NORTH TONAWANDA -- We've been driving past the Broadway Hotel on Main Street every Saturday for the past several years, and never once had even the slightest urge to stop in -- or even slow down, for that matter. The term "dive" was bandied about frequently in passing.
That was before we met up with some friends during the last Canal Fest, who were on their way to the Broadway for a fish fry. They couldn't speak highly enough about the place -- and particularly the fish -- and urged us to drop our preconceptions and give the place a shot.
It took another four or five months -- and a close examination via the Internet -- before we decided that it didn't look half as bad inside as out, and that it was worth a shot.
Before I get into the food, let's talk about the place itself a little bit.
As I (and several others online) mentioned, it is certainly nothing to look at from the outside: A red brick storefront of a building stacked on a gritty old industrial street corner with pot-holes and exposed train rails. Look the place up online and the term "dive" is, indeed, bandied about frequently -- although lovingly, in many cases.
Inside, it's a tale of two taverns -- the bar, and the dining area. The bar is small, in comparison, and relatively quiet. They squeeze a good 15 or more tables into the back room, even converting the pool table to a temporary "staging area" for the busier dining room times. It's close quarters, no doubt, but you're there to eat, not lounge around the pool. Close is fine.
The decor? Let's not get carried away ... it's a mish-mash of Nascar, Bills and Sabres and beer, for the most part. Mid-room, there is a hand-lettered sign: "Kindness...It doesn't cost a damn thing, Sprinkle that sh@$ everywhere." Across the room is a lonely, oddly placed painting of waves crashing on a seashore. It sticks out like a tea-totaler at the bar.
The World Junior hockey tournament is tuned to a pair of tv's, neither of which is emitting any sound -- which is nice, in a way. There's a healthy clatter in the air, but it emanates from the tables full of folks enjoying their meals, not the sports on tv. Comfortable conversation is easy enough here, and there is plenty of it from the predominantly older crowd.
The one thing you notice most is that the stream of diners is steady -- and we are early arrivers on this particular Friday, having been seated prior to 5 p.m. By the time we leave, there are several prospective diners waiting in the bar area for tables to open. The street is lined with cars, with parking at a distinct premium. Early arrival is, therefore, highly recommended.
That's because, on Fridays, at least, the Broadway is the place to be for affordable fish and seafood. The options are many, the portions are plentiful and the prices are good for the value you get. And you are sure to find something to please the palate, whether you prefer baked, fried or broiled, battered or breaded.
Another thing I was happy to see: Those large, squeeze bottles they normally use for ketchup or mustard, on every table ... except these were filled to the rim with tartar sauce. We had two on our table, as a matter of fact, which is great for someone like me, who uses tartar like salt. And if there is one thing that distresses me when out for a fish fry, it is an insufficient supply of tartar.
To that I say bravo! Broadway Hotel.
On to the food. We tried both the breaded and battered fish fry, mine with scallops ($12.95) and Gene's with shrimp and scallops ($13.95); and three of the "broiled fish fry" varieties offered on the menu: Italian ($12.95), Cajun and butter-and-paprika (each $11.95).
Each dinner is preceded by a plate of bread and butter and individual servings of German potato salad and "sweet and sour cabbage" for each diner. The bread seemed to be out of a bag, certainly not freshly baked, and dreally didn't add anything, but the German potato salad was nicely done, served warm and with a nice sweet, bacon-y flavor.
The better part, for me at least, was the cabbage. Actually more of a fruity, vinegar-based cole slaw, it reminded my of days gone by when we would drive to Hansen's fish market in Lewiston for their popular fish fry -- which featured a similar cole slaw. It brought back happy memories with its sweet tang.
Gene and I each received a half-portion of fish, which was quite sufficient. Mine was lightly breaded and fried to perfection, crisp outside and flaky inside. The fried scallops were typical, although a larger-than-usual portion. Gene felt his beer battered fish had too much batter, and that it kept the fish from being completely cooked in the middle.
Each of our plates arrived with a choice of potato -- the "American" potato salad was pretty good, with chunks of hard-boiled egg included -- along with a different, creamier type of slaw and a nice scoop of macaroni salad.
I didn't like the second slaw as much as the first, although I was in the minority at our table on that one. The macaroni salad was good once spiced up with a little salt and pepper.
The girls had varying opinions of their broiled "fish frys." Meagan wasn't thrilled with the butter-and-paprika, although both Teresa and I felt it was the best of the three. Moist and, well, buttery, it had a nice, subtle flavor. That is the way I would prefer my broiled or baked fish every time. Nicely done!
Teresa also enjoyed her Cajun style, although the bite she offered me seemed to be on the tame side, spice-wise. If you don't like it too tangy, this was perfect, flaky and moist.
Steffany's Italian style was topped with oregano, tomato slices and a pretty heavy coating of provolone cheese. It may have been a little too much spice and cheese, for her taste, which made it more like a fish "pizza," if you will. It wasn't bad, mind you, but was my least favorite of the three.
We also ordered a chicken parmigiana sandwich ($8.95), which was offered on a "sub"-type roll, with a large portion of fries. The chicken was, again, moist and tasty, with a crisp, breaded exterior and a goodly amount of cheese and red sauce topping. "The bread was the bomb," quipped T.J., who fancies himself a chicken parmy connoiseur.
I would be remiss not to mention Teresa's Gentleman Jack-and-Coke drink, easily the size of two mixed drinks at most places, that only set her back $4. She may go back just for another of those -- never mind the fish!
One word of warning: If you are prepping for your visit by looking at the menu online, do not go by the prices on the website! They must be considerably outdated, because some are off by as much as $2 to $3. Time for an update!
Broadway Hotel bills itself as "the best fish fry in town!!" and they may be on to something. It is definitely the best value fish fry in town, of that I am certain. There are other offerings, mostly "bar-type" foods (wings, subs and sandwiches), although you can also get a strip steak with "the works" for $15. The kids menu is very limited, but we did see a few (kids) during our visit, so I guess it wasn't really a deterrent.
All in all, thumbs up, Broadway Hotel. Don't let the (outside) looks fool you.
The Broadway Hotel
158 Main St., North Tonawanda
(Out of four)
Favorite dish: Butter-and-paprika broiled fish
Needs work: Creamy cole slaw
Healthy choice: Salads
Price range: Competitive
Service: Very good
Noise level: Acceptable
Wheelchair access: Very tight
Parking: On-street, limited
Kid appeal: Even more limited
Hours: Per the website, kitchen open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.