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Modern Greek Pano's has expanded its building and its menu

Once it was a diner; now it looks like an upscale restaurant.

Pano's started small and enlarged at a determined pace. It went through several phases of growth. First there was a counter in the back; then the place became all booths and tables; next, the sidewalk eating space was enclosed.

None of this occurred without drama. During all this expansionist activity, there were plenty of objections involving preservationists. But approval finally came, and the historic house next door was razed -- overnight, it seemed. Pano's undertook a final major building phase, which even included building on a second floor.

So the place now serves food on two levels, has established an attractive bar/waiting area (previously, customers had to line up outside during the busy Sunday brunch hours) and enlarged the parking lot (which used to present a scary test of driving skill).

There were other changes, too. The interior now has a luxe feel to it -- sophisticated colors, cloth napkins, a fireplace here and there. Plenty of Greek food is on the menu, but there's a lot more than that. Souvlaki dinners, yes, but also a pot roast dinner (with gravy, smashed red potatoes and salad, $12.99); spanakopita ($6.99), but also grilled salmon fillet ($14.99).

Pano's serves breakfast all day. The Early Bird (served 7 to 11 a.m.) is a real bargain. Eggs Benedict ($7.49) is on the menu, as are various omelets and BLTs. No matter what you order, it seems, you can get in and out fast.

At an early dinner the other week, we were seated upstairs by request, and the large windows overlooked a snowy Elmwood Avenue.

We started with avgolemono soup ($3.49). This classic Greek opener -- with its egg-thickened chicken base, citric tang and rice -- was certainly as piquant as it's supposed to be; it was nice and hot, too. But, oh, the texture. A spoon stood up all by itself in the bowl. Way, way too thick.

But, on the other hand, there's this: Another starter, jumbo lump Maryland crab cakes ($7.99), was too light. Right about now you're probably thinking, "Will anything satisfy these people?" But those cakes were definitely, er, airy. There were two little spheres resting on a plate artfully drizzled with remoulade sauce. It was just OK.

I selected the gyro dinner. There was plenty to eat there, all right, for $11.49: thinly sliced lamb with a nicely feta-ed Greek salad and what looked like a peck of satisfying lemon-tinged roast Greek potatoes. Also, a freshly grilled pocket bread. No one goes away hungry after eating all that.

They don't go away hungry, either, after eating what the menu describes as "Full Rack of Lamb Dinner" ($18.99). Well, maybe not quite a full rack -- six chops, I think. But it was nicely cooked rare to order and seasoned with zest. It was accompanied by good-tasting roast potatoes and more of the fine salad.

Steak dinners are available at Pano's, including New York Strip ($13.99). There's also broiled swordfish steak ($14.99), and a Friday fish fry (available from 10 a.m.) runs $9.99.

The many omelet options include Saganaki (with tomatoes, onions, green peppers and Greek Kasseri cheese, $6.75). You'll also find many sandwiches -- and even a Kobe beef burger ($8.99).

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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PANO'S

2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

WHERE: 1081 Elmwood Ave. (886-9081; www.panosonelmwood.com). What was once an informal diner in Buff State country has now become a glamorous-looking restaurant with a diverse menu. Beer and wine. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Rack of lamb dinner

NEEDS WORK: Avgolemono soup

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees from $11.99 include starch and salad. Souvlaki dinners from $12.99.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: From 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

PARKING: Parking 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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