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Shore thing Admiring the lake and the menu at McKenzie's

You could call it the neighborhood restaurant par excellence -- and it even has a view of the lake. Mention McKenzie's to anyone who lives in Hamburg or the other Southtowns, and you always get a smile.

No wonder. This is a big place, but it feels homey. You walk in to find a large and busy bar in the center of the restaurant, with dining rooms on either side. These are arranged on tiers. The room to the left of the door has large windows and Lake Erie across the road; the one to the right boasts a fireplace. The customer decides whether he wants to look outward at nature -- which in this location can be pretty fierce -- or inward at the cozy room.

The McKenzie's menu is equally diversified -- anything from sandwiches to burgers, pasta and entrees. And there's a nightly specials list, too. On our first visit, we went the casual route and, to tell the truth, liked it much better. In fact, we loved it.

The french fries were exemplary. The Steak Bleu Ciabatta ($9.99) was terrific. It featured a thinly sliced tender, tasty sirloin laid on ciabatta with a couple of roasted red peppers and crumbled blue cheese for emphasis. Balsamic vinaigrette completed the ensemble.

But returning for another visit, we weren't quite as enthusiastic. Italian Wedding Soup was fine, surprisingly thick but all the more satisfying for that; the Baby Back Ribs in barbecue sauce ($14.99) were pretty good, too. Spinach & Artichoke Bruschetta ($8.99)? It didn't really sing.

But Aegean Grouper ($14.99) was a disappointment. Broiled in Aegean dressing -- well OK. But let's stop there. When you top the poor thing with diced tomatoes, olives, spinach and feta -- that's too much. And the potatoes accompanying it were off-putting too. It was sliced and served with honey and rosemary (which was full of little sticky twigs and kept on getting stuck in my teeth).

In the end, simple is usually best.

The grouper -- a fish we weren't too used to seeing in this part of the world -- also turns up in a sandwich for $9.99 -- your choice of fried, broiled or blackened and served with lettuce and tomato. This kind of sandwich is kind of the national dish of Florida -- from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Erie; it's an amazing world.

But I'm thinking, in light of our experience, that it might be better at McKenzie's to opt for the more informal eats. Coconut shrimp as an appetizer ($9.99) served over a bed of greens, maybe? A hummus and falafel platter with olives and pita strips?

Sandwiches beckon. There's Open Meatloaf, served (as it should be) on white bread with gravy ($7.99) or a Reuben. How about burgers -- even one glazed with Bourbon sauce?

These choices might be a better bet, I think, than some of the fancier fare. Like Vodka Portabella Florentine maybe. Or Roasted Red Fettucine (all vegetable in a red pepper cream sauce). Or even Ancho Chile-rubbed Pork Chops served with Apple Craisins and pecan Chutney.

If you're eating casually, McKenzie's is a gem.




2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

WHERE: 4151 Lakeshore Road, Hamburg (627-9752). The neighborhood restaurant par excellence. Also well situated for games at the Ralph and activities at St. Francis High School. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Steak Bleu Ciabatta

NEEDS WORK: Aegean Grouper

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from around $15 with soup or salad and potato. Sandwiches with fries from $7.99.

SERVICE: Excellent

HOURS: Seven days. Until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, until 9 on Sunday.


PARKING: In the lot.

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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