HOW TO BEGIN to describe Eckl's? The family have been successful restaurateurs for 63 years, for heaven's sake, and some people eat there five or six times a month. Eckl's is a genuine Western New York legend.
A genuine Western New York legend situated not far from Rich Stadium.
So we'll start with the outside. Eckl's is a white house set in the middle of a parking lot. It's a large, homey restaurant with a couple of dining rooms and a big bar, not overly decorated.
The specialty of the house is Beef. Note the capital B.
Steaks, prime rib and most particularly weck sandwiches are a big deal here -- there's nary a pork loin or veal chop in sight (nor, for that matter, a portobello mushroom). Many people never order anything but the big B, matter of fact, and they're justifiably happy about it, too. But there are some other choices on the menu worth considering.
Mine, for example, was Yellow Pike Fish Fry ($9.95) -- the pike can be ordered broiled, if you wish, for 50 cents extra. A big helping of fish (the menu says 10 ounces), fried to a turn. Golden-brown batter; sweet, tender flesh.
And accompanied by some hall-of-fame-worthy German potato salad with a light dressing that had just the right amount of vinegar. Also, some good coleslaw and sliced fresh tomatoes.
The Companion's Chicken in the Basket ($7.85) was delicious, too. Another generous serving, perfectly cooked. High marks to the french fries and the bright, fresh relish tray that came with it.
The rest of the party succumbed and did go the beef route with a New York Strip Special ($11.50). It was an 8-ounce chunk, described on the menu as Black Angus Prime, and came with an OK salad and a foil-wrapped baked potato. It was perfectly fine.
A Roast Beef Dinner ($10.95), sliced to order, was centered around an enormous portion of rare steamship round, sliced thin -- like you'd find in a kummelweck roll.
Which means it was not as tender as prime rib, of course. Prime rib is available here weekends only. (A Prime Rib dinner costs $13.95 or $16.95.)
Additional tastings: Eckl's Lobster Bisque ($3.95) is thick, smooth, creamy and soothing to the soul. The Chicken Noodle Soup ($2.00) is not extraordinary.
A Small Julienne Salad ($6.50) makes a good light meal because it's simply loaded with meat, cheese and hard-cooked eggs -- the greens are mostly iceberg.
And because most of the desserts are not made in house, we ordered Hot Fudge Sundaes -- besides, they seemed appropriate to the place. Eckl's hot fudge is lovely.
Rizzo's (Oct. 10)
Rizzo's, 2763 Eggert Road, Tonawanda (834-4404). Popular eating place with a mostly Italian menu. All the usual pastas, pizzas, seafood, etc. Enormous servings. (Another Rizzo's is at 15 New Road, Amherst.)
Vineland Estates (Oct. 3)
Vineland Estates, 3620 Moyer Road, Vineland, Ont. (905-562-7088). Canada's own Napa Valley!. This pleasant restaurant sits in the middle of the Vineland Estates vineyard. It serves elaborately constructed food
made from unique ingredients. Reservations necessary.
K. Gallagher's (Sept. 26)
K. Gallagher's, 73 Allen St. (882-3550). Everything from a sandwich to Cajun blackened haddock in this charmingly furnished tavern/grill. Food has a definite contemporary slant.
North Park Cafe (Sept. 19)
North Park Cafe, 1434 Hertel Ave. (836-6684). Informal restaurant specializes in homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods. The food is very fresh, quite original and carefully prepared.
Harry's Harbour Place Grille 1/2 *
Harry's Harbour Place Grille, 2192 Niagara St. (874-5400). Great big and gorgeous, this newly opened steak and seafood restaurant has beautiful views, classy furnishings and a sophisticated menu.
Tapestries (Sept. 5)
Tapestries, 209 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. (905-468-4588.) In the Kiely Inn, this Victorian-looking restaurant serves contemporary food. Beautiful gardens.
Tandoori Express (Aug. 29)
Tandoori Express, 484 Elmwood Ave. (881-5223). This busy little outpost of a more elaborate restaurant on Transit Road, Amherst, offers a small selection of Indian foods, eat-in or takeout. Many vegetarian items.
Wild Flower (Aug. 22)
Wild Flower, 200 Highway 20 East (at Rice Road), Fonthill, Ont. (905-892-6167). A tiny restaurant in the midst of farm country that offers contemporary cuisine.
Don Pablo's 1/2 (Aug. 15)
Don Pablo's, 6727 Transit Road, Williamsville (633-0933). Tex-Mex invades New York. This huge and happy food dispensary is very informal and very busy.
Amici 1/2 (Aug. 8)
Amici, 2516 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore (874-0143). A casual neighborhood restaurant that specializes in Italian.
* Indicates restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.
** Rating based on the Early Bird special.
4936 Ellicott Road, Orchard Park (662-2262). Renowned, well-established restaurant that specializes in roast beef and steak -- but there are other good things, too. Always busy. No credit cards.
BEST DISH: Yellow Pike, German Potato Salad.
NEEDS WORK: Everything is of good quality.
PRICE RANGE: Dinners from $10.50 include potato, salad, relish tray.
SERVICE: Very good.
HOURS: Seven days, 4:30 to 11:30 p.m.
HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Broiled Orange Roughy, Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: One shallow step.
PARKING: In the lot.
KID APPEAL: Yes -- children's portions for under-12s.
KEY: FAIR, GOOD, VERY GOOD, EXCELLENT, EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.