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Unavailable menu items leave a bad taste

CAMBRIA -- Note to restaurateurs: When your dinner menu consists of essentially a handful of choices, it would seem advisable to ensure that an adequate supply of each is on hand. At all times. Even Sunday nights.

Ditto for drinks, as well. That doesn't seem to be asking too much, especially for a place that bills itself as a restaurant and tavern.

Remember, it's the intangibles that often make the difference. In this case, things like getting orders straight, cooking orders right, limiting the crude language wafting over from the "tavern" portion of the establishment. You know, the little things.

On a recent visit, the Ridge Family Restaurant and Tavern managed to mangle most of them.

For instance, controlling the assorted expletives filling the air of a supposed "family" establishment. Just because there's NASCAR on the screen at the bar doesn't excuse the loud and repeated use of "pit" language. And no, a wall that is open at both ends does not sufficiently filter the filth.

Fortunately, there were no young children present at the time, but it was during traditional dinner hours, and I had to wonder if anything would have been different had there been young ones present.

Our visit on a cold, post-Valentine's eve got off on the wrong foot when my daughter ordered sweetened tea and was told there was no more. Didn't seem like an outlandish request; she tries to avoid carbonated beverages. They did have unsweetened tea -- perhaps they could have just added some sugar to one of those? No, she ended up with a Sprite -- which had to be sent back because it was more like club soda than lemon-lime.

When our drinks did arrive, one was spilled over the table. Again, no big deal in and of itself -- until you see the pattern starting to emerge.

With a choice of basically six sandwiches or four Polish specialities (excluding the obligatory bar food of pizza and wings), options were already limited. My wife ordered the beef on weck ($5.85) only to hear that it may be out. She offered to take it on a plain roll, if that would facilitate things. Upon checking, the waitress returned and informed us there was no beef.

So make that five sandwiches.

To be fair, the Ridge offers fried fish and seafood plates on Fridays, and also a handful of submarine sandwiches, but that really doesn't change things much: The selection is definitely lacking.

Teresa finally settled on the cheeseburger with chips and pickle ($4.95). I ordered the cabbage rolls and French fries ($7.95), while Meagan went with the potato and cheese pierogis cooked with onions ($7.95).

Another couple left soon after our arrival, leaving the three of us alone in the dining area. Being only a hop, skip and jump from the bar, we were unfortunate enough to overhear some of the conversation -- which included enough salty language to prompt an unexpected protest from my college-age daughter.

Our problems didn't end with the arrival of our orders. Teresa's burger lacked any cheese, and its pinkish interior was definitely not to her liking. The breaded olives appetizer ($3.95 for eight, served with blue cheese) she ordered never came at all. She had to ask for it when the waitress returned halfway through our meal.

She was gracious enough to throw a few extras on the plate when it did come -- as we were starting to wrap things up. For the uninitiated, the dish consists of breaded "balls" of diced black olives mixed with liberal amounts of gooey cheese and deep-fried to a crispy golden brown exterior. Sounds iffy, but it was actually pretty good, especially when dipped in the blue cheese. Didn't like it dipped in sour cream, which the waitress also provided.

Speaking of deep-fried, if you're not a fan, your options are going to be extremely limited here, so be forewarned. The Polish dishes would likely be your best bet, and we were fairly happy with ours.

The cabbage rolls, in fact, were the highlight of the night. Consisting of two plump rolls, they were fork-tender and nicely flavorful. I'm accustomed to a slightly more tomato-ish sauce for accompaniment, but I liked mine just fine.

The fresh-cut fries were plentiful and well done, as well. Very tasty, especially when topped with vinegar and ketchup.

Meagan was served a healthy portion of pierogis, sauteed to a light brown. She likes hers a little crispier, however, and said the flavor was only so-so.

The other Polish items on the menu are Polish sausage with sauerkraut and czernina, a native soup. I had wanted to sample the soup but opted for the appetizer instead.

When I got home and looked it up, learning that it was also known as Duck Blood Soup, I was kind of glad we opted for the latter. Maybe next time.

I'm well aware that the Ridge Family Restaurant has been around for years and has changed little over that time. Maybe they've found their recipe for success, and if that is indeed the case, more power to them.

Personally, I'd like to see more traditional Polish fare, which is kind of hard to find in these parts, and less of the "late-night snacks," as the sign outside trumpets.

But that's just me. Guess I'm just not the "tavern" type.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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Ridge Family Restaurant and Tavern

4494 Ridge Road, Cambria (433-9741)

Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Favorite dish: Cabbage rolls

Needs work: Menu variety

Healthy choice: Not many

Price range: Most meals under $8

Service: Serviceable

Noise level: Bar language

Wheelchair access: Yes

Parking: Connected lot

Kid appeal: Limited

Hours: 3 p.m. to midnight weekdays; noon to 2 a.m. weekends; closing times vary, based on restaurant traffic.

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