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Restaurant review / Hoover’s Dairy and Restaurant Hoover’s Dairy raises the bar on the Lenten fish fry

SANBORN – It’s the Lenten season, but the skyrocketing price of fish – particularly the ever-popular haddock – is making it increasingly difficult to maintain that most sacred of Western New York traditions, the weekly Friday night fish fry.

Lots of places have cut back on portion sizes in order to keep their dinners affordable. The hunk that used to hang out – on both ends! – of your Styrofoam takeout container now tucks quite neatly inside. Oh, it might look big, all propped up on a thick bed of fries, but dig beneath a little and you’ll find the answer: more potatoes – which, of course, are a lot cheaper than fish. Like the companies that keep shrinking package sizes while increasing prices, they’re hoping you won’t really notice.

The resulting battle for the beer-battered buck has led to an unofficial competition, of sorts, to come up with creative ways of packaging the fish dinner. Distinctive sauces, exotic side dishes, anything to set one fish fry apart from the rest, to create at least the illusion of added value.

Raising the bar to new heights in that regard is a little, out-of-the-way place – a place you probably would not expect to even be in the fish-fry fracas.

Hoover’s Dairy and Restaurant (yes, the place with the great ice cream and the even better fresh milk) is stepping up to challenge not only other farm-market eateries, but the big boys of the business, as well. The fish fry is getting the farm treatment, and you’re going to like the results.

Through Easter time, Hoover’s is offering fish dinners of the fried and baked varieties, with choices of side dishes and even a complimentary ice cream for your dessert. It’ll set you back $8 for a half-portion or $11 for the full, but I can guarantee you this: you will not walk away hungry.

It could be the best fish-fry bargain around. One aside: the baked fish may not always be available on Friday nights, though it can always be ordered at lunchtime.

On a recent visit, our dinners consisted of goodly portions of fish, accompanied by ample scoops of fresh cole slaw, macaroni salad and your choice of potato – French fries, parsley – or mac and cheese. If that wasn’t enough, a slice of bread was thrown in, as well.

The breaded fish was flaky and light and would have been fine even without the accompanying tasty dill tartar sauce. It was a good-sized piece, too – not the biggest I’ve ever been served, but far from the smallest. For those who insist on fish of the fried variety, you also can have it beer-battered style.

Those preferring a healthier option can choose from a number of baked varieties – plain baked, lemon-pepper, butter-parsley, Cajun or horseradish cream. Sound interesting? You bet. We sampled the horseradish cream sauce baked fish and were pleasantly surprised with the tangy topping you’d probably expect to find dressing up a hunk of pot roast. Well, it went just as well on the fish. Really good. And the half-portion was easily enough for lunch, especially with all those side dishes included.

Speaking of sides, the cole slaw was a very fine concoction, diced quite small and served with a thick, slightly sweet mayo-y sauce. The macaroni salad was likewise on the heavy side, but could have benefited from perhaps a touch more salad dressing, or maybe a little more seasoning. It was on the plain side.

The fries were pretty standard, but the parsley potatoes made for a nice departure.

Speaking of fries, Hoover’s offers a variety of them – from waffle fries to cheese fries, with a couple other stops in between. Its one of the dishes chef Paul Gadawski creates to help set Hoover’s apart. There also are homemade soups and roast beef, turkey and pulled pork that are all made in house.

But perhaps the best deal of all is the Saturday morning farmer’s breakfast buffet, served from 8 to 11 a.m. For under $10 you get all-you-can-eat, made-to-order omelettes, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, sausage and bacon, fresh fruit and pastries, among other offerings. Now that is what I call down-home hospitality.

Hoover’s offers daily specials, as well, including homemade goulash, beef stroganoff and chicken a la king. They all run $7.25 – which includes your beverage. Sandwiches, burgers, subs – they’ll run you between $6 and $8. The house special, “Stinky Pete” – a burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches – will set you back $6.25 in the wallet and probably a couple of pounds on the scale.

Hey, I didn’t say it was health food. I said it was good food. You want healthy, maybe consider the baked Cajun fish taco. I hear it’s pretty good.

If you decide to give Hoover’s a try, don’t expect a little dive of a joint. It is, after all, quite the popular ice cream spot in the warmer months, drawing Little League teams and the like, and as such offers quite a spacious dining area. I’m not saying that it is extravagant – more like country chic, with its glass block service counter and red-and-white checkerboard motif. But with about 20 tables available, you can expect to be comfortable and not at all crowded; just don’t expect table service. This is strictly cash-and-carry. (And it is cash only, although they do offer an ATM on site for those who may be experiencing a shortage of non-plastic currency.

The ice cream – like the milk – is to die for, so don’t leave without a quart of both.