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Back on the road ; Buffalo Roadhouse serves up some tasty early-bird specials

I've been curious about Buffalo Roadhouse Grill since last March, when three former employees of the Texas Roadhouse chain opened the former Niagara Falls Boulevard location as a locally owned restaurant. Although there were a few things on the menu that were priced on the Cheap Eats level, including salads, burgers and beef on weck, we put the spot on the back burner until we heard about the early-bird special: two meals for $15.98 from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The parking lot and the large dining room were just over half-full when John, Pat, John and I arrived on a Friday around 5 p.m. The Roadhouse Grill ambience remains, from the rustic wood-paneled walls and comfortable booths to the tin buckets of peanuts on each table -- shells on the floor encouraged.

The early-bird dinner offerings featured a variety of dishes, each for $7.99. They included a 6-ounce sirloin steak, pulled pork, chopped steak, pasta alfredo and several chicken selections, such as a half-chicken dinner, chicken tenders, a grilled chicken breast, a green salad topped with chicken tenders and penne tossed in a spicy Buffalo wing sauce and topped with chicken tenders. Each entree is served with a side of potato or vegetable.

If there is any difference between these early-bird specials and their counterparts on the regular menu, which cost between $2 and $5 more, we couldn't see it. The meal began with a basket of steaming hot, soft rolls, and included soup or salad. The salads were cold, crisp iceberg with a few accent vegetables; the soup, in this case chicken noodle, was very good, rich with diced chicken breast and vegetables.

The chopped steak was a sizable portion of meat, browned to tasty crispness on the outside but still moist and juicy inside, cooked exactly as requested. Served on a bed of smooth garlic mashed potatoes, the beef was garnished with a rich gravy and cooked mushrooms and onions, then the whole dish was topped with crunchy ribbons of onion. The blended tastes were exceptional. It didn't seem that we should have received another side, since the beef was served on the garlic mashed potatoes, but we ordered fries and they showed up, crisp and hot.

The chicken finger dinner included four medium-to-large white-meat fingers in a light breading. A dish of the house barbecue sauce, of which they are justly proud, was served on the side. The barbecue sauce, both smoky and sweet, offered plenty of zest without much tastebud-searing heat.

The pulled pork, a specialty of the house and $5 more on the regular menu, was exceptional. The dish starts with slow-roasted pork shoulder that is hand-pulled, leaving a few chunks of tender meat intact, then slathered with the excellent barbecue sauce. Both the consistency and taste were fabulous. The Southwestern corn was dotted with fiery bits of red and green pepper.

Our only disappointment was with perhaps the simplest dish -- a grilled chicken breast that was served undercooked and vividly pink in the center. We flagged down our server, who whisked the plate away with apologies. It took close to 10 minutes for that dinner to be returned, the same piece of chicken in a more edible state.

A baked sweet potato served on the side, topped with cinnamon-dusted butter, was delicious.


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