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SMALL RESTAURANT WITH BIG AMBITIONS MORE THAN SATISFIES

After leading our brood to a cozy table in the Hideaway Grille and cracking the menus, it didn't take long to take the measure of the place.

It only seats about 30 but is expanding into the former Muscoreil's Fine Desserts space next door. By August, they should be able to do banquets.

Right now, though, this is a little restaurant with big ambitions.

Even the bread basket introduces itself with a flourish: That's strawberry butter next to the swirl of whipped honey butter. "It's pink," sang Little Red, but she didn't want it on her bread, even if it was her favorite color.

Her older sister, Big Gal, quickly located the kids menu and read off the choices. The understanding server whisked their wishes (cheeseburger, chicken fingers, chicken wings, all with french fries, and all $4.95) into the kitchen, giving Supermom a chance to look over the menu.

She's fond of artichokes, so an appetizer of Artichokes Francaise ($7.95) was an easy choice. After that, decisions got harder. There were pastas, there were "famous" baby back ribs ($10.25 half rack, $15.50 full), steaks both straight-up and fancy, shrimp and veal and salads and chicken.

Not just any steak, either: sirloin encased in a crust of walnuts and blue cheese ($17.95). You can get a plain chicken breast or pistachio crusted chicken on a mustard cream herb sauce ($16.95).

Looking for a Friday fish fry? You can find it at the Hideaway Grille. You can also find "black and bleu tuna." That's a tuna steak, blackened and served with roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms, and crumbled bleu cheese ($15.95).

Forced to choose, Supermom went for the tortellini primavera in alfredo sauce with Cajun grilled beef tips ($15.95), with a bowl of seafood bisque. A Caesar salad ($3.50) supplied backup vitamins.

We snagged one of the dinner specials, half a duck in a pineapple rum sauce with rice pilaf ($17.95).

The Artichokes Francaise were a delicate delight, hearts of the vegetable in a slightly crispy egg batter enriched with Romano cheese. A lemon cream sauce added another layer of richness.

The urchin chow arrived, setting off a scramble for the ketchup bottle. We deboned the chicken wings for Bouncing Boy, who was so enraptured that he forgot to hide underneath the table. Little Red, honing her critical prose, proclaimed her chicken fingers "Good, but a little dry."

No such equivocation from her big sister. "This is the best cheeseburger ever," Big Gal informed us. After a month without cheeseburgers, it wasn't an unexpected reaction. But the hefty, juicy burger looked like it earned the accolades. Big Gal worked through her crispy fries and helped polish off her mother's Caesar salad.

We thought of a McCormick combine plowing a wide swath through a Kansas wheat field, and asked if she needed more fodder. "I'm full," she reassured us, "except for my dessert stomach."

The seafood bisque was full of recognizable bits, including tiny shrimp. Our dinner salad, comprised of lettuce, carrots and the usual suspects, was unremarkable but fresh.

The tortellini primavera received a muted reception, despite being assembled from precisely prepared ingredients. The broccoli and other vegetables were firm, not mushy; the tortellini weren't overcooked, or overwhelmed with sauce. The beef tips were medium rare as requested, if a bit spicier than anticipated. Still, you can't fault Cajun spices for being piquant.

The duck was skillfully prepared as well, with both leg and breast moist. The pineapple rum sauce was buttery, sticky and far too amenable to sopping up with the rice pilaf.

We were groanfully full by the time dessert choices were offered, but it was vanilla ice cream all around for the kids.

Good thing Big Gal had that dessert stomach ready.

The Hideaway Grille
399 Division St., North Tonawanda (694-2710)
Review: 3 stars (Out of four)

Favorite dish: Artichokes Francaise

Needs work: All's swell

Healthy choice: Salads

Price range: Lunches $4.95 to $8.95; dinners $12 to $17.95

Service: Attentive

Noise level: Moderate

Wheelchair access: Not really, two steps

Parking: Lot

Kid appeal: Kids menu

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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