34 S. Crossman St., Buffalo, NY 14211
Web: Scharf's Schiller Park Restaurant
Rating: [learn more]
See More Restaurant Reviews For:
American Buffalo German
"The Liver Dumpling Soup looks like it emerged from a clogged kitchen drain; the dumpling didn't taste like liver, and the broth was notable for its lack of any flavor."
Since 1967, the German-American Scharf's Restaurant has been located at the end of a dead-end street in a residential neighborhood, sitting right on the edge of Buffalo's Schiller Park. Forty-two years later, the first thing we notice on the building is the conspicuous sign on its side: "We cater to family parties and funeral breakfasts." Our car is parked in front of a house, and we're walking into the place, which looks like it hasn't been redecorated since it opened, its dining room all but hidden behind a tavern area in front. Three of us have arrived to try the potato pancakes, the schnitzel, and the sausages, all of which we're guessing will be even more impressive than the ones at Ulrich's. And as we leave, we're surprised that they weren't.
German oompa-oompa tunes play in the background as we look over the menu, which we largely recognize from the version we'd read on the Internet: it's the short, predictable list of items above, plus four soups, Rouladen, roast pork and roast duck, as well as some American fare - mostly steaks and fried seafood. The evening's special is a plate with two sausages and two potato pancakes, and the one German dessert on the menu is Black Forest Cake, which has us excited. We start with a Paulaner Hefe Wiezen beer ($3.25) - cold, twice as tall as we'd imagined, and delicious with an included slice of lemon.
Hungry, we decide to order a large, representative collection of items from the German menu. After a small basket of very lightly flavored rye bread gets buttered up and disappears from the table, two soups show up - first is a cup of the Liver Dumpling Soup ($2.50), which looks like it emerged from a clogged kitchen drain, and had barely any taste; the dumpling didn't taste like liver, and the broth was notable for its lack of any discernible flavor. Similarly, a cup of the Manhattan Clam Chowder ($2) is nearly as watery, has little to no clams inside, and consists of finely chopped bits of tomato and other vegetables. It's a bad start to the meal.
But we're all okay with the plate of four Potato Pancakes ($7.75), which are golden brown, medium-thick - not too crispy, not too fat - and taste enough of potatoes and oil to be about par for the course. They're completely cooked through, judiciously salted, and taste better with dabs of the included cup of applesauce. Two of us like but don't love them, a third found them too oily and too weak in potato flavor to enjoy. We opted to try another dish, the Schnitzel Fingers ($5), after our server explained that the strips were identical to the standard Wiener Schnitzel, only pre-sliced lengthwise. Just a little overcooked, the brown-battered Schnitzel obviously contains flat-pounded meat, but its veal flavor is indiscernible, and the included lemon is unable to make much of an impression given the thick, dark batter it's fighting with. Neither of these items was bad, but neither was very good.
Our entrees go in different directions. One of us orders the Roast Duck ($13), perhaps 10 ounces of meat and bone with a crisp but otherwise plain skin and no obvious marinade flavor inside. Served with dry but good Spatzle egg noodles, the duck is appropriately moist and naturally slightly gamey on the inside, and satisfies without thrilling. It's the best of the dishes. The second member of our group gets the Sausage and Potato Pancakes special ($9), describing the one smoked and one boiled bratwurst as collectively awful - far worse than Ulrich's - and though we sample them and find them to be entirely plain, there's no doubt that they really needed some grilling. We could have done better at home.
Then there's the Rouladen ($13.50), a flat-pounded piece of beef that's been rolled into a log-like shape and sliced in two, served in a thin gravy alongside two starchy, ball-shaped dumplings. The dumplings can't help but be good, their soft, semi-doughy, semi-rubbery bodies glistening with the gravy glaze, but the sirloin tip beef is overcooked, harsh, and only a step or two above edible - like a tube made from oven-cooked Steak-Umms. There's no obvious flavor from the bacon or onions that are supposed to be inside, either. It all looks interesting, but we'd never order it here again.
It's worth a brief note that some of the side dishes are actually fine or good: a dish of Sauerkraut included with the Rouladen is finely shredded, with a nice mix of semi-tangy and sweet flavors, while a similarly-sized portion of Sweet & Sour Cabbage tasted substantially the same but for its chopped, thicker pieces, and three included salads - two with the house vinaigrette dressing, one with ranch - are all fresh and tasty.
Sadly, any chance we'd have of returning ends with the dessert course. We'd all been looking forward to sharing the Schwarzwalder Kirsch Torte ($3.25) - the Black Forest Cake - since we saw it on the menu, and had visions of a tall, plump traditional slice that would arrive dripping with cherry juice. Instead, what we get is a mangled partial slice of dry, pathetic cake that comes apart in hard chunks and has only whipped cream and gooey cherry syrup to add moisture. Each of us independently concludes that it's awful. If it hadn't been for the second dessert, a piece of entirely decent Coconut Cream Pie ($3), the meal would have concluded on a terrible note; we agree that though the Pie wasn't great, it was tied with the alright potato pancakes and the beer for the highlights of the evening.
Yet in a rare moment of disagreement, the three of us can't settle on a rating: one votes one star, the second one and a half, and the third either one and a half or two, but when we talk, a lower rating seems more fair. Ultimately, there's no question in our minds that Scharf's isn't at Ulrich's moderate level, but how much worse is it, really? We talk, noting that our server was disinterested, the dishes generally ranged from okay to bland to bad, and the place had less ambience than restaurants that actually try to look retro. On the flip side, the potato pancakes and beer won two of us over, and we'd imagine that there aren't many other restaurants near the park offering funeral breakfast catering services. All things considered, we feel that one and a half stars might be a little generous; charming, higher-quality German options such as Prosit certainly have nothing to worry about here.