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NEW DINER OFFERS OLDTIME COMFORT FOOD

MarLyn's Eatery ***

5252 Saunders Settlement Road, Lockport, (439-9666)

It seemed like years that I'd been driving by the old Finnicky's restaurant at the corner of Campbell Boulevard and Route 31, only to see an empty building staring back.

What a waste, I always thought. Here you've got a main thoroughfare between Lockport and Niagara Falls, offering mile upon mile of little more than munching cows and open fields.

With all the truckers rolling by on a daily basis, the commuters from the nearby Delphi plant, the sheriff's people and, of course, the jail visitors and county court traffic, what better place for a little diner? Yet it sat unused.

Until a couple months ago, that is. That's when the people who brought us The Fieldstone in Lockport (Mrs. "F," anyway) decided to breathe some life into the joint that could have doubled for Mel's Diner of '70s TV fame.

It's called MarLyn's Eatery, and I'd seen the cars accumulating on recent jaunts past, so I decided to stop one recent Sunday afternoon.

It was 12:30, so I was surprised when the waitress delivered a breakfast menu and said lunch wouldn't start until 1 p.m. -- a nod to all those rural late-risers, I guess. And here I thought country folk awoke at the crack of dawn.

OK, so maybe it's to accommodate the after-church crowd. . . . What do I know, city slicker that I am?

I'd been in the mood for something more substantial than a breakfast, but we decided to stick around. The menu offered several variations of the two-egg special: with ham, sausage, steak, or corned beef hash, among others. With home fries and toast, they ran in the $4 to $5 range.

I opted for ham with rye toast, and asked for onions with my home fries.

The girls both ordered one of the "create-your-own breakfast sandwiches" for $3.99, in which you tailored your own creation from a choice of breads, meats and eggs.

They each chose a sausage patty atop over-easy eggs, stuffed between toasted English muffin sections. They had home fries on the side, as well.

While we waited, I asked to peruse a lunch/dinner menu and was impressed with the selection of sandwiches, salads and specials, everything for less than $9 -- many considerably less.

It was obvious that great care was taken in constructing the menu: a choice of mouth-watering salads, including pecan-crusted chicken with Mandarin oranges and dried cranberries; marinated chicken souvlaki over mixed greens; and an apple spinach salad featuring a hot bacon dressing.

They all sounded very inviting.

The home-cooked specials were tempting, as well: liver and onions, meatloaf, chicken and biscuits . . . just the dishes you'd expect to find at a roadside diner with no neighbors within earshot -- at least none that didn't get milked every sunrise.

Our breakfasts were cooked to order and delivered quickly. Mine had a couple of thin slices of ham, which were a little dry. But everything else was excellent, especially the crispy home fries. I ended up making mini-sandwiches with my rye slices, the ham and eggs, and the potatoes.

The girls said their meals were very tasty, as well, featuring large sausage patties and a good helping of home fries.

My curiosity ended up getting the better of me and, since it was closing in on 1 o'clock, we inquired about getting a sandwich to go. We were told any of the grilled offerings were in play, so I chose the New York style Reuben ($5.99), which was delivered in a foam takeout container with freshly cut fries and a halved sandwich oozing sauerkraut, melted Swiss and Thousand Island dressing.

I had half of it gone before I left the parking lot . . . You can't let a perfectly good Reuben get cold, I reasoned. The rest was history before I left Lockport to return home. One of the girls made quick work of the fries.

If the sandwich was any indication of the quality of their lunches and dinners, we give them two thumbs up.

And don't forget to try the hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows and whipped cream on top. The girls got a cup for the road, and it promptly took the chill off in a nice, sweet way.

All in all, I say well done, MarLyn's. May the truckers and others find respite in your old-time ways.

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