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Outstanding food awaits at the end of a long ride

NEWFANE -- The folks at the (relatively) new Del Fuego Steak House go out of their way to make your dining experience memorable -- which is only right, I suppose, since you'll probably have to go out of your way to check the place out.

Located well up Lockport-Olcott Road, the restaurant known for its Spanish-American fusion may be a bit of a haul to reach for many diners, but it is definitely worth the trip.

And anyway, where else are you going to go, at this end of Niagara County, for a touch of genuine 'ole?

Don't get me wrong, this isn't pure Spanish cuisine. It's more traditional American with a distinctly Spanish flair -- an infusion, if you will. But you will also find offerings such as gazpacho that lend an authentic touch to the place. Regardless, you're not going to be disappointed.

Not only that, but the very affordable menu will allow you to recoup some of the money spent on gasoline.

The restaurant itself is kind of unassuming, looking kind of like an old farmhouse with some modernization, but not a whole lot. It's quiet, cozy and comfy, but not fancy. The decor is highlighted by an awesome and imposing glass artwork, The Phoenix Window, which separates a dining area from the bar and features one of the stately birds in full -- and full color -- flight. Impressive.

There's also a hand-crafted walnut bar that features local wines culled from the Niagara County Wine Trail. A nice touch.

Anyway, on to what brought us out to salmon country in the first place: the food. Del Fuego offers a nice selection of panini and other sandwiches for lunch, as well as soups, salads and the usual kids' fare. But we strolled in around dinnertime, and were glad we did.

The appetizer menu offers a "Flight of Soups" for $6, which consists of small portions of three soups of the day. It was perfect, since there were three of us. We did the "lazy Susan" kind of thing and passed them around among ourselves, so we each got a taste of the Spanish onion, the vegetable beef and the chicken tortilla.

All three were quite good and extremely rich. The onion had a distinct wine flavor to the broth; the Spanish onions were nice and mild, and the croutons and cheese were just right. The veggie beef offered a thicker, stewlike broth concealing ample chunks of tender meat. The chicken tortilla had a nice tang to it. Each would have been excellent on its own.

We passed up the early-bird specials ($10 from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, except Friday and Sunday) in favor of some of the finer things off the menu: for daughter Meagan, the sauteed shrimp scampi ($16) and for myself, the "Severed Swordfish Steak" ($16).

Wife Teresa went back and forth before finally deciding on the Carne Del Fuego ($14), described as "a spicy, eight-ounce strip steak marinated in lime and Spanish seasonings and grilled to your specifications." The waitress assured her she would like it -- even going so far as to confidently offer a free replacement if she didn't.

There was no need. She savored every bite of it, enjoying the nice play of flavors on a perfectly tender, melt-in-the-mouth cut of meat. Her garlic mashed potatoes provided the perfect accompaniment.

It had been a while since I had enjoyed swordfish, and I just sort of wallowed in the pleasure of this one. It was billed as "layered in tarragon mayonnaise and Panko bread crumbs," but I didn't really notice it all that much, to tell the truth. It was beautifully grilled and had that nice "grill essence" to it, which was all I really needed. It did have a little bit of a zing to it, but nothing overpowering.

As for the Panko, I have to admit that I didn't really notice it, which is kind of unusual, I guess. No complaints, however.

My baked potato was awesome, crispy on the outside and coated with a salty mixture that just brought it to life.

Meagan's scampi had a strong smell to it that kind of turned her off a little bit. I believe, after giving it a whiff myself, that it was just a bit strong on the garlic. In fact, I sampled it and found it to be run-of-the-mill scampi, perhaps a little heavy on the seasonings, but OK.
We had some sweet potato fries, and they were done to perfection, crisp and tasty with butter and honey for dipping.

Before we left, we also ordered a 10-ounce prime rib Del Fuego ($19) for the party stuck at home. Slow-roasted to juicy perfection, it was accompanied by a healthy portion of au jus, which just set it off perfectly. Another fantastic steak offering.

We divided up a hunk of the Turtle Cheesecake for dessert, and it was sweetly tantalizing. A great topper for the evening.

Del Fuego offers a Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring special breakfast and luncheon items; as well as a Friday fish fry and Two-For Tuesdays with two prime rib dinners for $25. There are also drink and appetizer specials. They do banquets and catering, too.

Like I said, they go out of their way to make your trip an enjoyable experience. All you have to do is bring an appetite.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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Del Fuego Steak House

2990 Lockport-Olcott Road, Newfane (778-8080)

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Favorite dish: Carne Del Fuego

Needs work: Sauteed shrimp scampi

Healthy choice: Swordfish steak

Price range: Quite reasonable

Service: Excellent, friendly

Noise level: Quiet

Wheelchair access: Yes

Parking: Connected lot

Kid appeal: Limited Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday brunch.

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