating Mexico's culinary diversity. The Yucatan Peninsula in the south is represented by Grilled Pollo En Axiote ($9), chicken bathed in a bright blend of achiote paste, orange, garlic, and cumin, while the northeast city of Tampico gets a nod in Carne Asade a la Tampiqueña ($13.50), skirt steak marinated in lime juice and spices and served with a cheese enchilada, poblano rajas, grilled queso fresco, and guacamole. A liquor license is in the works, too. Itacate is open Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Call 586-8454 or visit itacate.net.
As part of its annual fundraiser, the Greater Rochester Celiac Support Group will host a Gluten-Free Food Fair at Monroe Community College on Saturday, September 22, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. The event will feature samplings of gluten-free goods, educational workshops, as well as a bake-off in which local companies compete with their best gluten-free products. Visit rochesterceliacs.org for further info.
Our own Genesee Brewery, one of the largest and oldest continually operating breweries in the United States, recently opened the Genesee Brew House at 25 Cataract St. on the St. Paul Street campus. The Brew House features interactive exhibits, multimedia content, a gift shop, and a pub-style restaurant. For more details call 263-9200 or visit geneseebrewhouse.com.
Named in honor of the year — and located on the site — that Susan B. Anthony was arrested for casting her then-illegal vote, profits from the new 1872 Café at 431 W. Main St. will go toward Spiritus Christi Church's community outreach efforts. Call 730-7687 for more information.
The successful and yummy Monte Alban Mexican Grill has expanded yet again, opening a third location at routes 441 and 250 in the space that housed The Duchess for 20 years. Visit montealbangrill.com for further details.
Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.