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Nobody can give a good reason for this, but there are a lot more restaurants north of the city than south. So when a new restaurant opens in East Aurora -- in the heart of the village, no less -- it's big news.

Enter the Villager, on the corner of Main Street and Pine in an ancient building, site of a former restaurant. It's a large place and attractive with at least two dining rooms and a separate barroom. Some East Aurorans have been there three times already, and the place has been open only about a month!

I can see what draws them. The surroundings of the restaurant are pleasant; the menu is varied. While the foods offered are not unusual, they're the ones everybody loves. On the appetizer list, for instance, are Deep Fried Vegetables ($5.25), Crabmeat Stuffed Mushroom Caps ($5.95) and Shrimp Cocktail ($6.50). Tried and true.

It was raining heavily, however, so we opted for the Navy Bean Soup (cup, $1.75) -- an excellent decision, as it turned out. The soup was thick, it was satisfying, and had an emphatic smoky ham flavor. French Onion Soup is a perennial on the Villager menu, and both red and white Clam Chowders are served on Fridays. These would be good things to bear in mind.

The house specialty? It's prime rib, served in several weights. The Queen Cut (8 ounces, $11.95) was more than sufficient for the Companion, he felt. Ordered rare, it came rare, cut about a half-inch thick, tasty and just a tad on the dry side.

This beef also can be ordered in 14-ounce or 20-ounce servings or, from the lighter menu, as a sandwich ($5.95) on a kaiser roll. This last is an especially good bet.

I ordered another house specialty -- Villager Chicken ($10.95). It turned out to be a juicy, carefully sauteed breast, accompanied by sauteed onions and pepper, topped with melted cheddar cheese. Plenty to eat, especially when accompanied by a generous serving of thickly cut french fries. The salads were fresh but not exciting; ditto the rolls.

So it was with great delight that we learned that the pies are homemade. How could we resist Double Chocolate Silk Pie, after all? It turned out to be a delight -- light as well-beaten eggs could make it, very chocolatey. The portion was easily shared by two.

As mentioned above, loads of other popular favorites are listed on the menu. Friday is Fish Fry ($7.75). You can even get Half a Fish Fry for $5.25. There's Surf and Turf, Liver and Onions, a Strip Steak Sandwich and Fettucine Alfredo (with chicken $11.95, with Shrimp $13.95).

All in all, a welcome introduction to the East Aurora scene.

(Addresses and telephone numbers of restaurants reviewed in the past two months may be obtained by calling 849-4070.)
Sinatra's Trilogy ( ***Sept. 17)
838 Kenmore Ave. (877-9419). An attractive restaurant -- and not a large one -- that specializes in home-style Italian food. Guess who sings in the background?
Teta's *** * (Sept. 10)
9370 Transit Road, East Amherst (636-5944). Home-style Middle Eastern cuisine is served in this small, simply decorated restaurant in Casey Plaza.
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 occasionalentertainment.
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-Fusian. 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. Over the top? You betcha. Also great fun (and expensive.)
Linguine's ***(July 30)
5380 Genesee St., Lancaster (683-6542). Just a little Italian restaurant behind a gas station. This cute and busy place features hearty homestyle 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.
Pettiibones Grille ** 1/2 (July 16)
Swan and Washington streets (846-2100). In Dunn Tire Park with a view of the baseball diamond, this restaurant is now basically a bar and lunch place.
* indicates that restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.

726 Main St., East Aurora (652-5788). A brand-new restaurant in the center of the village that offers well-prepared standard dishes. Lighter menu of snacks and sandwiches is also available. Credit cards: Express, Visa, MasterCard.

BEST DISH: Prime Rib.

NEEDS WORK: Salad and rolls could be perked up.

PRICE RANGE: Dinners from $8.95 include potato and soup or salad. Lighter menu from about $5.


HOURS: Lunch, Mon. through Fri. Dinner, seven days.

HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Grilled Salmon, various stir-fries.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, from Main Street.

PARKING: In the rear lot.

KID APPEAL: Kids' menu available.
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.

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