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Race to the river Justin Tyme keeps a steady pace with wholesome menu

Now here's a restaurant with a water view. Remember it, and perhaps inscribe it on your heart forever since there are so few waterfront dining places around here. Justin Tyme hangs over the river, and it has a pleasant patio with umbrella tables. And a boat dock, too.

Inside, it boasts wholesome family ambience and checkered flags -- everywhere. NASCAR is the theme here. Lots of NASCAR. The kids' menu, in fact, is called -- I'm not exactly sure I get this -- "Speed Bump Ahead" and features the usual under-10 favorites such as hot dogs and grilled cheese (with fries and pop, $3.90).

The rest of the menu is divided into sections such as "Warm-up Laps," "Starting Lineup," "Factory Options" (side dishes) and "Liquid Fuel." You will not be surprised to hear, however, that the listings offer few surprises. That is definitely not meant as a criticism, because surprises are not what you come here for. This is a casual place. You might choose a burger, a salad or a sandwich. Sandwiches are served after 11 a.m. Think BLT ($3.50 with chips), Fried Bologna ($4.99), Reuben or Pulled Pork.

Breakfast, too, involves the usual pastries and eggs plus a few more quirky items such as Chocolate Chip Pancakes and a Breakfast Fajita Wrap with scrambled eggs, vegetables, cheese and salsa for $4.99.

The food here may not break any molds, but what there is seems to be done well. Like our odd little Pizza Soup, a special that turns up pretty often, we were told. It has a creamy tomato base, of course, with cheese, vegetables and other pizza appurtenances. Plus there's a little dash of oregano and hot pepper added so you don't miss the point.

Was it great soup? No, I suppose not. But we loved the darn thing. It was one of those concoctions that gives a rosy hue to the world.

Next, we went for a "Victory Lap Dinner": Jeff's Homemade Meatloaf with Gravy ($7.99). Picky eaters need not apply. This was a big portion of light, juicy meat that was admirably and subtly seasoned. And in accompaniment: dark gravy -- a little too salty, perhaps -- and some totally forgetable vegetables, canned I think. But still . . .

Another Victory Lap number: Chicken Daytona ($9.95). The usual tough grilled chicken breast, topped with bacon (lots of it) and Monterey Jack picked up with mustard, which helped ease the curse of that darn chicken. The fries were fresh tasting and crisp, too, and that really helped.

Desserts can be wonderful. It's hard not to order the Root Beer Float ($2.29), but if you can, you might also go for the Homemade Double Fudge Brownie.

It's rich, it's moist, it's heavy. It's everything, in fact, a brownie should be.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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JUSTIN TYME ON THE RIVER

3 stars (Out of 4)

WHERE: 7611 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls (283-1339). Popular family restaurant overlooking the Niagara, open long hours and offering Western New York favorites. In season, there's an outdoor patio and a boat dock. Credit Cards: Master Card, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Pizza Soup

NEEDS WORK: Chicken Daytona

PRICE RANGE: Dinners with soup or salad, potato from $7.99.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: Spring hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; a little later on Friday and Saturday. Summer hours to come.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes. A very shallow, wide step.

PARKING: In the lot.

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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