Don’t blink or you may miss all that is happening at Osteria 166, located on the corner of Franklin and Mohawk Streets. This casual Italian eatery has a downtown vibe while keeping a comfortable neighborhood feel, as well as a gorgeous event space upstairs. This restaurant boasts great wine, creative food and terrific service, while offering a variety of price points. Some enticing attractions include: thirty bottles of wine under $30, house cured meats and wild game options, private dining for 6 to 125 guests in their new upper level private event space (see inset) or a casual drink after work with a pizza. There is something for everyone here.
I have had the chance to visit Osteria 166 a couple of times and both experiences were worth repeating. One visit was a family dining experience and the second was an intimate look into the belly of the kitchen with Chef Jeffrey Cooke & his team.
The restaurant has an inviting bar and a large cozy dining area with rustic art, candles and a wall fireplace that seems more like a painting. You can expect to be greeted by the owner, Nick Pitillo and instantly feel welcomed like you are entering his private home. Our first visit to the bustling ristorante was a family outing. Nick and the service staff made my son feel welcome right away, so we settled in for a family dinner and ordered some drinks.
Nick is a terrific host! We soon had wine, snacks and crayons. He generously offered up suggestions on items to try. It was nice to hear his passion for what is happening at Osteria 166. He promptly brought out a pot of their signature pork rillettes called “potted pig” & some housemade chips for my son. The crispy potato chips were clearly hand made and very fresh. The pot of pork confit was among one of my favorite items I had all night. It was served with crostini & course grain mustard. It is not a typical offering on an Italian menu in Buffalo and should not be missed. We supplemented our appetizers with a terrific antipasti board of cured meats, stuffed peppers & vegetables and an order of their grilled octopus. The antipasti board was a balanced mix of appropriate items. It is a great plate to share with a group, as there is a little something for everyone. The octopus was exactly how I like it…tender, garlicky & charred. It was served with an acidic aioli, frissee and arugula.
For our three main dishes we ordered a porchetta calzone, which was a special for the evening, an order of the Sunday sauce & meatballs and shellfish fra diavalo. I didn’t pay good attention to the fact that we all ordered items with a tomato sauce but the sauce is so delicious, it didn’t bother us one bit. The porchetta calzone was slow roasted pork, ricotta, banana peppers and sauce baked in chewy, crispy dough. I enjoyed every bite but it left me wanting to go back for a proper slab of porchetta (which I understand from Chef Jeffrey that he does this roast as a special some weekends.) The shellfish fra diavalo had great medley of fresh seafood simmered in a spicy version of tomato sauce and pasta. The meatballs and Sunday sauce was just like Nonna makes, likely Nick’s Nonna! From what I understand some of the classic dishes on the menu are versions of family recipes. All of them leave you saying, “Thanks for sharing!”
My second visit to Osteria 166 was an outing fit for a chef. I went in to get some pictures of the finished event space and refresh my palate from November’s visit to share with the readers of Buffalo Rising. What I experienced was an intimate look into Chef Jeffrey Cooke’s kitchen and some of their preparations. Nick greeted me as the usual jovial host and immediately introduced me to Chef Jeff and some folks from a game reserve in Wyoming County, who they were meeting with. I was graciously included in their tasting and presented with perfectly seasoned slices of grilled bison, elk & yak. I have had these meats before but the sirloin and filet cuts are very flavorful and quite tender. The yak was so delicious and all of us were taken by surprise at the flavor. Something tells me it will be on the menu soon, if not already.
Luckily I was invited on the kitchen tour that followed. We got a rare treat, to go behind the scenes and check out what the team of creative chefs is conjuring up.
We all got a sneak peek (and taste) of some of the meats on cure for the spring menu. We sampled duck breast prosciutto, cinnamon & cocoa scented lonza & house pancetta. The chefs were working on their super secret recipe for an upcoming contest too. Chef Jeff showed us his porchetta roast, rolled & curing along with fresh pork chops that were perfectly butchered for that evening’s dinner special. He gave us a glimpse of some sausages, hams and salamis that he prepares to showcase soon. I also learned that Osteria 166 was originally designed to be a lunch place and the chef told his wife he would be home by 5:00. Well that certainly has changed and we are all quite lucky that Chef Jeff, owner Nick and all the team at Osteria 166 are putting in the hours that they are (lunch and dinner). The demand by guests helped carve out what it has become.
Before departing, I got an opportunity to see the newly renovated event space. It is located upstairs with a separate entrance on Franklin Street. It is modestly decorated with the same rustic feeling as the restaurant but simple enough to allow for anyone to customize it for a function. There is a bar area made from reclaimed wood and even an old bowling alley for a top. Osteria 166 offers the space for lunch meetings, private dinners, corporate gatherings, weddings and special occasions. They are also willing to bring the party to you with off site catering. So if the stormy weather has you bound to the office, don’t miss out… order in!
Nick sent me off with a couple more amazing pasta dishes to try at home, which we had for dinner. The sausage & campanelle and the chicken lasagna were both brimming in flavor. The lunch portions were generous enough to have for dinner and then some. That day was was truly a foodie’s afternoon delight!
166 Franklin St.
Buffalo, NY 14202