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Cheap Eats; Extensive menu makes it hard to pick at Brennan's

Brennan's Bowery Bar, in the Clarence Mall on the northeast corner of Main Street and Transit Road, is a big barn of a place that manages to feel cozy. Once you're settled into one of the dozens of high wooden booths along the walls, you're in a world of your own.

The menu is similarly expansive, with almost everything you could imagine on it, from chicken sandwiches and specialty sandwiches to burgers, as well as appetizers, salads, wraps, soups, wings and even a few Mexican-inspired picks, all well within cheap eats range. Brennan's also offers daily specials and a selection of pricier dinners.

Although there were three groups in front of us at the hostess' podium, within a few minutes we were being shown to our booth in the back of the long room whose front section contains the tall, polished wood bar.

Unless you arrive in the mood for a specific food, you may find yourself asking the server to come back in a few minutes, which we did as our eyes ranged here and there among the dozens of selections. Soups were $3.25 for a cup and $4.25 for a bowl; half-pound burgers ranged from $7.39 to $8.99; a wide variety of chicken "sammys" -- made from chicken breasts dusted with jerk or Cajun seasoning or barbecue sauce, or topped with wilted spinach and melted provolone -- hovered around $8.69.

We first settled on a single order ($9.99) of barbecued grilled chicken wings, which are not counted but portioned by weight. Our single order, a pound, contained nine substantial wings. They were cooked in a barbecue sauce that was mild but bursting with flavor, then finished on a hot grill, with lines of slight scorching visible on each wing. The combination of slightly sweet barbecue sauce, moist chicken and grill char was awesome, verging on addictive.

The Paddy Melt burger ($7.99), served on either rye or pumpernickel, was a hybrid burger and sandwich. The sizable, beefy burger was cooked, topped with cheese, tomato and Russian dressing, then inserted into the bread and briefly grilled. It was very good, and, as the menu noted, it did require two hands to hold.

The Blarney Stone ($7.99) was made of slices of cold ham and turkey, topped with Swiss cheese and tomato on rye bread and grilled. For some reason, the effect was greater than the sum of its specific parts, and the combination of ingredients was delicious.

The Reuben ($9.59), ordered on pumpernickel, was a bit on the small side for that price, but was made with absolutely top-quality corned beef. They know their corned beef at Brennan's -- I still think fondly of the magnificent corned beef and cabbage dinner I had here in March. The thick-cut but tender corned beef in this Reuben showed that Brennan's maintain the same high standards year-round.

Each of the sandwiches was served with a double handful of rippled chips and a tangy dill pickle.

But the best item we ordered turned out to be grouper fingers ($9.99) from the specials menu. A large portion of the sweet, fresh whitefish, fried in a light and nongreasy batter, was piled atop a mound of fries in a basket. Both the fish and the fries were molten, emitting clouds of steam when they were broken apart. Everything about this dish was exceptional




3 1/2 pennies (out of four)    

"Good pub selections"    

WHERE: 4401 Transit Road, Clarence (633-9630)    

HOURS: 11 a.m. to about 2 a.m. daily.