FANS OF Middle Eastern (in this case mostly Lebanese) cuisine probably don't even notice all the construction on Transit Road, they're in such a hurry to get to Teta's. The restaurant -- its name means "grandmother," by the way, and at Teta's that's really who is doing the cooking -- may be small in size, but the home-style cuisine it offers is very big on taste.
This is a very modest place of maybe 10 tables. The pastry case functions as the center of attention, bulging with intricately shaped little goodies filled with caloric ingredients like dates and pistachio nuts.
But yank yourself away from those pastries right away, folks -- the first thing you want to do here is concentrate on appetizers. So good that one in our party said next time he'd concentrate on the appetizers (and the pastries) to the exclusion of everything else.
Four of us tried the combo Veggie Plate ($5.95) and practically licked it clean. Featured were one of the tasty vegetable-stuffed pastries called Spinach Pies, and gently flavored rice-stuffed Grape Leaves. The hummus was lighter in substance and more liquid that most hummus I've eaten, but I think it was more enjoyable because of that. (Hummus is a mixture of mashed chickpeas and sesame paste that's seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice, typically eaten with pita bread.)
The same goes for eating Felafel, spicy deep-fried chickpea balls that tasted fresh and crunchy.
And there was Tabouleh on the plate, too. This salad, based on bulgur or cracked wheat, contained much more parsley than wheat and had a definite "green" taste. Finally we had Potatoes Harra, which both the server and the menu mentioned was "spicy." I have this to say: Potatoes Harra (seasoned with red chili and garlic, I'd guess) were the hottest darn potatoes I've ever eaten.
Moving right along to main dishes, however, the Companion went for the roasted half-chicken ($6.95), a juicy, nice garlicked little bird if ever there was one. A guest enjoyed the flavor of his Kafta Kabob ($3.50), grilled beef on a skewer, though he used plenty of accompanying Hummus to anoint it because the meat was a little dry. But the star of the meal was Teta's Daily Special, a home-cooked entree that changes every night ($5.95).
I had what the staff called Stuffed Eggplant, though the sauteed vegetable was really layered with a small amount of oniony ground beef. Then what looked like 1,000 pine nuts were sprinkled on top along with sliced fresh tomatoes.
Picture all of the above topped with the very lightest of tomato sauces. I tell you, this eggplant dish was a wondrous thing.
And all of that brings us to the pastries. Shaped Mammoul filled with Pistachios (very rich, $1.25), also Mini Roses, phyllo and finely minced pine nuts, gently seasoned with rosewater (85 cents). Also Basma, dough layered with pistachios. Small servings, all of them, but don't delude yourself. They exude calories anyway.
Vegetarians should note a big vegetable selection here. From the Felafel "Veggie Burger" ($2.99) to the Foul Madammas, fava beans seasoned with olive oil and garlic ($3.50) to Fatteh, baked chickpeas with toasted pita, yogurt, pine nuts, garlic and mint, ($5.95) there's plenty to choose from. The vegetarian fare is as interesting as the meat food, for once.
Plenty to enjoy.
The A-Train ** 1/2 (Sept. 3)
1412 Main St. (883-5926). This new restaurant offers an extensive menu of upscale soul food. The handsome surroundings are more than comfortable; the place really bustles.
Kristin's ** 1/2 (Aug. 27)
30 Wellington St., St. Catharines, Ont. (905-682-5022). A bistro with Provencal leanings -- both in food and decor. Outdoor patio available.
Root Five * 1/2 (Aug. 20)
4914 Lakeshore Road, Hamburg (627-5551). Absolutely fabulous location on the very edge of a very wide Lake Erie. Eat in or out. There's an extensive menu, a busy bar and occasional entertainment.
Fritz Bistro ****(Aug. 13)
6010 Goodrich Road, Clarence Center (741-5085). Fritz has been open for over a year and the menu is now totally Asian-fusion. Sleek and stunning, surroundings are every bit as sophisticated as the food.
Escabeche **** * (Aug. 6)
6 Picton St. Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. (888-669-5566). In the newly renovated Prince of Wales Hotel -- a visual and culinary production -- the Edwardian decor is complete to the very last tassel.
5380 Genesee St., Lancaster (683-6542). Just a little Italian restaurant behind a gas station. This cute and busy place features hearty home-style food.
Murphy Orchards Tea Room ***(July 23)
2402 McClew Road, Burt (778-7926). Handsome old house in the middle of farm country. beautiful views. Tea and lunch only.
Wilson House **(July 23)
300 Lake St., Wilson (751-9888). A Niagara County landmark, located in an historic house near Lake Ontario right in the center of the fruit belt.
* indicates that restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.
TETA'S *** *
9370 Transit Road, East Amherst (636-5944). Home-style Middle Eastern cuisine is served in this small, simply decorated restaurant in Casey Plaza. Sandwiches, salads, main dishes and a wide variety of pastries are available to eat in or take out. No wine or beer. Credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard.
BEST DISH: The daily special, in this case, Stuffed Eggplant.
NEEDS WORK: All dishes are of good quality.
PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from about $4.
HOURS: Mon. through Thurs. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri., Sat. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sun. noon to 7 p.m.
HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Large vegetarian selection.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.
PARKING: In the plaza.
KID APPEAL: Older children will enjoy.
Addresses and telephone numbers of restaurants reviewed during the past two months may be obtained by calling 849-4070.
KEY:* FAIR,** GOOD,***VERY GOOD, ****EXCELLENT, *****EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.