Danny Sheehan’s started serving dinner to Lockportians on July 14, 1960. A week later, President Dwight Eisenhower announced a $1 billion budget surplus, leading to criticism that the federal government was not spending enough taxpayer money. So much has changed since then. Its current owners bought the place two decades ago, and expanded it after the turn of the millennium. But Danny Sheehan’s marches on, its menu and mission unwavering: to offer hearty meat-and-potato-centered meals at a price middle-class customers can stomach. ¶ The main room has a mid-1980s décor and expansive mural of downtown Lockport. The dining room behind the bar is a newer space decorated with historic black-and-white photos, a paneled ceiling and screen walls that let the breeze in, reminiscent of a converted garage. Danny Sheehan’s is a throwback place dedicated to regulars, the kind of customers for whom the menu is unnecessary. The warning that “we are not responsible for well-done steaks & prime rib” is for the newcomers.
Its center of gravity is the “restaurant special” dinners priced at $24.95, including potato, toast, soup and salad.
Other entrees include a string of Italian dishes (veal marsala, Parmesan or Dijon, $21.95, chicken Parmesan or marsala, $18.95), fried or broiled seafood combos ($15.95-$28.95) and calves’ liver with bacon or onions ($16.95). If you are looking for seared slabs of rosy tuna or house-cut french fries, you are in the wrong place.
The appetizers impressed, despite triggering my pedant reflex with a french-fry quibble. Putting shredded cheese blend on french fries with gravy does not make it poutine, any more than breaded chicken wings can be Buffalo wings. Poutine demands curds.
I still eagerly scooped up my share of steak fries, brown gravy and melted cheese browned slightly under a broiler ($8.50), returning to scrape at the tasty mess until stopped by someone with more self-respect.
Crab claws arrived cracked in half-shells, eight dainty but satisfying seafood bites with lime wedges and remoulade-like Key West cocktail sauce ($9.50). Six baked stuffed clams ($8.50) were well-done, too, the bacon-backed filling crusty and studded with bell pepper and clam meat. Vigorously browned cherry peppers stuffed with sausage, bread crumbs and gorgonzola cheese ($8.50) also won approval, though I wished for spicier peppers and funkier cheese.
The soups and salads were less engaging. One highlight was a gutsy black bean soup with nubs of chewy pork, crunchy red onion and a dab of sour cream. French onion soup ($4) offered wan broth and soggy bread underneath its cheese quilt. Basic side salads offered lettuce mix, grape tomatoes and red onion rings, but tough croutons were a downer.
The 16-ounce strip steak is $24.95, a pair of double-cut pork chops $23.95. A well-seasoned hunk of beef was pleasantly crusty and juicy, cooked to order. The pork chops showed the danger of ordering pork loin medium. Leaving the vigorously peppered jumbo chops untrimmed retained some moisture, but they emerged with no pink and lots of chew.
A request for a fatty, well- done end of prime rib (10-ounce, $21.95) was met precisely, with a gnarled slab. It needed salt, but that was easily remedied. Veal Parmesan ($21.95) was a medium-browned, pan-fried cutlet topped with cheese and tomato sauce, gone soft under the meekly flavored sauce, a decent effort.
The sides included the best twice-baked potato I’ve met in ages. (It’s offered Saturdays only.) The filling was enriched with bacon and scallion, blended briefly so it retained texture, and topped with cheese. Gratin potatoes looked cheesy but tasted more like onion. Toast was warmed and margarined, but not toasted.
Desserts – each $5 – included housemade cheesecake of regular and Irish designations, the former on graham cracker crust, the latter chocolate crumbs. Both were sweet and rich, of the whipped cream cheese variety, not baked, eggy (“New York”) style.
The chocolate peanut butter cake satisfied me with nutty cream layers and fudgy icing. Not so with the pineapple-topped cheese pie, its crushed pineapple topping too reminiscent of a can.
Danny Sheehan’s didn’t thrill me, but that was never its goal. I went home full of meat and potatoes, with money left in my wallet. Mission accomplished.
Danny Sheehan’s - 7 plates
After a half-century of service, meat and potatoes still hit the spot.
WHERE: 491 West Ave., Lockport (433-4666, dannysheehans.com )
HOURS: 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $6.50-$9.50; sandwiches, $12.95-$16.95; entrees, $13.95-$32.95.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.