My suspicion that the Hideaway Grille remains popular was confirmed by a crowded parking lot, so I found a spot on a nearby side street.
There's a bar where you can eat, and a dining room done up in pink and burgundy and movie star art. The sleek family spot presents with cloth napkins, glass-top tables and a surprising bread basket, including fresh blueberry muffins and fluffy, crusty bread, with a dish of strawberry butter, honey butter and olive oil. The blueberries were real, and the strawberry butter tasted like strawberries, which is rarer than you'd think.
When our server told us of the night's specials, it reminded me how much I miss specials cards. Why do restaurants challenge diners to remember the details of the night's most interesting dishes?
I did catch grilled striped bass with a "pineapple strawberry beurre blanc" ($25) though. Well, cheers to the chef for trying something different, so why not? Cat turned down the chance at a veal chop ($30) for the chicken pot pie ($13).
We also asked for artichokes francaise ($9) and a spinach salad with mushrooms, bacon and hot bacon dressing ($9).
The spinach salad arrived heaped on a plate that could barely hold it, with raw, thickly cut white mushrooms, and shredded hard-boiled egg. The dressing arrived in a separate saucer, leaving us the task of somehow applying it to the greens without making a mess.
I made a mess, wishing for a mixing bowl. But it was still tasty, with lots of healthy foliage, tangy dressing and crunchy, smoky bacon. I do prefer the dressing applied hot so it can wilt the spinach a tad. Cat said, "I just want more dressing."
The half-dozen artichoke hearts arrived in eggy batter enriched with cheese. The tender, browned pillows were dressed with a velvety lemon sauce. It went fast.
Our soups arrived, chicken fajita for Cat, a yellow cream of chicken with bell peppers and shredded chicken. The effect was thinned nacho dip, and we craved tortilla chips. I got beef meatball florentine, soft little beef nuggets, pleasantly peppery broth, plus spinach, tomato and celery.
Cat's pot pie was a classic, flaky crust hiding a creamy stew of chicken chunks, potatoes, carrots and celery. The vegetables were not mushy and the chicken was tender. It comforted, as designed.
When my grilled striped bass arrived, I realized it had been blackened (coated in a black pepper-dominated spice rub), before grilling. I don't know if I missed that detail from the server's soliloquy, or it wasn't mentioned.
The beurre blanc description had me expecting a light-colored buttery sauce, when it turned out to be a maroon berry puree. The cooked-down strawberry flavor reminded me of Fruit Roll-Ups at first, but it grew on me, its black pepper bite against the backdrop of sweet jam. The fish had crisp edges and a flaky middle.
We saw seven choices on the Hideaway dessert platter, with most made in-house, including our choices ($5.95). My banana cream pie arrived with decently flaky crust, custard hiding banana slices, crowned with whipped cream. I wanted more bananas, but would reorder it.
Cat's tuxedo mousse cake was cake layered with chocolate and vanilla mousse and ganache, garnished with red raspberries and a strawberry, but she only dented the decadent dessert. We forgot it, but our server grabbed the box and nipped outside to find us, capping an evening of swift, attentive and professional service.
The Hideaway Grille - 7 plates (out of 10)
Description: Family place in North Tonawanda, on the nicer side of casual, with comfort-food winners.
Where: 399 Division St., North Tonawanda (694-2710)
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Price range: Appetizers $7-$11. Entrees $13-$30.
Parking: Small lot, street.
Wheelchair access: Yes