Crazy Jake's has become a real center of excitement in North Tonawanda. It has been open for only a couple of months, but it has had about 10 months' worth of action. And no wonder.
The restaurant -- it's a big one is sited in a wonderful old building, kitty-corner from the handsome Riviera Theatre with some funky stores nearby. In other words, there's plenty of charm and nostalgia.
A busy bar is located smack in the center of the main room, which boasts a tin ceiling, a good-looking wooden floor, an old juke box and antique supporting pillars here and there. The patio is open in good weather. There are lots of flat-screen TVs, some live entertainment, general hubbub and a wonderful mix of ages here. (Please note that the place can be noisy.)
And the food? It's satisfying, too. We began with crab-stuffed mushrooms ($9) -- the only downer of the night. Not that there was anything wrong with the mushrooms -- not really. It's just that the ample filling tasted bland to us. Pizazz was missing.
Good thing we persevered. The Crazy Chicken Soup ($3 cup), on the other hand, was salty, satisfying and perfect fare for a chilly night. We loved the barbecue ribs (full rack $14.95, half rack $10.95), which managed to be relatively nonsticky but still piquant with excellent fries that tasted fresh cut.
Other entree possibilities include a 12-ounce ribeye with sauteed mushrooms ($20), which was a little too fat and thinly cut for us; chicken florentine (ham, spinach and mozzarella in wine sauce, $15); and barbecue pulled pork on a kaiser roll ($9.95).
There's brisket on the menu, too ($12.95) -- fresh brisket of beef is rare in local restaurants, so it was a pleasant surprise. This long-simmered meat at Crazy Jake's was so tender that the slices fell apart. The copious gravy was rich, and we noted plenty of potatoes and carrots on the plate. You'd have to look far to find more comforting comfort food.
There's a litany of cheesecakes in this place. The pumpkin cheesecake ($4.95) is especially admirable. It's light, fresh and subtle -- and I'm no cheesecake lover.
If you come to Crazy Jake's in search of lighter fare, they're ready for you. Grilled ranch chicken sandwiches with fries run $7.95; a burger is the same price. And there's a portobellasandwich with provolone and creamy garlic sauce as well as a Cuban sandwich.
Even the kids are not forgotten. They can get their chicken fingers and linguine with red sauce, of course, as well as mac and cheese. But if I were a kid (and even as an adult), I'd opt for the grilled cheese sandwich. Why? Because it's made with "gooey American cheese," the menu says, so I know.
Now that's what I call authentic.
3 stars (Out of 4)
WHERE: 26 Webster St., North Tonawanda (693-9309). A lively, informal restaurant in a handsome old building. Varied menu stretches from sandwiches to full meals. American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
FAVORITE DISH: Barbecue ribs
NEEDS WORK: Crab-stuffed mushrooms
PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $15 with salad.
SERVICE: Very good.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
PARKING: On the street.
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.