Buffalo and Angola native Bryan Mecozzi comes from Vera Pizzeria in Buffalo, where he learned to create the eclectic menu that the Blasdell’s Black Iron Bystro offers.
HAMBURG — Bryan Mecozzi opened Black Iron Bystro with one mission in mind: To serve fresh food, fresh beer and fun wine to the Southtowns community. The self-taught chef who comes from two years as sous chef at Vera Pizzeria in Buffalo said his goal in opening the dinner-only restaurant is to have fun with the food, with the staff and with the business.
“I don’t want to overwhelm myself and I don’t want to overwhelm the staff,” he said, of his small menu and 40-seat house. “If we’re all having fun while we’re working, we’ll never work a day in our lives.”
He said he is keeping the hours at dinner only so he and his family and staff can “live the European lifestyle.
The Black Iron Bystro utilizes found industrial materials, pallets and wheat-pasted photographs of steel-era icons to create its decor.
“I want to be there for my son as he’s growing up. He’s always asking questions, always wondering what I’m doing. And being there for that, for him, that’s big for me.”
Mecozzi grew up on the West side of Buffalo until he was 13 and his parents moved the family to Angola. He graduated from Lake Shore High School.
“I’m a country boy who can chop wood, but I also know how to cut through the East side to get home,” he said, with a laugh. He, his wife and their 2-year-old son Kingsley live on the West side now, but he decided to locate the business in Blasdell, in a building that has been in his family for 25 years.
“Originally, eight years ago, I wanted to do a food truck. I had a guy lined up who had an old ice cream truck that he was using as his plumbing truck,” he explained. “I wanted to take it down to Bennett Beach and the Mickey Rat’s area and do a summertime thing, but the permits weren’t working out; it was a new idea, back then. But this place was sitting here and no one was doing anything with it, so I took it over.”
Much of the Black Iron Bystro's decor is comprised of found elements and stuff the owner and his family has collected locally.
Mecozzi, his father and his uncle gutted the building and turned it into a space that looks like the Buffalo version of a Brooklyn eatery. Found materials line the walls, with tables made from old church pews, reconstructed pallets from the former Erie County Infirmary and old industrial artifacts Mecozzi and his friends have found around the area.
Lit by industrial-style fixtures the owner made himself, pallets with wheat-pasted photographs by his friend and local artist Chris Kameck, depict the first female steel worker, a union president, Bethlehem Steel employees and other industrial icons locals will recognize as some of their own. The images come from the Buffalo and Erie County Library collection and the owner said he hopes the art will complement the interior, blending into the earth-tone walls and creating an ambience that makes people comfortable.
The Black Iron Bystro is located on South Park Avenue in Blasdell, down the street from Blasdell Elementary School.
“People don’t really ask about this stuff,” he said of the art and industrial chotchkes in the restaurant. “They just think it’s cool. And I think that’s what art is supposed to be, just part of the whole experience.”
That experience, nudged along by bar-width tables and low seating, is intended to feel communal, Mecozzi said. The menu, a diverse blend of charcuterie, arancini, bahn mi and the occasional quesadilla special, are all small plates that the owner said can be eaten as an entree or shared with friends and family.
“I want to create an atmosphere of feasting,” he said. “It keeps everyone together, keeps them close to one another.”
Visitors will be feasting on fresh, local ingredients sourced from T Meadows Farms, Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile, Braymiller Market and other nearby farms and merchants, with the menu depending on the season and the whims of its creator.
“I’m really buzzing on Central America right now, but not like, nachos and taquitos. Take the Rancher steak. I’m feeling the brightness of chimichuri, the dark, smokiness of steak, blending those flavors so your palate goes a little crazy.”
This old cart was unearthed from behind Mecozzi’s sister’s house on Elmwood Avenue.
One of his main culinary influences is his Lebanese mother-in-law, who Marcozzi said could have been a chef herself.
“A lot of my passion comes from her. We’ll go over there for dinner, my wife and I, and there will be this huge spread; tons of Middle Eastern food and then, like, frog legs on the side. It’s crazy.”
The bar serves exclusively Hamburg Brewing Company’s seasonal selections and what the chef called a “fun wine list,” from Polaner Selections.
“There’s no recognizable label, but these aren’t expensive wines; they’re not highbrow. They’re things people are going to enjoy, but probably haven’t seen before.”
He takes those wines and beers into account when creating his small, seasonal menu.
“I’m really flying by the seat of my pants,” he said, when asked about his cultural or culinary influences. “When I see someone else doing some really cool stuff, I get inspired by that. At Vera, owner Cameron [Rector] always pushed me to do my research and to really experiment and do my own thing, and I grew from that. We’re really simple; there’s no nitrogen, no foamed beef on Weck.”
The open kitchen allows guests to see what the chefs are whipping up, and Marcozzi said that is a nod to his original idea for a hyper-small spot, where guests would belly up to a bar directly attached to the kitchen.
“I wanted people to sit right there, grab a beer from the cooler and just hang out,” he said. “And it turned into this. I’ve always been one for a clean kitchen and clean hands. Everyone I’ve ever worked with has hated me,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ve always been all over their mis en place (workstation), to keep it clean, keep it streamlined.”
While some early patrons have had questions about menu items like the bahn mi, a Vietnamese sandwich that is similar to a hoagie, he said he and his staff are always ready to answer questions and explain their offerings.
“Since we’re in the Southtowns, a lot of people are thrown off by some of the stuff, but my servers know all about it,” he said, noting that he has developed a kids menu for picky little eaters.
And as time goes on, he said, there is sure to be new offerings, new twists and surprises, even for him.
“I’m not opposed to doing anything,” he said. “It’s a learning curve. We’re new kids on the block, just doing this on the fly, having fun and making food.”
Black Iron Bystro, located at 3648 S. Park Ave., opened on May 27. It is open from 4-10 p.m. on Tuesday-Thursday and 4 p.m.-midnight on Friday and Saturday. The business is closed Sunday and Monday, and can be reached at 240-9830.