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THE FOOD is honest; the bar is generous; it's the busiest place in town.

Come to think of it, Garlock's is more than that. It's really an institution in Lockport. It has been around for a long time.

The restaurant has been located in an old house within sight of the Erie Canal for at least 20 years. Before that, it occupied a different site on the other side of town.

And even though the servers are so busy they have to hustle and concentrate on business every single minute, it manages to be cozy. Garlock's hums with happy eaters.

The place is pine-paneled and full of, well, stuff like collections of old telephones and dolls with bobbing heads; the decor is very retro, very 1950s. After all, everything that goes around comes around.

The menu is pretty much '50s-style, too.

No surprises here. You have your Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($6.95 for three monsters, so fresh they practically wiggle in a sauce loaded with horseradish. Trust me, any incipient sinusitis instantly disappears).

You have your Baked Onion Soup ($3.50), which can be ordered without the cheese cap but probably shouldn't be. The soup on its own is not a remarkable thing.

And with most dinners you have your salad, which is bland, and your Garlic Toast, which is anything but bland. In fact, the toast absolutely sings of garlic and has exactly the right crunchy consistency, too.

And then you have your beef. Even though the menu also offers a selection of seafood, chicken and pork, it's clear that beef is where the restaurant's heart lies. Order the Prime Rib as I did ($18.95) and out comes a chunk of steer on the bone, so thickly cut that you're sure everyone in the restaurant is looking at you. ("Do you think she can actually finish the whole thing? Let's stare hard and see.")

Thoughts of Henry VIII definitely came to mind. Thoughts of doggie bags, too.

Fortunately, the beef is good -- it's done to a turn on the outside and rare and juicy on the inside. You'll note the rim of fat that is responsible for these conditions. And if you're smart like I was, you will order the Twice Baked Potato to help push the thing down. Although I must admit that the $1.25 additional charge for this double-dipped doozy did surprise me a bit.

Well, never mind, the spud was splendid: so fat that it had busted its jacket, and topped with a blanket of tasty cheese. I'm still dreaming about the darn thing. One could, in fact, make a complete meal out of this creation ($2.50 a la carte.) Along with a salad, if you insist.

Other cuts of beef are available. The house specialty is the Open Tenderloin Steak ($14.95), which, the Companion found, is a tender 8-ounce filet served along with the salad, garlic toast and potato, in this case some pretty good french fries.

Other beefy items include a New York Strip and a 22-ounce Porterhouse, as well as sandwiches made from these entities. The restaurant management really takes beef seriously. Degrees of doneness are carefully delineated on the menu along with another retro message, one I haven't seen since USDA started getting antsy a few years ago, thereby taking a lot of the fun out of eating beef:

"Management not responsible for steaks ordered Medium Well or Well Done."

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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 *
(Sept. 12)
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.
* Indicates restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.
** Rating based on the Early Bird special.

** 1/2
35 S. Transit Road, Lockport (433-5595). An institution. This homey restaurant in the center of town specializes in beef and lots of it. The busy bar dispenses generous drinks, and sooner or later, everyone comes by. No reservations Friday and Saturday nights. Credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard.

BEST DISH: Twice-baked potato.

NEEDS WORK: Everything is OK.

PRICE RANGE: Dinners with salad, potato and garlic toast start at $10.95. Open Tenderloin Steak Special, $14.95.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: Dinner only, until midnight during the week, until 10:30 p.m. on Sun.

HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Barbecued Chicken Breast, Broiled Orange Roughy. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: One narrow step.

PARKING: In the lot.

KID APPEAL: When it's not too busy.
KEY: FAIR, GOOD, VERY GOOD, EXCELLENT, EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.

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