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TIN PAN Alley is informal, sort of tucked into a small plaza a block behind Lewiston's Center Street. In other words, ideally located for a quick bite before exploring the wonders of Artpark.

No glorious river view awaits you here, alas; no breathtaking glimpse of the gorge, either -- but fresh air fans will be glad to learn that there is an outdoor patio with umbrella tables. Also, there's an extensive menu which offers a broad choice of full meals or light snacks.

My choice for a pre-theater supper revolved around Barbecued Baby Back Ribs -- a restaurant specialty, supposedly, since the listing is prominently boxed on the menu. A half-order of large, somewhat fatty ribs ran $6.95 and was tasty without being in any way memorable. The barbecue sauce was sweet rather than hot; I detected a slight charcoal flavor, too.

Also on the much-too-crowded plate -- Tin Pan Alley really ought to invest in some dinner-size dishware -- was a great heap of mashed potatoes with gravy. The spuds turned out to be the real thing and absolutely delicious. Also on the plate: some fresh broccoli, cooked barely crisp.

I was overcome.

For these two wonders alone, I was almost -- though not quite -- willing to forgive Tin Pan Alley its truly dreadful salad. The palest of iceberg lettuce was enlivened (if you want to call it that) by the palest al dente tomatoes.

Tsk-tsk! Even the supermarket three blocks down the street had the most beautiful lettuces available. It's June, fellas -- and the fields are burgeoning. What lack of imagination here.

An evening special, Shrimp and Chicken Marinara (also $6.95), was pleasant enough. And the soup, Cream of Broccoli -- fetch it yourself from the soup bar -- was more than pleasant. Bad marks, however, for the Italian bread that you pick up at the same time.

S-T-A-L-E spells "Don't bother." (The rolls that come with the dinner are better, though they're cold.)

Other items on the regular menu include Loaded Nachos with melted cheese, beef, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, the works ($4.25); a steak "filet of sirloin" ($9.25); Char-broiled Mesquite Half Chicken With Barbecue Sauce or Honey Glaze ($8.95) and Taco Salad ($4.95).

Second helpings

Restaurants recently reviewed in this space include:

Smiling Fish Co. Ltd., 660 Garrison Road, Fort Erie, Ont. (416-871-9666) ** June 22. Across from the bingo parlor -- part fish market, part takeout, part restaurant -- this spanking-clean little spot changes its menu with the market.

Da Tha'o, 3106 Main St. (939-6720).** 1/2 . June 22. Teeny-tiny Vietnamese restaurant. No liquor. No credit cards. No air conditioning. No ambiance. Good food.

Little White House, 5877 Main St., Williamsville (633-7755).** June 15. A large, well-known restaurant with a menu of standard favorites -- evening specials, as well.

Butternut Inn, Route 16 and Genesee Road, Chaffee (496-8987).** 1/2 June 8. A comfortable and homey country inn, featuring hearty food.

Angelina's Italian Gourmet, 952 Maple Road, Amherst (689-3011).** June 1. Popular and pretty little neighborhood spot in a shopping plaza. Traditional Italian-American food; evening specials particularly recommended.

Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth State Park, Castile (493-2622)* 1/2 May 25. Overlooking the Genesee River Falls, the setting is beautiful. But the food tends to be ordinary.

Herbert's, 53 Niagara Blvd., Fort Erie, Ont. (416-871-8444).*** 1/2 May 18. Dignified chef-owned restaurant with carefully prepared Swiss-German food.

The Colony, 876 Main Road, Irving (934-4826).** May 11. Moderately priced country restaurant with broad menu. Terrific BBQ Beef Ribs.

Thaxton's Dinner House, 5949 Campbell Blvd., Lockport (434-6020).** May 4. Casual restaurant with a menu of homey items.

Small place with sophisticated decor and superior food.

Shepherd's Restaurant, 8222 Transit Road, Williamsville. (689-7802).*** April 20. Busy suburban restaurant in shopping mall. Try the broiled veal chop.

Tin Pan Alley **
754 Cayuga St., Lewiston (754-4330). An informal, moderately priced restaurant near Artpark. Open menu of standard dinner favorites. Lighter supper menu as well and soups and sandwiches at lunchtime. Outdoor patio. Major credit cards.
Best Dish: Mashed potatoes.
Needs Work: The salad.
Price Range: Dinner from $6.95, including soup or salad, potato and vegetable.
Service: Good.
Hours: Lunch, seven days; dinners, Sun. through Thurs. until 10 p.m. (snack menu until midnight), Fri. and Sat. until 11 p.m. (snack menu until 1 a.m.).
Wheelchair Access: Yes.
Key: Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only. fair, good, excellent, extraordinary.

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