As if you need to be told, the Richardson Olmstead Complex, with its titanic copper towers, is one of the most iconic buildings in Western New York.
For years, the former insane asylum sat empty – nothing more than a derelict magnet for squatters, urban explorers, and acid droppers. But today, the architectural treasure is slowly being brought back into polite society, partly as a sister property to The Mansion on Delaware. The looming structure currently features both a boutique hotel and upscale restaurant – 100 Acres at the Hotel Henry.
On my recent visit, marketing manager Jessica Mancini toured me around the restaurant and talked about watching the rehabilitation of this brilliant space since the earliest stage.
“The entire layout is designed to have as much natural light as possible,” she said as her mezzo-soprano voice bounced off 100 Acres’ high-flung ceilings. “Even when we came in and all the paint was peeling, it was really gorgeous and full of natural light. People might not think that because they see the towers and it looks scary. Or people used to break in during the middle of the night: And, any building looks scary if it’s abandoned and in the middle of the night.”
Mancini noted that the management group behind 100 Acres has 15 years of “award-winning service, and food and beverage experience” operating The Mansion.
“We’re really trying to bring that to the table,” she punned, “but this is such a huge property and we’re really still learning all the different spaces,” which includes several lounges and patio areas.
All of those spaces are used differently, with each one aiming to offer guests a different vibe – from casual cocktail lounge to culinary meditation to al fresco dining. The three bars at 100 Acres are walk-in only and feature both a tight menu of small plates, as well as grab-and-go stations for those who like gourmet on the run. The dining areas naturally feature the restaurant’s complete menu.
“We’re welcoming the public to ‘come as you are’ and have any kind of experience, all with one shared menu,” Mancini said.
All of the bars at 100 Acres are ‘culinary bars’, where food is prepared in front of guests. This gastronomic theater is meant to give guests a unique experience, and according to the 100 Acres website, it’s going to include both show-stopping presentations and small, unexpected surprises.
The ‘culinary revelry’ at 100 Acres is all being done under the watchful eye of Chef Alex Armstrong, a South Buffalo native who spent time cooking in St. Thomas, USVI and San Francisco after attending the Culinary Institute of America. Chef Armstrong’s menu at 100 Acres will be New American, market-fresh, and seasonally sourced, I was told.
Despite beer and spirits grabbing headlines, there’s been a real arms race escalating on the local wine front. At 100 Acres, the one-page stockpile is striking. It includes something for the casual wine drinker, the wine nerd, and the aspiring oenophile. It’s all part of the beverage program developed by Adam Lauer – an advanced sommelier, certified cicerone and formerly of The Grange Community Kitchen in Hamburg.
Lauer told me the popular wines that act as the foundation of his list had to be terroir-specific.
“If we’re doing Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington, it needs to taste stylistically, 100-percent like Washington-style Cabernet,” he explained.
Lauer said he also wanted to embrace the fun, the interesting and the new: “Maybe there are varietals that are familiar to people but not quite so apparent or every day: so 100-percent organic and biodynamic Chardonnay coming from Mexico or a carbonic, or a macerated Cinsault coming from South Africa with this fun skull-and-crossbones Star Wars-type label on it.
“We brought in this sparkling wine that has yet to be disgorged and we do that tableside – blasting out that yeast deposit or sediment that sits at the top.”
Disgorging a sparkling wine right before drinking it is said to result in a fresher taste. Lauer noted that, “winemakers normally take care of (disgorging) for you, but that will be me doing it tableside.”
“We’re just trying to be fun and different, having those options on top of everything else,” he mused. “It’s about creating that experience that you can’t have in Western New York so far.”
All that wine talk may sound a bit intimidating, but Lauer assured me his guests’ experience should be completely driven by what they want to experience and their level of expectation.
“If you’re looking for an education, you can have it. If you’re already a wine geek, you can find bottles on the list that you’re interested in,” he said.
The same choose-your-own-adventure goes for everything else you might find at 100 Acres, from how you want your steak cooked, to whether or not you want to eat in your car between vape pulls.
“We’re going to attempt to guide you through your experience in order to make sure that you’re getting the full ideal experience out of it, but we don’t force it down anyone’s throat,” Lauer crooned. “If you want your steak well-done, we’ll cook it well-done. I like to say that a chef’s blood, sweat, and tears are just the additional flavor into a well-cooked steak.”
For people who are ready to craft their own culinary experience in one of Buffalo’s most iconic buildings, 100 Acres is currently open for breakfast, dinner and Sunday brunch. There are plans to eventually open for lunch.
100 Acres: The Kitchens at Hotel Henry
444 Forest Ave, Buffalo, NY 14213
Hours: Everyday 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (breakfast), Tuesday to Thursday 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (dinner), Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (dinner).