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Have a B.L.A.S.T. ; The Delaware raises the bar with inventive pub grub

Once it was an ice cream shop; now it's a bar. The newly opened Delaware's architecture clearly shows its humble origins. But this new bar specializes in food as well as drink. The menu -- snacky items mostly that taste good with a drink -- lists well over 30 comfort dishes with humorous twists.

This is what I dislike about the Delaware: the stark decor, almost prisonlike as far as I'm concerned. And the noise. With a bar in its center and hard surfaces all around, jollity reverberates both downstairs and in the upstairs loft. Depends on the mood, I guess. If you're partying this could be a prime location.

A prime location because the food is good and carefully thought out. What is more, it far exceeds -- in both variety and taste -- most bars in this area.

Examples: Hand-cut potato chips freshly made and served with a spicy srirachi (chile) dip ($2 per basket); Asparagus Fries (beer battered, served with srirachi aioli and buttermilk dressing, $4); a B.L.A.S.T. Sandwich (think BLT with avocado and grilled salmon on a ciabatta roll, $8.50).

Also Pork Tater Tots ($4.50), bigger than those frozen little knobs we all know and love. These are almost burger-size and filled with pulled pork, cheddar and onions. Oh boy. The Welsh Rarebit ($5.50) has artichokes in it.

But I draw the line at paying $4 for two deviled eggs, supposedly glammed up with smoked paprika and chives although both of these last ingredients may have been forgotten in the holiday rush. The eggs tasted just like the hen fruit you've loved since childhood.

Soups were good although both of the ones we tasted could have been a little warmer. The Creamy Tomato Soup ($4) was accompanied by little grilled cheese fingers -- cute! The Onion Gratinee was topped with an English muffin and three -- count 'em -- three cheeses.

You can, if you wish, eat heartier at the Delaware. Burgers are made from beef brisket and chuck, ensuring a fatty, tasty mouth experience.

I especially liked the Pretzelweck Brisket Burger ($7.50) served on a long bicolored roll, enhanced with caramelized onions and pepperjack cheese. The Companion liked the $12 Mac en Chevre -- spiral pasta topped with cheddar, Parmesan and goat cheese with a spicy grilled chicken breast.

Meatloaf ala Mode ($10) was an old-fashioned treat of veal, pork and beef accompanied by tasty buttered mashed potatoes and crisply fried onions. And the Hangar Steak and Fries ($14), with a little whole roasted garlic and compound butter along for the ride, was excellent.

Other hearty items include cornmeal crusted tofu with wonton crisps, mushrooms, water chestnuts and soy ($11). Or Shepherds Pie $10). Or even an Onion Crusted Pork Chop, served with bacon-infused orange jam ($14).

They've got desserts here, too, just in case you need a little sweetness with your brew. Hot Fudge Mexican Sundae? Haven't seen one since I was 10 years old, and this one is based on hot fudge ($3). Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie is $4.50.

But naturally, we (junk foodlovers to the end) were captivated by the Hot Bag of Doughnuts ($4.50). Out they came, served appropriately in a white paper bag. Glazed doughnut holes really -- maybe we expected a larger lineup of flavors. The trouble with doughnuts (if indeed there is trouble with doughnuts, you decide) is that they only taste good when they are still hot and piping fresh. These had lingered a little too long on a counter somewhere.

They did come with three dipping sauces -- chocolate, melba and an especially fine custard and that made up for a lot.

But we will stick with the Mexican Sundae next time I think. Gracias.

e-mail: janiceokun@yahoo.com

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THE DELAWARE Review: 3 stars Out of 4 WHERE: 3410 Delaware Ave., Town of Tonawanda 874-0100 . Bar food mainly -- the kinds of snacky items that taste good with a beer. But the bar food has a witty touch. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa. FAVORITE DISH: Pretzelweck Brisket Burger NEEDS WORK: Deviled Eggs PRICE RANGE: Most appetizer items in the $5 range; Entrees $11 up. SERVICE: Good HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday; Sunday from noon. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: First floor only. PARKING: Lot in the rear. 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. * indicates that restaurant is so new that this is a provisional rating.

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