Along the shores of Lake Erie, finding a spot to surf is easier than finding a special meal in sight of the waves.
Their odds improved in November when Alex Diaczenko, the chef who opened luxury Italian high-end Lucia’s on the Lake in 2015, took a seat behind the stove at Lago 210. It’s a little closer to Buffalo and a lot closer to The Surf, a waterfront restaurant on the edge of discovery. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, its Ukrainian-American chef began preparing Ukrainian dishes in addition to his regular, tiny menu to raise money for refugees. More on that later.
A half-mile south of his old spot, Diaczenko is again filling a dining room. Admittedly, since it’s a converted hot dog shack, the task is a lot easier. It weighs just over 20 seats including the compact bar.
This does not include the terrace. When summer comes it promises to be prime real estate for sun seekers. Manager Amanda Krouse takes care of the customers and gives the service a decidedly hands-on feel. There is a selection of wine, beer and a full bar with Krouse on the shaker.
With fewer slots on the menu, Diaczenko doesn’t waste a chance to impress. Stuffed peppers ($18) are a Buffalo mainstay and at Lago 210 it can be read as a statement dish. Here’s a place that wants to promote your favorites. Divided Hungarian yellow chili peppers are roasted and then stuffed with cotija and other cheeses and spicy chorizo. Underneath is roasted tomato and pepper sauce that enhances the Mexican aspect, while warm flatbread does the cleaning up.
Brussels sprouts, the unlikely It vegetable of 2021, are having one of their best moments of 2022 at Lago 210 ($10). Quartered and deep-fried to a crisp, they spread over miso-maple sauce, much to the table’s satisfaction. To top it all off, there was a shiny topknot of homemade kimchi, whose crunchy funk added another dimension to these blessed little cabbages.
Remarkably, Diaczenko rang the cherries without resorting to bacon, the cabbage crutch, making his effort vegetarian-friendly. By the way, the kimchi is vegan.
Ditto for the cauliflower steak ($22), an honest, satisfying vegan appetizer that’s rare due to the chicken teeth surrounding these parts. Meticulously caramelized cauliflower rides on a roasted pepper nut pesto called Romesco, with thick golden raisins for fruity sweetness.
Don’t read too much into it, though, because then comes the shrimp and grits ($29). Smoked, spicy andouille appears as crispy garlic pork croutons. Half a dozen fat tail prawns arrive nestled in velvety grits that taste more like cheddar than corn. Intoxicating salsa verde, alive with green chili, cilantro and lime, cuts through the heaviness and makes it a dance party of a dish.
Chicken skin done right is a separate course in any truly boffo fried chicken. Diaczenko crusts a breast and leg with za’atar, the Middle Eastern blend of thyme, sesame and tangy sumac, for a flavorful, slightly crunchy counterpoint to the tender meat underneath ($27).
Among them was tzatziki, the garlic-cucumber yogurt sauce turbocharged with charred jalapeno for a green fire. Broken roast potatoes and sweetly astringent chunks of roasted carrots rounded out the platter, enough to feed two.
These dishes are on the standard menu. Recently, Lago 210 special actions have been dedicated to raising money for needy Ukrainians. Diaczenko was born in Rochester to Ukrainians who fled to survive World War II. The proceeds from three Ukrainian dishes from his mother’s cooking class go to refugee aid.
Even in peacetime, I would have recommended Diaczenko’s Ukrainian-style beet soup ($8). Borscht is Slavic soul food made with beets, potatoes and cabbage in a deep red broth, spritzed with vinegar. It comes with a dollop of dill crème fraiche and more fresh dill fronds.
Cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and grains are called holubtsi (“little pigeon”) in Ukraine. Diaczenko’s version ($23), two burrito-sized packs stuffed with pork and beef, is presented in a toasted tomato sauce with jam and a halo of salsa verde.
For a sausage platter ($28), Diaczenko collaborated with BABS Sausage to create a Ukrainian-inspired fusion of beets, cabbage and pork and kovbasa, a signature Ukrainian smoked sausage. (The chorizo and andouille he uses are also from BABS, helmed by Six Friends Cabernet chef Jessica Arends.) Sliced and served over a potato pancake, with a thicket of red sauerkraut in barrel + brine and more dill -Crème fraiche, it would have been my favorite of the three. But borscht is unbeatable.
Desserts ($8) come from Sweet Pea Bakery in Hamburg, which Lago 210 owner Audrey Zybala opened in 2015. Everyone loved the gooey butter cake, like butterscotch cream in a chewy crust, served with whipped cream. Everyone agreed that if it was reheated first, it would be even stickier in a good way. A Polish honey cake was a dense forest delight that called for black coffee despite the hour.
Zybala’s eatery doesn’t promise the cheapest or quickest bites on the shores of Lake Erie. What Lago 210 offers is a meal with heart and the chance of a sunset for dessert.
4038 Hooverstrasse, Hamburg (lago210.com, 716-246-3022)
Opening times: Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers, $10-$28; Entrees $16-$49.
Atmosphere: relaxation by the sea.
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Gluten-free: many possibilities.
Outdoor seating: coming soon.
Photos: Explore the Lago 210 in Hamburg
Ukrainian sausages and potato pancakes
Prawns and Grits
Hear the waves at Lago 210
Roasted cauliflower at Lago 210
Fried black bass
Vibrant wall decoration
A little bit of wisdom
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