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Cheap eats

We visited the Harris Hill Diner twice. The second time, we loved it, and the rating above is based on that visit. The first time, John's pancakes were badly overcooked -- even the server who took them back called them "burned" -- and when they were remade, only two appeared, apparently because John had managed to eat part of one while waiting to flag down a server. They were marginally better, but still hard and brown, rather than golden.

But we really wanted to like this place. It's adorable, decorated with country items and a ton of Sabres memorabilia. So we gave it a second chance, stopping with John F. and Pat on a snowy Sunday. This time we got a better server, and the food was mostly very good.

The one clunker this time was the cream of broccoli soup, served instead of fries with a sandwich off the specials menu. It was lukewarm, and even when the server asked about it, then returned it to the kitchen to be reheated, it was still just warm rather than hot. It was delicious, though, with a ton of broccoli and a sturdy broth. And unlike our pancake experience, the bowl was refilled when it arrived back at the table.

The pancakes ($5.99 with sausage) were thicker than usual, fluffy in the center and gently cooked on the outside. Different cook? Different griddle temperature? Maybe both?

A French Delight was an item we'd never seen before: a croissant sliced in half, dipped in egg batter and deep fried, served with eggs and bacon, sausage or ham for $6.29. The croissant was unusual and good, its flaky layers wrapped in an eggy, browned crust. It was compared favorably to fried dough at the fair.

The cinnamon french toast also got high marks. The five slices, cut slightly on the diagonal from an Italian loaf, were tender rather than dense and liberally flavored with cinnamon.

The bacon was nicely cooked, crispy without being burned.
A special on the board, a chicken ranch club sandwich ($7.49), arrived on a roll rather than the expected layers of toasted bread, but it turned out to be the wiser choice. A thick but tender chicken breast doused with ranch dressing was moist and flavorful. It was set off by a slice of cool tomato and crispy lettuce -- and it was utterly delicious.

The Harris Hill Diner seems to have a lot of regulars, and after our second visit, we can see why.

-- Anne Neville

***

Harris Hill Diner

8611 Main St., Clarence

631-2664

Review: 3 pennies (Out of 4)

"Worth a return."

The Harris Hill Diner is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. It is closed Monday. It is handicapped-accessible.

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