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Simple, down-home dishes in ample portions

For those who keep track of such things, an online blogger called this week's restaurant "one of the best-kept secrets in the area."

The secret's out.

The Clubhouse, also known as Bro's Family Restaurant, isn't the fanciest place around, but then neither is Mom's kitchen. What they both have in common is good old-fashioned comfort food -- perfectly seasoned, served up nice and hot and in ample portions.

If it's down-home you want, but for whatever reason you can't go back home again, The Clubhouse is the place to be. But you've got to pick your spots carefully, because its hours are rather limited.

From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, you can get your fill of breakfast staples, sandwiches and wraps, pasta, seafood and other lots of goodies. Or get adventurous and sample something off the specialty hot dog list. It's very creative, but even more tasty. You will not be disappointed.

The Clubhouse offers dinner hours twice weekly, remaining open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. So you may have to get up early or extend your lunch break. Rest assured, it will be worth the trip.

We stopped in on a Saturday afternoon, unaware that closing time was fast approaching. Little did it matter to the accommodating staff. A friendly gentleman even came from the kitchen area to assure us there were a couple pieces of fish left from the Friday night rush, if we were so inclined. We took him up on the offer, ordering the fried haddock ($9.50). We also sampled a couple of items off the specials board: the goulash ($8.50) and the chicken a la king ($8.50).

We started things off with a couple of bowls of soup ($3.25). Both the taco soup and the broccoli-and-cheese seemed homemade, with ample ingredients in good proportions.

The taco soup had a perfectly seasoned tomato base with plenty of ground beef. The broccoli-and-cheese was thick, chunky and full of flavor. Either would be an excellent choice for a good meal starter.

Our meals arrived in quick order. The plates were so stuffed with food it is a wonder that our server could carry two at a time. There must have been a quart of the goulash, a thick, meaty concoction with ground beef and tomato sauce atop mounds of elbow macaroni. The sauce was hearty and meaty.

The server offered hot pepper flakes and grated Parmesan, and both were applied liberally, as the dish was a little lacking in seasoning. That was easily remedied, however, and turned out to be our only real complaint.

The fish was humongous, crispy with a thick beer batter. The meat was hot and flaky, and it melted in your mouth. It was served with a coleslaw that had excellent flavor and seemed unusually fresh and crispy, and big, thick-cut steak fries. We also had a side order of macaroni salad, which could have been a meal in itself, with thick shells and tuna in a heavy, but tasty, concoction.

The chicken a la king was the hit of the day, though, offered atop biscuits or noodles, or a combination of both. I selected both, but have to admit I enjoyed the biscuits better. They're frequently dry and tasteless, but not this time. And the a la king itself was a mix of a creamy, but not overly heavy gravy, with oodles of chicken, corn, peas, green and lima beans throughout.

We spotted the separate menu for "Todd's char broiled hots" while we were finishing what we could of our dinners -- We took home enough for two more meals! -- and decided we needed to stop back soon and sample other concoctions. It took us two days to get back, and we were not disappointed.

The chimichanga dog ($3.75) offered a deep-fried dog wrapped in a soft taco shell crammed with "a slash of ground beef, cheese, salsa and crumbled nachos." It tasted every bit as good as it sounds. And it is virtually a meal in itself, as well.

For the same price, we also sampled the Salty Dog and the Kansas City Dog. The latter was served with barbecue sauce and sweet onion and was well-liked, but not nearly as much as the Salty Dog, a beer-battered dog that is deep-fried and topped with fried bacon, a dash of chili and melted pepper Jack cheese. The tastes blended nicely to provide a satisfying lunch experience.

We also sampled a Hickory burger ($9.25), which offers a 9-ounce slab of ground beef slathered with onions and other goodies, and a smoky barbecue sauce.

The Clubhouse isn't a fancy place, decked out in baseball regalia, but it has a homey feel and a friendly, warm staff. It gets busy around lunchtime, we learned, and the small staff can get stretched to the point that it may take a few minutes longer than you were expecting, but be patient. The end result will be worth it.

email: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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The Clubhouse (Bro's Family Restaurant)

3386 Niagara Falls Blvd., North Tonawanda (694-5555)

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Favorite dish: Chicken a la king

Needs work: Goulash

Healthy choice: Take half your meal home

Price range: Can't go wrong

Service: Very good

Noise level: Quiet

Wheelchair access: Yes

Parking: Connected lot

Kid appeal: No problem

Hours: Daily 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Thursday and Friday til 8 p.m.