The block-letter illuminated sign in front of the Yelling Goat speaks in Neighborhood Restaurantese. MON – KIDS EAT FREE. TUES – 2 FOR 1 WINGS. Wednesday brings endless pasta. Guess if there’s a Friday fish fry. (Yup.) But if you take a gander at the place, you’ll also notice the restaurant’s logo, a bawling long-eared kid. That’s your warning that when it comes to neighborhood restaurants, the Yelling Goat is not your average bear. ¶ The menu is festooned with livestock jokes, which seem like camouflage, as this is not a common-denominator menu. There are twice as many dishes as on most tavern menus – standards like burgers and salads, but also creative dishes more often found in finer settings. It’s a place bridging tradition and ambition, offering calamari and cassoulet, stuffed banana peppers and pork tenderloin stuffed with cherries and porcini mushrooms.
If you’re looking for a neighborhood restaurant, the Yelling Goat should make you happy with standards that go above and beyond. If you’re looking for upscale casual sophistication executed flawlessly, you’re yelling up the wrong tree.
We entered through a barroom with about 20 craft beers on tap, and a much longer list of bottled brews, as well as a full bar. There are a few televisions, making it appropriate for game nights.
We were seated with a basket of soft-crusted, fresh bread, and a sauce of olive oil with balsamic vinegar at the bottom, for dipping. Going through the menu takes longer than usual because there’s a lot to read, and the menu of thin-crusted pizzas is its own pamphlet.
Before I darkened the Yelling Goat’s doorstep, I already was looking forward to getting reacquainted with one of its dishes. It is the third restaurant of John Rooney and Laurie Kutas, who own Medici House and Theas in East Aurora. At Theas, Rooney sauced chicken wings with an Ethiopian blend of spices called berbere, which are the best new twist on chicken wings I’ve met in ages.
The berbere wings ($10) were outstanding here, too, crispy and intoxicatingly fragrant with fenugreek, cardamom and other spices that go into the custom mixture. A yogurt-honey dipping sauce amplifies the exotic pleasure. You can get sticky-sweet or Buffalo-spicy wings with blue cheese dressing in many places. These are destination wings.
On Tuesdays they’re two-for-one, don’t forget.
Salads were average, with an arugula Parmesan salad ($11.95) that was a heap of undressed peppery greens, strips of roasted red pepper, toasted pine nuts and granular cheese, with a plastic cup of balsamic dressing. It was altogether plain until I added leftover berbere sauce. A mango salad ($11.95) had plenty of fresh sliced avocado, orange slices and fresh mozzarella as promised, but the mango tasted like it had been thawed out.
Our server was friendly enough, but didn’t remove the appetizer and salad dishes before showing up with his hands full of entrees.
A serving of cassoulet ($18.50) offered tender, rich duck confit with properly crisped skin on a bowl of buttery beans that had been cooked for a long time with smoky pork and herbs. It was soulful, in a Gallic way, and kept me sneaking spoonfuls of beans from my guest’s bowl. A pan-seared duck breast ($18.50) was rosy inside, and tender, with the walnut-zinfindel sauce adding a welcome nip of acid. Limp, pale fries were a letdown and pushed away.
Sachettini ($16.95), little pasta purses, were light and tender, but the promised pesto cream turned into a thin Alfredo that needed a little salt. We got a shaker from a neighboring table to doctor it up. My pork tenderloin was stuffed with delicious cherries and earthy porcini mushrooms, but the meat was overcooked, dry and chewy. Cubed gratin potatoes were enjoyably cheesy, but the glazed carrots were wilted.
The pizza was terrific, crispy-crusted and thinner than Buffalo-style bread bombs. The SBT ($17.95, large) was overlaid with fresh spinach, maple-cured bacon and sliced plum tomatoes that were fresh, watery, not roasted as advertised. Despite that, the overall pizza was still quite personable. We made sure to take the rest home.
Desserts are from Butterwood Bakery. Nearly full, we declined.
I would return for pizza and those wings in a heartbeat, and enjoyed the cassoulet without reservation. The rest of our meal was decent, with a few flubs.
Surprises on the menu, I like. Outstanding wings and pizza I love. But after a mixed bag of finer fare, The Yelling Goat and I are going to keep it platonic at first, and see where it goes.
The Yelling Goat - 7 plates
Neighborhood restaurant has broad menu plus wings and pizza you should meet.
WHERE: 205 Central Ave., Lancaster (683-0462)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and salads, $3.95-$14.95; pizzas, $8.95-$18.95; entrees, $12-$27.50.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.