Johnny D’s Checks all of the boxes, and then some.

A former executive at Delaware North – Chris Harter – is in the process of opening Johnny D’s in the famed E.B. Green’s Steakhouse location, inside Hyatt Regency Buffalo. Harter, who told me that he’s from nowhere and anywhere [laughing], was coaxed back to Buffalo from Atlanta by Douglas Jemal of Douglas Development (owner of the building), who told him, “Get back to Buffalo and get this restaurant open!” Until that point in time, Jemal and Harter could not come to agreeable terms, but eventually Jemal realized that Harter was the only guy that could make the operation work. Really work.

Previously, Harter had worked in Buffalo, at Delaware North, for three years. He told me that his move to Atlanta was short-lived before he got the phone call from Jemal, prompting his return to Buffalo – a city that he was happy to come back to. It didn’t take much coaxing. All it took was a business arrangement that would benefit both parties, without as much risk.

What Harter has done with the space is pretty impressive. With an open kitchen, a room for private gatherings (seats up to 70 people), a lavish main dining area, a submerged funky bar, an indoor garden atrium, and a sizeable patio, Johnny D’s is a refreshing addition to the downtown restaurant landscape. I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw iconic Buffalo musician Jackie Jocko’s piano gleaming in the corner. Jocko used to tickle the ivories back in the day, when E.B. Green’s was “the place to be.” Now, Howard Goldman will be reviving the piano man’s role at Johnny D’s, which will be open seven days a week, starting today.

Our sneak peek of the restaurant, yesterday, was a real eye opener. It was easy to see why Jemal was so desperate to get Harter back to Buffalo. For Harter, the devil is in the details. Over the years, he’s opened and owned a number of restaurants, ran countless high level operations, and was president for Patina Restaurant Group during his stint in Buffalo. Restaurant Informer posted that he retained president and chief executive officer roles at Restaurants Unlimited in Seattle, Legacy Restaurants in Houston, and Levy Restaurants in Chicago. As my wife keenly noted, this is not this guy’s first rodeo.

Speaking of a Texas rodeo, similar to the magic recipe for E.B. Green’s, Johnny D’s is going to be slinging some pretty mean steaks, including prime steaks and chops – 8 ounce filet mignon, a 22 ounce dry aged bone-in ribeye, a New Zealand rack of lamb, and a double cut pork chop, for example. Other menu items of interest include sushi rolls, classic Caesar, wedge salad, roasted heirloom carrots, shrimp and grits, chicken fried steak, Faroe Island salmon, pappardelle, and wild mushroom mac and cheese.

The kitchen is being run by Kenneth Legnon, who was formerly the private chef at for Jeremy Jacobs, owner of Delaware North. The front of the house is being orchestrated by manager Michael Stanley Gallisdorfer, who has made a sidestep from the operations at The Richardson Hotel. Together, this team has put together an impressive steakhouse that will appeal to anyone who has been hoping for this sort of sophisticated and refined dining experience that is, for the most part, mainly found out on Transit Road near the airport. This is the type of elevated dining experience that used to proliferate in Downtown Buffalo, during its roaring heyday.

You want sunshine? Johnny D’s delivers. You want sublime? They have that too. There’s a setting for any and all occasions. While this might be reminiscent of E.B. Green’s, it’s been completely revolutionized into the type of dinner club that you would expect every great city to have (at least one of). Harter has checked off all of the boxes. Then he added some more boxes, and checked those off too.

Currently, Johnny D’s is slowly rolling out the menu, until they get their feet wet. In the meantime, the temporarily paired down menu will still get people talking, and the cocktail program will get people toasting accordingly. We tried a few of the cocktails, and they were sensational… especially the blood orange margarita with jalapeño and the heirloom tomato martini, which was a huge home run.

Similar to how Jemal told Harter to get back to Buffalo, I’m here to tell you to get back downtown, and give Johnny D’s a try. Whether it’s to grab a sushi roll and a cocktail at the bar, or sample a sizzling steak while chilling to some jazz music (or Lou Reed, Joe Jackson on the music playlist), or even to attend a clambake on the patio this summer, this dynamic dinner club is here to please, and here to stay.

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