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Cheap Eats ; Witter's mixes old favorites, innovative creations

Witter's Sports Bar & Grill, in the spot once occupied by Soos Oliver Street Cafe, has changed a few things since the Soos family sold the place in 2008. Witter's offers a wide variety of televised sports and a menu that concentrates more on burgers, panini, sandwiches, pasta, and some chicken, beef and pork dinner selections.

But some things remain the same -- the framed sports memorabilia in the bar and in the back dining room, which still has a rustic hunting-lodge feel with its high paneled ceilings, plaid carpet and rough log pillars.

There were about a dozen people in the bar when Ruth, Dan, John and I stopped by for dinner on a recent Saturday, and it was our impression that they had been there awhile. The music was loud and the patrons were louder, in a friendly, having-a-good-time way. We adjourned to the back room and selected a table in the far corner, where we could still hear the music but not as much of the yelling.

Witter's menu includes everything from old-style choices such as fried bologna ($5.49) to newer combinations, including a grilled chicken and portabella panini ($7.99). We were also told about an innovation the kitchen is trying, stuffed burgers, which are not on the menu but seem to hover around $7.50.

A generously sized American-style panini ($7.89) was made, as requested, without peppers or onions. The turkey, bacon and slightly spicy pepper jack cheese was a flavorful and satisfying combination. The bacon was crisp without being overdone; the cheese was slightly melted between the layers of pressed Italian bread (sourdough was also offered as an option).

The mushroom and bacon cheeseburger ($6.99) started with a patty of plain ground beef, neither too dry nor too greasy, topped with sauteed mushrooms, bacon and slightly melted provolone. A classic burger, this was done right.

A grilled Monterey jack chicken breast sandwich was also nicely cooked. The sizable chicken breast was moist, not dry. It was served on a fresh, soft kaiser roll.

The stuffed Philly cheeseburger ($7.49) was an ambitious, unusual creation, with green peppers, onions and cheese sandwiched between two burger patties, which are then cooked. Its arrival raised the question: How am I going to eat this? The answer is carefully, and even then a third of the burger may end up on your plate. This is not a meal to order when you wish to eat neatly, but it was very good. It would have been better if the peppers had been sauteed with the onions to blended-flavor softness, but that's a quibble.

Each sandwich comes with a choice of fries or chips, but rather than a handful from a bag, the chips are fresh-fried in the kitchen and served still warm. The fries are also excellent, slightly sprinkled with seasoning and so hot that they steamed when broken open.

Or maybe the fries steamed because the high-ceilinged room was chilly. We did sit at the intersection of two outside walls, but we noticed that others in the dining room also kept their coats on while they ate, and it wasn't even a particularly frigid evening.

We guessed that things heat up inside when the Sabres or Bills are playing a close game. But for the comfort of the diners on normal afternoons, it might be a good idea to crank up the heat a bit.




3 pennies (out of four)

WHERE: 300 Oliver St., North Tonawanda 693-1370

HOURS: The kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 8 or 8:30 p.m. daily.


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