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CHEAP EATS

Jack's Place

1424 Millersport Highway, Amherst

Three pennies (out of four)

"Noisy appeal"

Just minutes away from the University at Buffalo's North Campus, Jack's Place is full of bar noises. Guys at nearby tables pound beers and bellow "Whoo -- whoo -- whoo." Video games beep and bleep. Tables are so close to each other that you can hear neighboring conversations. Really, it's almost like cabaret seating.

There are those brass rails, too. In Amherst, you can't seem to get away from them.

But still, Jack's does have an undeniable appeal. Once, late on a summer Tuesday night six years ago, former Sabre Danny Gare was spotted there, sitting across the bar from us, drinking. And eating, probably, too. At Jack's, there are some good vittles to be had.

Start with soup ($2.50 a cup, $3.25 a bowl). It's delicious and unique.

The Friday we stopped in, Jack's featured an exquisite Chicken Cheddar Chowder: a velvety brew, packed with meat, generous with the chopped vegetables. Exactly like chicken pie, in other words, only without that troublesome crust.

French Onion Soup, which broke the bank at $4.25, was also a delight. The cup overflowed, with the cheese slicking the sides of the bowl. The piping hot beef broth wasn't too salty, either.

However! Both soups paled, at least in originality, before the Reuben Soup. Be honest. Have you never yearned for a deconstructed Reuben sandwich? You got it. There were pieces of corned beef and dark rye all swimming in a thick, creamy, tangy broth. The waitress said it was a nod to German culture, in honor of Oktoberfest. We say it was a work of art.

An appetizer portion of ribs ($8.95) proved worth it: There were four or five of them, the meat meltingly tender. "Outstanding," said the rib expert.

A Portabello Mushroom Sandwich arrived on a big soft roll, nice and juicy and set off by roasted red peppers. It was $8 but the equivalent of any upscale deli. Ask them to hold the potato chips. There were way too many of them.

The septuagenarian among us tried the traditional Fish Fry. The ol' haddock made a big splash. Moist and juicy, it took up most of the plate. Cole slaw was good. But the only weird touch was the mac salad, which was on the mushy side.

Skip the stuffed mushrooms. For $6.95, you get only five of them, and we couldn't taste the promised crabmeat.

But do try a humble bowl of chili. Under $5, it was a meal in itself. It was hot, thick, mildly spicy, with yellow cheese and two slices of garlic bread. Definitely the best value in Jack's.

And have a glass of wine. Paul Masson is just $3 a glass. For night owls, a sign on the door advertised $2 drinks from midnight until closing.

Open seven days a week at 11 a.m. Kitchen closes at 11 p.m. weekdays, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Wheelchair access: A few steps to the dining area.

The waitress said the Ruben Soup was in honor of Oktoberfest. We say it was a work of art.