When I contacted Sonny Red’s about a story for Step Out Buffalo, they were kind enough to invite us over to sample some dishes, but little did I know it would be during a goddamn manhunt.
You may have heard that Town of Hamburg police were looking for four men back on the evening of July 31 and had issued a ‘shelter in place’ order. At that time, we were in Sonny Red’s, blissfully unaware, chowing down on wings and wondering why two helicopters kept circling in the distance. Must be something important, we mumbled, mouths dripping with wing sauce.
TBH, the zombie apocalypse could have kicked off around us and we probably wouldn’t have noticed. Sonny Red’s took us to our happy place. If you like Neapolitan pizza and upscale comfort food but hate that it’s often served in hip surroundings, then Sonny Red’s is for you too.
Joe Jerge, owner of the wildly-popular Mulberry Italian Ristorante, opened Sonny Red’s as a way to bring Neapolitan-style pizzas to Lackawanna and he didn’t just do it on a lark. Jerge went on pizza pilgrimages to Italy and New York City to develop the style he would serve at his Lackawanna pizzeria.
In a recent phone interview, co-owner Justin Barends told me Jerge’s Italy trip literally went from farm to table.
“He actually went to the farms where they grow the flour and where it is processed,” Barends said. “Then he went to a couple popular places where they make that style pizza.”
Neapolitan pizzas require a special ultra-hot oven. At Sonny Red’s, that’s Bruno. Located in an open kitchen, the restaurant’s centerpiece is a wood-burning stone behemoth imported from Italy and built in the USA.
The Regina Margherita pizza we tried came straight from Bruno’s belly and featured simple pleasures. The sweet acid of tomatoes and pungency of basil cut against the soft chewy dough. The Colonel Angus pizza was topped with beef, caramelized onions, cheese, peppers and a creamy sauce and tasted closer to what you might call a Buffalo-style pizza: hearty, creamy, crunchy, spicy and beefy.
Like any Western New York pizzeria worth its salt, Sonny Red’s also has great wings. The signature Joe’s wings we tried were meaty, tossed in a highly-secret, eight-ingredient sauce and topped with cilantro and parmesan cheese. We have great wings where I live in Allentown, but these were worth the drive.
The General Tso wings sounded like an unholy union, but combining Chinese takeout and a Buffalo classic turned out to be a match made in heaven. Big, crusty tempura breading locked in that spicy, sweet General Tso’s sauce you know and love.
I’d be remiss without mentioning the short rib tacos with pico de gallo and the roast beef with cream cheese horseradish on a bun with “everything bagel” spices. Both were comfort food bullseyes.
Adult beverage options included popular craft beer, including some IPAs and sours, as well as macrobrews like Mich Ultra and Blue LIght. The wine list had many familiar names and some great Italian reds that looked unfamiliar to me, a wanna-be wine snob.
Just as important as the food, Sonny Red’s is a classic WNY pizzeria with corner bar vibes – located in the space where The Press Box used to be. That means plenty of TVs for sports and zero attitude. Come in wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. Just make sure they say “Bills” or “Sabres” on them.
“It’s hard to not open your doors here and not have people ask for Sabres and Bills games, when they’re on,” Barends told me.
Sonny Red’s also has a massive back patio and beer garden that is custom built. It’s in the process of being upgraded and Barends said the plan is to install firepits and TVs for sports.
So to recap: Great pizza? Check. Great wings? Check. Good drinks? Check. Chill vibes? Check. Lots of space to relax and unwind? Check.
It’s also the perfect place for avoiding a manhunt, apparently.
1841 Abbott Road Lackawanna, New York 14218
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. – 2 a.m., Sunday 3 p.m. – 8 p.m., Closed on Monday
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