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Gastropub arrives in Niagara Falls with upgraded tavern food

If you head north on Military Road toward Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, you encounter a gauntlet of casual dining industry staples: Chili’s, Olive Garden, Applebees. ¶ Drive a little bit farther north, and you arrive at the Griffon Pub, which opened in August. Plenty of drink-centric establishments add some spring mix salads and calamari to the Friday fish fry and declare themselves a food lover’s haven. Here, though, an ambitious menu and vast beer selections – including 50 far-ranging choices in tap – is making good on the promise of the gastropub. ¶ Generally speaking, a gastropub cares as much about the beer list as white-tablecloth places do about the wine list, and they serve food for people with expectations. The Griffon offers nearly 50 bottles, too, and our server was well versed in the peculiarities of a list that ranged from coast to coast with guest stars from the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Our server brought us draft samples, and made sure we were satisfied before taking our order. I ended up with a seasonal Great Lakes Nosferatu Imperial red ale, $4 a pint, like most Griffon drafts.

The menu seems ordinary on the surface, with calamari and crabcakes and crostini for appetizers, and an entree selection anchored by steak, chicken breast and mac and cheese. Read a little more into the details, though, and there’s no doubt it’s trying to be different.

The fried calamari comes with caramelized onions, pickled peppers and orange aioli ($10). The crabcakes are fortified with lobster and served over pickled pineapple ($10), and the crostini are topped with maple bourbon bacon jam ($8). Sandwiches include a croque monsieur ($11) with bechamel sauce, smoked turkey and roasted pears.

Steak is a 10-ounce hanger steak rubbed with Kona coffee and spiced brown sugar ($24). The chicken breast dinner sports mushrooms, onions and Gruyere ($16), and the mac and cheese is sneakily enriched with smoked Gouda ($14).

We got the calamari, stuffed jalapeños ($8), sweet corn fritters ($6.50), a wonton stack ($7) with Asian slaw, then the steak, mac and cheese, and chicken entrees, plus a chicken-and-waffle sandwich ($13). Our server entered our order into the kitchen computer instantly via wireless tablet.

The food flowed out fast, with our first dish arriving in about 10 minutes in a half-filled room. The stuffed jalapeños, served on a bed of corn and black bean salsa, balanced spiciness against richness with the split chiles’ payloads of cheese and sausage.

The orange mayonnaise with the calamari was weird but not gross, leaving the table’s eaters split on its appropriateness, but there was no question that the squid was well fried and served with interesting partners.

The sweet corn fritters were savory doughnut holes, studded with crunchy kernels. With its maple butter dip, this plate could have come at the beginning or the end of our meal.

The wonton stack was a crunchy, tangy delight, with sesame and garlic flavored coleslaw between crispy fried wontons and chopped peanuts, with bracing cucumber-wasabi aioli. Ken Scibetta, who owns the place with fellow Lewiston Pub owner Ed Webster, saw plenty of a similar dish at a former employer, Left Bank.

But there’s no doubt Scibetta has his own moves. Chicken and waffles is not a novel concept, but the Griffon’s version starts with buttermilk and chive waffles. They’re topped with mayonnaise-less jalapeño coleslaw, then a moist grilled-and-fried chicken breast, Wisconsin cheddar, applewood bacon and a swipe of maple mayonnaise. It’s a pain to eat cleanly, but well worth the struggle. There’s root beer in the baked beans, which thrilled some tasters, but made me think of wintergreen Altoids.

My steak was accurately medium-rare, arranged around fluffy mashed potatoes and average sauteed squash, mushrooms and bell peppers. I didn’t get much coffee flavor, but it was a decently crusted hunk of beef.

Cat’s Gruyere crusted chicken was another hit, despite more average sauteed vegetables. Two of those moist grilled-and-sauteed chicken breasts, and a side of the mac and cheese, sealed the deal. As an entree, the smoked Gouda sauce, over shell pasta, was as creamy as Velveeta, but more interesting to eat.

Desserts included a dark cherry jalapeno ginger cheesecake, a banana split cake, and an apple crisp, all $7. The apple crisp was cool and not crisp in the least, but did taste like apples. The banana split layer cake had a pink strawberry layer and a banana layer, with chocolate icing, too sweet and artificial for me to dig, but the kids loved it. I could taste both cherry and jalapeño well in the cheesecake, and though it was interesting, it didn’t harmonize.

The Griffon Pub isn’t fancy, or slick. But its food and beer menu is good enough to give it a chance against the million-dollar advertising budgets of its competitors down the road.

The Griffon Pub: 8 Plates (Out of 10)

The gastropub has arrived in Niagara with a huge beer list and upscale tavern menu.

WHERE: 2470 Military Road, Town of Niagara, 236-7474,

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $5-$12; sandwiches and burgers, $8.50-$14; entrees, $14-$26.



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