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Cheap eats

We weren't really too sure what a "fine food family restaurant" was until John, Pat the other John and I walked into the Roman Cafe. As we looked around, we began to figure it out:

* The dining room was just past the takeout counter, but was darkened and nicely decorated.

* Everyone looked at home, from families with little kids and old folks to couples on dates.

* The house special is a 12-ounce Delmonico steak for $17.85, but the other special is award-winning chicken wings, at $7.70 a dozen.

The menu is extensive, offering everything from selections for youngsters to pastas, seafood, chicken and beef entrees, pizza and subs, sandwiches, soups and desserts.

We especially liked the menu option of ordering a "lite portion" of the pastas for a few bucks less.

Some dinners came with salads or soup for $1.75 extra, and the salads were excellent, cold and crisp, with green olives as well as the usual ingredients. An abundant bread basket was served with the salads.

The "lite portion" of cheese ravioli ($6.25, $7.50 for the "hearty size") was five good-sized ravioli covered with a perfectly balanced, long-simmered red sauce.

The baked lasagna, another house specialty, was not available in the small size, and beware: This is a sizable serving ($7.65). Rather than a square perched on a plate, this lasagna filled the bowl of a large pasta dish and was topped with a bubbling layer of parm.

A Stinger half-sub ($5.30, $8.05 for a whole) combined a layer of thin-sliced steak with a plump breaded chicken finger on a fresh roll.

The menu warns that the blackened chicken with cajun rice is "hot & spicy," and they are serious! The chicken breast was perfectly cooked inside, still moist, despite its layer of slight char and hot spices. But aye carumba it was hot! The Cajun rice was kicked up, and the chicken, in case hotter-than-Hades wasn't heated enough for you, was topped with a blackened, evil-looking pointed green chili pepper. It was a delicious dish for those who like spice.

We tried an order of the chicken wings, and while not the largest we have ever seen, they were a good size, and crisp and moist.

-- Anne Neville

The Roman Cafe opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday and closes at 9:30 p.m. Monday, at 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, at midnight Friday and Saturday; it is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday. It is handicapped-accessible.

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>Roman Cafe Fine Food Family Restaurant

797 Payne Ave., North Tonawanda
692-7048
Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
"Good family spot."

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