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Italian food served just the way you like it

TOWN OF LOCKPORT -- "Nothing is given so profusely as advice," said a 17th century purveyor of the obvious.

Nothing new there, of course; hence the retort "many receive advice, few profit by it," predates that bit of sagery by a full 18 centuries. You can look it up if you'd like.

As such, it was with a grain of salt worthy of wintertime road duty that I heeded a suggestion to visit a restaurant residing within a South Transit Road hotel recently.

My most recent hotel restaurant experience had yielded an unpleasant experience and very low (no stars) rating for a Niagara Falls eating establishment. So I was understandably leery of being steered to the Tuscana Ristorante in the Holiday Inn.

Happy to report, though, my fears were unfounded.

Tuscana Ristorante is the real deal. It's Italian with panache. Not to mention large portions.

Nienta di speciale (nothing special) to look at, Tuscana consists of several nondescript tables and booths scattered around a quiet nook just off the hotel's beautiful main lobby.

It's also alongside the pool, which might provide for some additional scenery at the right moments. We, apparently, did not come at one of the aforementioned moments. But the plants and fountain added a nice, relaxing touch, nevertheless.

We started things off with an order of the bruschetta ($5.95), consisting of thick slices of garlic bread topped with a colorful, yellowish-red topping. The mix included generous helpings of yellow pepper and ample portions of garlic. Everyone agreed that it was quite tasty, and the perfect appetizer.

On the subject of garlic, the cook at Tuscana is apparently not at all afraid of using the pungent bulb, applying it liberally to the sauce of my wife's shrimp scampi ($15.95). The sauce had a noticeable lemony flavor, as well, more so than I have ever noticed in the past. Again, it was quite good.

The scampi was served over angel hair pasta, a choice that surprised her -- pleasantly, as it turns out. The shrimp were decidely un-shrimpy, big, tender and flavorful.

One daughter went for the chicken Caesar salad ($7.95), while the other got adventurous and opted to create her own pasta. Diners can choose from the likes of spaghetti, rigatoni and cheese tortellini ($2 extra), and top it with a sauce of his or her choice (she chose the blush) and other accoutrements (she added grilled chicken strips to her tortellini for $2.95). The meal starts at $8.95 and builds from there, depending on what you add.

With all that Italian going on, I decided to do something different. I sampled the beef on weck sandwich plate. It came with a teeming serving of fries, nicely cooked, and a flaky, tender kummelweck roll oozing with melt-in-your-mouth slices of beef, stacked thickly and topped with a little gravy.

If you're a weck fan, this bun was for you: fresh and soft, with a liberal dusting of kosher-style salt. It was a beef on weck to drive out of your way for, to be honest. Extremely well done. My only complaint was that the horseradish dressing was kind of toothless, if you know what I mean.

Who knew the Holiday Inn was the place to go for a top-notch beef on weck? The Caesar salad was a nearly endless plate of food, boasting big, thick strips of grilled chicken and fresh, tasty croutons. The dressing was nice, too. Thick and oozy.

And let me tell you, Tuscana does not skimp on the cheese when it comes to any of its offerings.

Meagan's pasta special was very much to her liking, particularly the blush sauce, which she decided upon reluctantly, at my urging. She wasn't nearly able to finish it all, taking home enough to constitute another whole meal at a later date.

The restaurant also offered red, Alfredo and pesto cream sauce for the "create your own." I'm betting all were tasty. In addition to various chicken, veal and pasta plates, Tuscana also offers a Bistecca Tuscana, which consists of choice sirloin served with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes in a garlic sauce, over pasta.

Ah, yes, for another day . . .

Despite walking out with three rather heavy boxes stuffed with leftovers, the girls wanted to sample the desserts before we retreated home, so we ordered one each of the Tuscana Tiramisu and the biscotti sundae.

The tiramisu was thick, creamy and featured as much an alcohol flavor as a coffee tinge. Rich and delicious. The biscotti sundae featured a crisp, tasty biscotti cookie in a bowl of sweet, creamy ice cream. It also had some liqueur in it, which added a nice touch.

The best thing about Tuscana: it's Italian done to your liking, and at a cost that you'll find equally irresistible.

And inside a hotel in Lockport, no less.



Tuscana Ristorante

Lockport Holiday Inn, 515 S. Transit Road, Lockport, (434-6151)

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Favorite dish: Create-your-own pasta

Needs work: Hours of operation

Healthy choice: Salads, seafood

Price range: Fairly moderate, entrees $12 to $17

Service: Good, friendly

Noise level: Quiet

Wheelchair access: Yes

Parking: Connected lot, ample

Kid appeal: Casual, limited menu

Hours: Breakfast served 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. daily; dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. daily

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