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Review: Ship ’N Shore is a hidden treasure near Tonawanda Creek

PENDLETON – At the foot of a dead-end street, obscured from the main road and tucked comfortably in the crook of an elbow of Tonawanda Creek, lies one of those hidden treasures Western New York is famous for: the Ship ’N Shore restaurant.

A throwback to the early days of the Erie Canal, the current building was erected in 1917 and looks huge from the outside, but seems much cozier inside. A big goldfish tank and a pellet stove dominate the smaller dining room where we ate, with another, larger room (where the bands set up on Sunday afternoons) on the other side of the bar. In between there’s a treasure trove of nautical-themed decor and rough-hewn board paneling. It’s a little on the dark side, even with the bountiful natural light – much of it coming from the huge picture windows overlooking the meandering creek.

Even though ice still chilled the creek as we dined, we looked longingly through the glass at a very inviting patio/seating area, a little on the wild side but seemingly perfect for a summer evening of drinks, appetizers and star-gazing at water’s edge. We vowed to return once the weather breaks.

The decision to return was made easy by some exceptional eating ... and we were only able to sample the luncheon menu. A quick glance at the dinner offerings literally made our mouths water. Who’d have thought?

With luncheon selections as varied as liverwurst sandwiches and lobster salad mac-n-cheese, the Ship ’N Shore surprises at every turn. We were expecting more of a “bar food’’ menu (like the surf ’n turf burger), but spotted dishes like maple-jalapeno glazed scallops sharing the same bill. Alongside the “traditional’’ potato salad was a German potato salad. Like I said, lots of surprises.

With Meagan having returned from Germany fairly recently, we had to sample that German potato salad ($2 as a side). I desperately wanted to order some of the homemade New England clam chowder to complement my open-face steak sandwich ($11.95), but it is apparently only available on Fridays. As usual, a day late ...

Meagan ordered the Ragin’ Cajun burger ($6.95) and Teresa, keeping with the theme, ordered up the R.C. chicken salad ($8.95). We kicked things off with an order of the coconut shrimp.

We nursed our smallish drinks as we eagerly gobbled down the shrimp app. Its sweet edge was offset nicely by a powerful horseradish cocktail sauce. It didn’t last long, and from there it was on to the German potato salad, served warm. It was very tasty, sweet and tangy and genuinely authentic. We were pleasantly surprised.

The sandwiches were served with shoestring fries that were cooked to perfection – and that’s not always easy with the thin-and-stringy shoestrings. They were adequately crispy, but not overcooked to the of point of becoming tinder, as is often the case. They took a dollop of ketchup without getting all soggy – nice!

Meagan likes her burgers on the rare side, and this one was cooked a little more than she wanted, but it hit the spot nonetheless. Crafted from fresh ground beef, it was a good-sized concoction – a six-ouncer – topped with Cajun spices, barbecue sauce and a combo of Swiss and American cheese. It was dressed with thick, fresh onion slices and even bulkier tomato steakettes (yeah, the slices were that big and meaty). The seasoning blended nicely with the BBQ sauce to result in a tangy, slightly hot sandwich.

Even the bun was handled with obvious forethought – it was a sesame seed variety that had been lightly toasted. It was apparent that this was not just some thrown-together sandwich, but a gourmet-caliber creation. She had worried that the barbecue sauce might overpower the Cajun seasoning, but that was not the case at all. The flavors melded wonderfully. Even though the burger was closer to well done than medium-rare, she enjoyed it tremendously.

My open-face steak was a tough choice, since I was pampering a patched-up tooth at the time and had to tread lightly on one side of my mouth. The other side is down a couple of soldiers, so I needed something that was soft and readily chewable.

I figured I could always take it home if I couldn’t finish it, so why not? Turns out it was an excellent choice. It wasn’t one of those pre-formed, Steakette things at all, but rather a six-ounce “real’’ steak that was every bit as “tender and juicy’’ as the menu advertised. It was served atop garlic bread and topped with grilled peppers, onions and cheeses. I don’t know what kind of cheeses, because the menu did not specify and I did not pry, but they were excellent – not just plain and uninspiring mozzarella.

The cheese (and there was lots of it) added flavor in addition to the gooey-ness mozz brings. Awesome! The peppers and onions were nicely caramelized, and that steak – nary a tough spot in the entire slab. It was seasoned nicely and made for a wonderful dining experience, even on balking teeth.

My only complaint – if you want to call it that – was that the garlic bread didn’t seem all that garlic-y. But I liked it just as well the way it was.

Teresa’s Ragin’ Cajun chicken salad was the healthy alternative equal to my sandwich. The croutons were served on the side, as were two generous cupfuls of French dressing. That alone made her happy, being able to control the amount of dressing atop her greens. She didn’t use it all, of course ... so I made good use of the leftover, as a dip for my sandwich. Maybe they should consider offering French dressing on the side of the open-face steak in the future – it was really tasty.

Anyway, she had a nice bed of mixed greens topped with match-stick carrots and huge chunks of fresh cucumber, along with a seemingly endless supply of grilled chicken bites. She loved the Cajun flavoring as well, and that’s not always the case. We have tried many different Cajun seasonings, some of them much better than others. This one was real.

The restroom was a little ship-like in its tight quarters – not to mention the portholes. But it served its purpose, which is all that was required of it.

The waitress told us that the Ship ’N Shore offers a daily fish fry, as well as the grilled fish that my wife prefers. The more extensive dinner menu offers a full page of tasty-looking seafood offerings, as well as steaks and crab legs. Salmon, sole and yellow pike add variety to the usual fish offerings. There’s a clam bar and all sorts of other goodies.

The prices are reasonable, with most of the seafood offerings in the $13 to $14 range, and topping out at $28.95 for the 10-ounce strip steak and king crab, or the surf and turf. Hosts Tom and Joan Class, the owner since 1991, like to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere and also offer take-out, banquet services and catering, in addition to daily year-round dining.

The three of us dined for $40, which isn’t bad at all. We will definitely be back to check things out again once we can sit outside.

Ship ’n Shore

5612 Tonawanda Creek Road, Pendleton Phone: 625-6106 3½ stars out of four

Favorite dish: Open face steak sandwich

Needs work: The decor

Healthy choice: Grilled Cajun chicken salad

Price range: Very competitive

Service: Good

Noise level: Low (at lunch)

Wheelchair access: Yes

Parking: Connected lot

Kid appeal: Sufficient

Hours: Monday 4 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday, 12 noon to 4 p.m. for lunch, 4 to 9 p.m. for dinner; Sunday 3 to 8 p.m.