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Widewaters offers laid-back ambiance with diner classics

LOCKPORT – Widewaters is back, and Lockport is a better place because of it.

The unpretentious eatery at 767 Market St. reopened this spring after being closed for three years. The small building was flooded as a result of a sewer backup caused by a mega-downpour on June 28, 2013.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Charles E. Schumer were among the visitors after the disaster, and Cuomo forked over $50,000 in state aid to the former owners, but that wasn’t enough to enable them to reopen or avoid foreclosure. The mortgage holders auctioned the building last year, and two Lockport businessmen bought it and set out to revive what had been a Lockport tradition since 1961.

The sign still says “Widewaters Drive-In,” but the receipts say “Widewaters on the Canal.” Lockport people simply call it Widewaters.

Joseph V. Kane and Timothy Mulvey invested in the digs, enlarging the building with a much more comfortable indoor seating area. They also built on the advantages that Widewaters has in its grassy setting at the bottom of a hill, across Market Street from the city’s tiny marina on the Erie Canal.

Although it’s within the city limits, it’s a far-from-urban setting, more like a suburban park. There’s relatively little traffic, so things are pretty quiet except for the birds and the occasional boat in the canal.

There’s plenty of shady spots with picnic tables and benches, lots of open grass if you’d rather sit on the ground, two swing sets and assorted other playground equipment for the little ones, and a nature trail up the hill for those who need to exercise after a good meal. And it’s no sweat to walk across the street and eat beside the canal, if you’re so inclined. You’ll have time, as the service is prompt.

But what should you be eating? Well, the highest priced item on the menu is beef on weck ($5.99), and it’s a worthy entrant in the roast beef sweepstakes. A moderately-sized roll heavy on salt and caraway seeds covers a mound of juicy yet lean beef, which Kane said is cooked and cut by Don Kaufman of Lockport’s Washburn Street Meat Market. A small side of horseradish is included in a plastic souffle cup.

Burger lovers should go for the Bettsburger ($4.29), a thick but not huge patty garnished with barbecue sauce and an onion ring. It makes the grade with room to spare. More burger options include a regular hamburger ($2.99), a bacon cheeseburger ($4.29), a regular cheeseburger ($3.25) and a double cheeseburger ($5.45), with white cheese rather than yellow.

“We proudly serve steakburgers,” the sign says, and the beef is fresh, not frozen, Kane said.

The Coney Island ($3.50) is a species of chili dog: a footlong frank on a roll with mustard and onions submerged in a brown ground beef sauce heavily flavored with cumin. We don’t recommend that you try to eat this in a car or standing up.

If you like the sauce, it can be ordered separately for use on other items or even to go. Peppers and onions, blue cheese and red relish are among the extras available on all orders. They go well with a juicy grilled chicken sandwich ($4.99).

A regular hot dog will set you back $2.50 and a white hot goes for 25 cents more. There’s also a Reuben dog ($3). “We cook the sauerkraut on the flat (grill). It’s not as sour,” Kane said.

Onion rings or fries are large helpings for $2.95. The fries are curly but not seasoned, which could be a future upgrade.

If you have room for dessert, Widewaters has ice cream, including the Canal Boat ($5.35), which is basically a banana split. There are sundaes and other frozen goodness by Perry’s, although the flavor selection isn’t as lavish as you would find at a spot that focuses on ice cream. But only a dairy snob would complain.

The Widewaters Drive-In offers a chance to eat some good, simple food for minimal money in a relaxing, green atmosphere. What’s not to like?

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

Widewaters Drive-In

Where: 767 Market St., Lockport

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Wheelchair-accessible: ?????