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Comfort food A refurbished Gigi's still offers the best home cooking

She carries her age nicely, you'll have to agree. Gigi's Restaurant, at the corner of East Ferry Street and Jefferson, has been sharpened up both inside and out, but the menu remains the same. And, after 48 years, it's still a meeting place for the African-American community.

This is -- and has always been -- a down-home place. There's a small counter as you first walk in, and the dining tables go back from there. Interesting old photos line the walls. The menu features standard food such as steak and eggs, club sandwiches and burgers ($2) as well as New York Strip ($9). But it also includes the likes of a fried haddock, eggs and grits breakfast ($8) and barbecue ribs.

There are also specials every day of the week. There's oxtail and ham hocks on Wednesday, for instance; smothered chicken on Thursday ($7.25); and chicken and dumplings on Saturday. These come with a choice of three sides that vary but always include a starch; macaroni and cheese; and mashed potatoes.

Everything is house made and tastes homemade -- good thing these are talented, instinctive cooks -- and there's a certain amount of price quirkiness, too. Lettuce and tomato will set you back another 10 cents if you want them on a sandwich, for instance. And if you request your pie heated, it will cost you 10 cents, too. Gigi's is probably one of the few places left in the culinary world where a dime still has any significance.

So it's Tuesday night when we visit, and the soup is chicken rice ($2). When it comes to our table, all richly yellow in the bowl, we just know it's going to be delicious.

We are right. Loaded with carrots and rice, the stuff tastes like a real chicken has gotten involved. I might mention that the corn bread accompaniment is far from shabby.

It's Tuesday, as we said, so I go for meatloaf ($7.25). It's terrific stuff: two big, light slabs in a bit of brown gravy. The meatloaf, like all of Gigi's food, is amply seasoned -- no precious little wispy flavors here. There's plenty of salt and a good strong dose of black pepper, and I just inhale the stuff down. A huge portion is gone in a second. Ditto the collard greens, tender and cooked long in the pot, with just the right amount of bitterness.

The mac and cheese, on the other hand, is a much gentler thing. Please understand, that's not to say it's not rich; it's rich all right. But the overall effect is one of smoothness, an excellent complement to all the other excitement on my plate. What a satisfying dinner.

The Companion opted for those barbecue ribs ($8.75) cooked in an almost sweet sauce to which he added only a hint of hot sauce.

Obviously, many had eaten before us, because plenty of the house-made desserts were out. No banana pudding. No pound cake.

There was, however, sweet potato pie ($2), so all was not lost. Especially since it's described on the menu with uncharacteristic Gigi boastfulness as "the best in Buffalo." Out it came -- we did without the 10-cent heating charge -- a great big wedge, square on the plate with a slightly salty crust and a light-as-air filling unenhanced with whipped cream.

And -- you know what? -- that menu just might be right. It was great sweet potato pie. I will not argue with that "best in Buffalo" description.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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GIGI'S

3 stars (Out of 4)

WHERE: 257 E. Ferry St. (883-1438). Forty-eight years old and still going strong, Gigi's decor has been spiffed up a bit, but the place still serves fine stick-to-the-ribs soul food. No beer or wine; no credit cards.

FAVORITE DISH: Meatloaf

NEEDS WORK: Food is of good quality.

PRICE RANGE: Dinner specials from $7.25 include choice of three sides.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: A couple of steps in front. Wheelchair access through the back door upon request.

PARKING: On the street or parking lot across the street.

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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