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Center stage Even the menu at Cabaret has a showbiz feel

There's a Manhattan-like look to the Cabaret restaurant. Housed in a quirky old building on Pearl Street behind Shea's Performing Arts Center and Studio Arena Theatre, less than a block from many other theaters, the place has a definite showbiz feel. It's open long hours, and a meal or drink here can easily be fitted in before or after a performance.

The restaurant, which once was known as Lydia's Pearl, is larger than it appears from outside. There's a good-sized barroom and two separate dining rooms, one of which features an attractive mural of Pearl Street in the dear old days, complete with a Shea's Buffalo marquee. A poster for the traveling version of "Cabaret" hangs on another wall. In my opinion, a terrific musical and well worth naming a restaurant after.

The menu is divided into dramatic segments, too: Preshow Favorites, Act I, Act II and Curtain Call. But this is a Broadway musical menu, if you will. It pretty much confines itself to pasta and other popular standards.

We began our meal in the preshow segment with sturdy vegetable soup, continuing on to Stuffed Hot Peppers ($8), which were certainly pleasant enough. But the cheese filling had been hastily combined so that one bite was smooth and the next blisteringly spicy hot -- this certainly made for suspenseful eating.

One of our main courses was called Steak Cabaret (a very tasty $15.95). Accurately cooked and topped with seasoned spinach, sauteed onions and mushrooms with french fries on the side, it provided a lot of good eating for a fair price.

I tried an evening special, Portobello Ravioli. It can be summed up in very few words: too much dough, too little filling.

Other menu possibilities include Chicken Dijon ($16.95), in which the sauteed poultry is served with sauteed artichoke hearts and mustard-flavored cream sauce. A New York Strip Steak will run you $14.95. Pastas include Spaghetti and Meatballs for $9.95 with salad or soup or Eggplant Parmesan for $10.95.

Of snacky items, there are a host, including chicken wings and fingers. But there's also a Cast and Crew sandwich -- grilled sirloin topped with that stuffed hot pepper and mozzarella cheese. And there are various burgers -- Classic, Blu, Mushroom and Veggie ($7).

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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CABARET

3 stars (Out of 4)

WHERE: 490 Pearl St. (842-4181). Right in the heart of the Theater District, this restaurant offers a sophisticated ambience. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Steak Cabaret

NEEDS WORK: Portobello Ravioli

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees with soup or salad from $10.95.

SERVICE: Good

NOISE LEVEL: Moderate

HOURS: Lunch, Monday through Friday. Dinner, seven days until 10, later on show nights.

HEALTHY CHOICES: Broiled Atlantic Salmon, spaghetti.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Difficult.

PARKING: In lots or on street.

KID APPEAL: High, especially during lunchtime.

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