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Cheap Eats; Mandy's gets food, and small touches, exactly right

Cheap Eats places can run the gamut. Sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes you get more. Small touches can move a restaurant into four-penny territory like Mandy's Cafe.

The Sig Other and I often noted a packed parking lot at Mandy's on our way to see the Sig Other's Parents. A good sign, worth investigation. So we did (twice)!

The decor is surprisingly modern with warm gold, rust and ruby tones. Thumbs up No. 1 -- a gleaming dining room and friendly waitress. But we all know the food counts, and Mandy's delivers.

It serves well-done comfort food with some quirks, starting with Mandy's original Hot Pepper Cakes appetizer ($5.95). A genius invented these. We were told it's a mixture of hot peppers, cheese and Italian sausage pan-fried into cakes. Served with red sauce, they arrived golden brown on the outside and cheesy/peppery in the middle. Enough delicious pepper flavor, but no fiery mouth burn.

Shrimp Cargo ($4.95) was another hit. The garlicky, scampi-style shrimp came topped with melted cheese. Crusted crustaceans!

Bourbon Bits ($5.95) -- char-grilled, bourbon-soaked steak chunks -- were served with a horseradish dipping sauce. A little chewy, but the combined tastes were excellent.

The dinners don't break culinary boundaries, yet each is done with care. Someone here believes that flavor and neatness count.

The Sig Other's parents' roast beef dinners ($8.95) offered a generous amount of nicely pink beef with just enough gravy, served with a beautiful pile of green onion mashed potatoes and a monkey dish of corn. (Doesn't this meal demand it?)

Sig Other's special Chicken Shepherd's Pie ($8.95) included lightly breaded chicken breast pieces mixed with gravy and corn. Topped with mashed potatoes, it was baked to form a golden crust. The taste was fantastic.

My Thursday night special, the Roast Pork Dinner ($8.95), made me oh so happy. Three huge slices of pork were slathered in gravy. The pork was tender and juicy, and my potato pancakes were the real deal. Crispy outside, perfectly cooked inside, they hardly needed applesauce and sour cream.

On visit No. 2, we sampled a Greek Burger ($7.95). Oval-shaped, it fit the mini sub rolls the restaurant uses. Clever! Cooked perfectly medium rare, it was served with lettuce, tomato, feta, Greek dressing (on the side) and a mound of fresh, hot shoestring fries. A Chicken Quesadilla ($7.95) was stuffed with chicken, cheese, tomatoes and jalapenos to give it a little kick, served with a nice helping of sour cream and salsa.

Other notable Cheap Eats: Oriental Chicken Salad ($8.95), Taco Salad ($8.95), Bacon Blue Burger ($8.95), Shrimp/Bacon Quesadilla ($8.95), Veggie Quesadilla ($7.95), Flatbread Pizzas ($5.95-plus), Roast Half-Chicken Dinner (BBQ, Lemon or Herb for $8.95), Friday Fish Fry ($9.95). Specials we noted: Breaded Pork Chop dinner ($8.95) and Ham Steak dinner ($8.95).

A salad bar is offered Tuesday through Friday. It looked fresh and clean, with romaine and spring mix lettuces and sides. An Endless Salad runs $5.99, Endless Soup and Salad $7.99. Salad is $2.99 with any entree.

The menu reads "Your Hosts Dave & Mary." We salute them with raised forks.

***

MANDY'S CAFE

4 pennies (out of four)

"Neat and clean with food that counts."

WHERE: 3796 Clinton St., West Seneca (771-1553)

HOURS: Dining room open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; full menu is available in the bar only starting at noon on Saturday and Sunday.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Small ramp.