But what does it mean?” I asked again, a bit annoyed that she wasn’t answering my question. “It’s the restaurant at the armory,” she replied, sounding frustrated. I asked again and she replied with the same answer. The look on my face must have shown my confusion. Finally, with a knowing look, she carefully spelled out the letters, “T-R-A-T-A. The letters are an acronym for the The Restaurant At The Armory.” “Oh!” I exclaimed sheepishly, “Now I get it. Let’s try it!”
As I exited interstate 490 onto Culver Road, I immediately spotted the building. The purple neon, ground-level lights sprawling up the walls of the restaurant were hard to miss. Nestled in a posh strip-mall location, the restaurant seemed strangely out of place for the area of town. Flanked on one side by a posh clothing boutique and on the other side by an upscale jewelry store, TRATA faded into the grand landscape of the mixed-use space. A standalone building would have given the location more panache and better brand identity.
I set aside my initial doubts, and made a quick right turn off the expressway into the newly paved parking lot. I easily found an open spot in the well-lit lot, which offered plentiful parking and was conveniently located in front of the restaurant.
The expansive sidewalk in front of the building seemed more like a boardwalk, encircling the entire complex. Unfortunately, it also provided an impromptu gathering place for patrons to chat, smoke, and linger.
Upon entering the three-level eatery through a side door fashioned almost entirely of glass, we were deposited directly in front of a large, red, lacquer table which functioned as a hostess stand. Three young women hostesses greeted us and inquired about our plans, in unison. Cute. We indicated that we had a 7pm dinner reservation for four. As we were a bit early, we decided to wait in the adjacent waiting area until our table was ready.
The small waiting area featured a gray concrete floor, a black and white historical-themed mural on the back wall, and a single long bench seat, upholstered with burnt orange and brown geometric-patterned fabric. Several overstuffed, tufted, shiny gold pillows lined the bench seat. The pillows were and odd choice; not only did they discourage guests from sitting, but they also were reminiscent of a lounge atmosphere. Sitting on the lone couch, I felt on display, as it faced the glass doors which overlooked the parking lot and Cobbs Hill Park. With the backlighting, others could see in, but I could not see out.
The waiting area also served as the entrance to TRATA’s expansive bar, which, in turn was a required thoroughfare to get to the main dining areas. The massive bar easily filled the large space. Complete with exposed brick walls, industrial ceilings, and large glass windows, the swanky bar was already humming with happy hour revelers. Short skirts, high heels, and big hair fittingly adorned the stereotypical cougars stalking their not necessarily unwilling prey at the bar. The main floor bar also featured a roped-off VIP area, ensuring the special attention which VIPs so often crave. The sounds of a pounding, 4-beat bass rhythm competed with the hum of several suspended televisions, resulting in an assault on the senses. I wondered why diners were forced to walk through this gauntlet to get to the dining areas.
As we negotiated the vast minefield of the bar area, we were escorted to our first floor table in the casual yet upscale dining area. Quieter than the bar, the dimly lit dining room was still too loud and not at all relaxing. Seating consisted of a mix of wooden tables with attractive cane chairs, and chocolate-brown and orange upholstered booth seating, each with brown burlap-like placemats.
Although I did not visit the two upper floors, TRATA’s open construction allowed for a mostly unobstructed view of the diners above us. The soaring ceilings and exposed architecture contributed to the deafening din. Because of this, it was difficult for us to carry on a conversation at our table. The second and third levels include one added bar, a “community table,” lounge, two mezzanines, and a private room.
It’s hard to believe that this building was once used as a utilitarian military armory that housed weapons and other military equipment. The interior of this expansive space was wonderfully repurposed into this modern and trendy restaurant, expertly making use of every available nook, to accommodate over 300 diners. Kudos to restaurateur Charlie Fitzsimmons for a job very well done!
TRATA has a variety of menus, including those dedicated to Brunch, Lunch, Dessert, Late Night, Refreshments, and Dessert. Because we were there for dinner, I viewed only the menus for Dinner, Refreshments, and Dessert:
- The Dinner Menu was limited to one page, printed front and back. It advertised Sharing Plates ($7.95 – $12.95), Large Plates ($16.95 – $25.95), Soups & Salads ($4.95 – $11.95), a Burger Bar ($11.95 – $16.95) and Sides ($5.95).
- The Refreshments Menu offered Craft Cocktails, Beer Cocktails, and Wine (by the bottle and glass). The bar famously stocked an impressive array of wines, craft beers, local brews and top shelf liquor.
- The Dessert Menu advertised more beverages than desserts. It included six desserts ($5.95 – $9.95), six designer coffees ($3 – $4.75) and nineteen Cordials, Ports & Scotch options ($7 – $15).
The Friday night dinner specials were listed on a separate sheet and included: a sharing plate of Crispy Pork Tacos ($9.95); a large plate of a 10 oz. Pub Burger ($16.95), Pan-roasted Grouper with roasted squash and pomegranate sauce ($28.95), and Beer-battered Cod, with lemon-pepper French fries and Brussel sprouts ($19.95).
Our waiter brought us a large basket of a variety of sliced breads with two herbed butters. All of the bread was warm, with a nice crust and a soft center. I liked the creamy garlic butter better than the other butter, which was combined with various herbs.
As we perused the menu, several of us had trouble making a dining decision. Although the number of entrees was limited, each one was more interesting than the next. I liked that the variety of entrees spanned from pizza and burgers to steak and seafood. I finally settled on the Pan-roasted Pork Chop with Chinese green beans, chopped peanuts and a mango-pepper slaw ($19.95) and a House Side Salad ($5.95), with dressing on the side.
The nicely crusted pork chop was larger and thicker than I expected. This other white meat was tender, juicy and perfectly seared. It was served with a side of crisp but tender green beans and a sweet and chunky mango-pepper slaw. The chop was topped with a light, brown sauce and served on a warm, white plate. The only thing which could have made it even tastier would be a bit less salt. Admittedly, I cook with very little salt, so I tend to be sensitive to it. Therefore, others may have thought that the pork chop was seasoned just right. The side salad was not as impressive as the pork chop, but it was fresh, cold and crisp. It included a nice mix of greens, chopped red onions, halved cherry tomatoes, and thickly sliced cucumbers (skin on), all ready to be dressed with a luxurious balsamic vinaigrette.
Mary ordered a Salmon Salad ($16.95) noting that she ordered the same salad during her first two visits – a testament to how much she liked it. The 6 oz. Atlantic salmon was served over mixed greens, with both red and green apple wedges, sliced red grapes, and dried cranberries. Honey lemon and goat cheese dressing complimented the salad nicely.
Unfortunately, Mary was disappointed with her salad due to mushy apples and wilted greens. Perhaps this was due to the hot salmon fillet perched atop it? Although the salmon was flavorful, she just couldn’t get past the unappealing textures and mouth feel of the other ingredients.
Sharon decided on the Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($16.95) and a craft cocktail ($7.50). Plated for maximum height, the light and crispy fried chicken was accompanied by two airy biscuits from The Village Bakery, which were skewered to the chicken. With a side of fluffy whipped potatoes, the chicken was nicely sauced with a rich and buttery brown gravy. She enjoyed it and said that the chicken was moist and lightly seasoned. I expected to see a much heavier meal, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicate it looked on the plate.
Her adult beverage, a ’76 Barcelona Casteller Cava Rosé wine, was shaken, stirred and mixed with Tito’s vodka and boldly garnished with a large, bright lemon wedge. She gave it very high marks, with a smile.
Barb ordered the Pan-roasted Grouper dinner special ($28.95). She said that it was firm yet flaky, heavily seared, and well-seasoned. Paired with roasted squash, and burgundy pomegranate sauce, the fall colors of this dish were perfect for the season.
She enjoyed the mild flavor of the grouper. However, Barb noted that the taste of the much-touted pomegranate sauce was barely noticeable. Ideally, she would have appreciated a more prominent pomegranate presence in the sauce.
Only two of us indulged in dessert. We shared an incredibly large slice of Dark Chocolate Layered Cake($5.95), with cream frosting. It did not disappoint!
We were pleasantly surprised by the thick layer of creamy peanut butter hidden between the two layers of moist and decadent chocolate cake. The waiter had neglected to mention that little gem.
This substantial slice of cake looked so inviting and tasted so rich. I am not much of a dessert person, but this cake was unusually impressive. Our tablemates were more than a little jealous that they had passed on ordering dessert!
I was quite pleased with the quality of service we received at TRATA. We were greeted immediately upon our arrival by a trio of hostesses. Soon after we were seated, our waiter came to the table to greet us. He was rather charming, with his Australian (I think?) accent and suave good looks, which he used to his advantage to unashamedly flirt with us. He was knowledgeable about the menu, making informed food and beverage suggestions and answering our detailed questions about the food and its preparation. Also, I was happy that my water-glass was kept full throughout the evening, which is no easy feat, as I drink lots of water. Throughout the meal, our waiter checked on us several times, inquiring about our needs. He brought us a refill of our bread basket and was quite attentive; he greatly contributed to our pleasant dining experience.
We didn’t feel rushed to give up our table as we chatted over dessert, around 9pm. When we did leave, a tall, burly man, dressed in black and outfitted with an earpiece and microphone, nodded as he held the door for us. I appreciated the gesture, but wondered, is this a fine dining destination or a nightclub with a bouncer at the door?
Awards and Accolades
After operating in Rochester since only mid-2012, TRATA has earned several local nods, including:
- “Best New Restaurant” in City Newspaper’s “Best of Rochester 2013.”
- “Best Rochester dishes: chicken and waffles,” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Newspaper, November, 2015
- Finalist – “2015 Gold Daisy Award: Best Date Night Restaurant,” Macaroni Kid Pittsford, November, 2015
Congratulations to Chef Aaron Bolton and General Manager Allie Greco for leading the staff in attaining these accolades.
Overall, I enjoyed the delicious and creative food and the attentive service at TRATA. However, I did not care for the split personality atmosphere – a dichotomy of a pulsing nightclub bar and a fine dining establishment. While I understand management’s desire to appeal to the widest possible audience, they instead confuse people with this dual-branding approach. One fix would be to renovate the layout of the main entrance, to allow for separate egress into the bar versus the dining area. With that, TRATA might successfully cater to both populations; but neither group would have to interact with the other, unless of course, they wanted to.
I would return to TRATA for another quality food and service experience. However, I have no desire to hang out at the trendy bar; I’ll leave that the more adventurous crowd. Based on my first pleasant experience with their dinner menu, I would like to sample their other evening fare. In addition, I look forward to sampling their lunch and brunch menus as well. If you can get past the nightclub vibe in the front of the locale (literally), then you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality and creativity of the food and the attentiveness of the staff.
If You Go…
TRATA – The Restaurant at the Armory
145 Culver Road
Rochester, NY 14620
- Brunch: Sun: 10:30am-2:30pm
- Lunch: Mon-Fri : 11am-3pm
- Dinner: Mon-Thurs: 4:30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat: 4pm-11pm, Sun: 4pm-10pm
- Late Night Menu: 11pm-12am
Cuisine: American, Family-style
Meals Served: Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Children’s Menu: No
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Handicap Accessible: Yes, including a ramp through the bar to the dining room
Attire: Casual to formal
Requires Reservations: No, but they are encouraged
Table Service: Yes
Outdoor Seating: Yes – seasonal roof-top seating
Parking: Free and plentiful in the adjoining lot
Valet Service: No
Bar Seating: Yes
Date opened: August 23, 2012
Date visited: Friday, October 9, 2015, for dinner
Note: TRATA is affiliated with the owners/investors of several local eateries, including
Black & Blue Steak & Crab, Jo-Jo Bistro and Wine Bar, and Village Bakeries.