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Great concept; Santora's 'pub and grill' is a crowd-pleasing winner

Why is it that some locations just seem destined for difficulty?

Case in point, the former Fuddrucker's on Maple Road, which closed twice. Or consider 7566 Transit Road, across from the Eastern Hills Mall. In recent years, it was home to both a departed Roadhouse Grill and a cavernous Zetti's.

Perhaps the look is the killer; a reconverted Denny's still looks like a Denny's. (I'm reminded of a classic photo caption from the Onion: "You Can Tell Area Bank Used to be a Pizza Hut.")

My business acumen is weak -- Mets ownership weak -- but I think the new tenant at 7566 Transit Road, Santora's Pub & Grill, might be in it for the long haul.

First, there is the Santora's name. Apparently, the Santora family has been making pizza locally since 1927 and is on its third generation of family involvement. Its pizza is widely known, and liked, but why go the pub route?

Perhaps because it is a simple style that works. This is the second of Santora's newish "pub and grill" editions, the first on Millersport Highway, and both are simple and charming. Even those who find such establishments an example of ho-hum suburban ennui should find either Santora's a pleasant enough experience.

But if it's a Friday or Saturday, get there early. We arrived around 7 p.m. on a recent Saturday to meet another couple and were gobsmacked at the number of cars in the parking lot. Honestly, we just barely found a spot, and were told we'd have a 45-minute wait for table.

We had hoped to grab a table at the bar, but the tables in that area, near the front door, are considered regular tables; i.e., not first-come, first-serve like some bar tables. But that was no problem, and neither was the wait. It gave us ample time to scope things out.

Santora's has a bar area that would be ideal for watching a game. On this night, the TV was showing horse-racing highlights, followed by a Yankees game, and with the sheer number of TVs on hand, it was easy to follow.

Our friends arrived, and we muscled up to the bar. My wife ordered a Blue Moon, I ordered a Sam Adams Summer Ale and our friends opted for a Mojito (which looked fantastic -- whole mint leaves were in abundance), and a Molson.

This large bar area features some games (darts, air hockey), and signs promoting deals aplenty, including a "tube" of Labatt Blue for $16 and buckets of Blue (five for $12).

Our buzzer went off at the half-an-hour mark, which is a great sign. The dining area felt like an extension of the bar in a good way, with a Berlin Wall of flat-screens, and a similarly casual vibe.

We noticed all ages and all kinds, with every table filled, and for a relatively "new" restaurant, that's great. The Santora's name clearly carries a lot of weight.

And that name means great wings, too. Once seated, our drinks were a little slow, but our food came quickly, and our server was cheery and helpful (so were the bartenders).

The crowd did not die down until after 9 p.m. By then, it was mostly adults, and as we left, I noticed the vibe in the bar was much more relaxed.

Santora's Pizza Pub & Grill looks like a crowd-pleasing winner. Oh, and you can still get take-out and delivery (within five miles). So pizza, and a beer while you wait. Yeah, I think the concept will work just fine.

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Santora's Pizza Pub & Grill

7566 Transit Road, Amherst 634-6000, www.santoras.com

Scene: Casual, and a bit loud, although never to an obnoxious degree. Lots of kids, although mainly in the dining area.

Happy hour: 5 to 7 p.m. daily with buy-one, get-one free drafts, well drinks and house glasses of wine.

On tap: An extensive draft selection, with highlights including Southern Tier IPA and a couple of Ithaca brews.

Music: An eclectic, audience-friendly mix with the Black Keys, Poison, Coldplay, Dexys Midnight Runners, "Rapper's Delight" and a James Blunt song that wasn't "You're Beautiful," oddly.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday.