Tiny, antique and cute as a button, the Clarkson House sits in the very middle of the Village of Lewiston, a structure well over 100 years old. And for the last 40 years or so, it has been a popular restaurant with some nice touches, such as an appetizer tray. The Clarkson was one of the very first places in the area to offer bean dip, for instance, and believe it or not, one of the very first to offer jalapenos. (Nobody in the Northeast knew anything about chili peppers in the bad old days.)
But the Clarkson House changed hands a while ago, and changes have been made.
Oh, the restaurant still looks the same. The tables stand on old sewing-machine bases (the treadle is what they used to operate the machine, dear), and there's still a hearth in the center room where the meat is grilled over a sometimes-alarmingly high flame. Old-time artifacts adorn the walls as they always have.
And diners still get that relish tray as soon as they sit down -- the bean dip and chilies; also, corn chips and sour cream dip. The salad is still served in great big wooden bowls.
But it's not all a lesson in nostalgia. The bill of fare has been expanded. In addition to the printed menu, which basically revolves around red meat, there's a blackboard at the entrance of the restaurant which lists more contemporary specials, such as pasta.
Time marches on. Fair enough.
But most of the food served at the Clarkson does seem to be red meat -- at least that's what it looked like Sunday evening. About 75 percent of the clientele on our visit seemed to be eating steak.
Steak is what we ordered because, frankly, that's what we've always come here for. But this last visit was a disappointment, to say the least.
The New York Strip (smaller cut, $17.45) was accurately cooked but was a tough, dry, flavorless hunk of meat. And for goodness sake, the thick-cut french fries in accompaniment had not even been cooked all the way through.
Roast Prime Rib of Beef ($16.95) was fatty and cut sloppily and then just heaved onto the plate. It lacked beefy flavor; it lacked pizazz. Our very nice waitress seemed distressed that none of us had polished plates, but she also said she knew nothing about the restaurant changing meat suppliers. (It couldn't have anything to do with changing cooks, after all. Any clever child can cook a cut of beef. She did not offer any recompense, however, nor, to be honest, did we ask for any.)
But she did let slip that others had also complained.
Other dishes were much better. The salad was fresh, though the chopped green olives that the menu talked about seemed to be missing. And the creamy "bleu" cheese dressing was a nasty 75 cents extra, too. The garlic bread was great.
Alternative main course dishes at the Clarkson, by the way, include Lamb Chops (two for $12.25) and Baked Whitefish with Newburg Sauce ($10.95).
Or you could just stick to the pasta. That might be the way to go.
Ristorante Lombardo *** (Aug. 21)
1198 Hertel Ave. (873-4291). A fine array of Italian specialties are served in this handsome restaurant that also boasts a outdoor patio.
Peabody's ** 1/2 (Aug. 14)
423 Elmwood. (881-6228). A small restaurant that offers outdoor dining in a comfortable pavilion out back. Contemporary menu.
Antonio's *** ** (Aug. 7)
Antonio's, 410 Ellicott St., Batavia (343-2338). This little restaurant has a big menu of Italian and popular favorites but is best-known for its Early Bird listing of varied and well-prepared food.
Pad Thai Cafe ** 1/2 * (July 31)
Pad Thai Cafe, 1098 Elmwood Ave. (881-6028). Obviously, this tiny bright restaurant near Buffalo State College specializes in Thai cooking. The menu is quite detailed and extensive.
Le Metro *** 1/2 (July 24)
Le Metro, 61 Buffalo St., Hamburg (646-1636). Informal cafe that serves full dinners as well as fine soups, sandwiches and baked goods. Interesting wines. There's another Le Metro on Elmwood Avenue.
Kennedy's Cove *** 1/2 (July 17)
Kennedy's Cove, 9800 Main St., Clarence (759-8961). The surroundings are down home; the specialty is moderately priced steak.
Carlos O'Ryan's *** * (July 10)
Carlos O'Ryan's, 91 Niagara St. (856-8373). An 8-year-old restaurant on Niagara Square has changed its name and its identity. It now offers informal Southwestern fare.
Ciao *** 1/2 * (July 2)
Ciao, 4224 Maple Road, Amherst (834-6600). Chef Deborah Clark now presides over this sophisticated adjunct to the Dakota Restaurant.
Boston Garden ** 1/2 * (June 26)
7115 Boston State Road, Hamburg (649-7050). Long established country restaurant now under new ownership. The menu now offers an interesting mix of long time favorites and more contemporary dishes.
Glen Park Tavern ** 1/2 * (June 19)
5507 Main St., Williamsville (626-9333). An informal eating place in the heart of the village that offers a goodly assortment of beverages, snacks, sandwiches and main dishes.
Bing's *** (June 12)
11952 Kensington Ave., Snyder (839-5788). There's a new chef at this pleasant restaurant that specializes in pasta and Italian main dishes with definite contemporary appeal.
* Indicates restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.
** Based on Early Bird menu.
THE CLARKSON HOUSE * 1/2
80 Center St., Lewiston (754-4544). Long-time popular restaurant changes hands and, just possibly, meat suppliers. The steak doesn't seem to be what it used to be. Credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard.
BEST DISH: Relish tray.
NEEDS WORK: New York Strip.
PRICE RANGE: Dinners from $10.95 include salad. Most dinners $15 and up.
SERVICE: Very good.
HOURS: Lunch, Mon. through Sat. Dinner seven days until about 10:30 p.m.
HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CHOICES: Baked Whitefish, Charbroiled Chicken Breast.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.
PARKING: In the lot.
KID APPEAL: No special children's menu.
KEY: *FAIR, **GOOD, ***VERY GOOD, ****EXCELLENT, *****EXTRAORDINARY. Stars are awarded for the quality of the food only.