NIAGARA FALLS – The last time I was at the Bakery, Atlanta-based bluesman extraordinaire Tinsley Ellis was there, making one of his very first Niagara-area appearances. No, that doesn’t go back as far as the (in)famous inter-table telephone system the Niagara Street eatery and bar was once noted for, but it’s a good couple decades ago anyway.
I can’t say whether things have changed all that much over the years because I honestly can’t remember much more than the fact that Tinsley was just on fire that night.
A much more recent visit – this time just for dinner – was equally unmemorable in the food department, I’m sad to report.
I will say this: the place is impressive looking inside. The outside is pretty nondescript, but that is very deceptive. Passing through the front doors, visitors are greeted by a scene straight out of grandma’s parlor: hurricane lamps, stained glass and old-fashioned photographs. It generates a real turn-of-the-century feel. There’s an imposing brick fireplace, antique farm implements and game and fish mounts. It’s like a page torn directly from “This Old House,” print edition.
The dining area, which thankfully is separate from the bar, is a split-level affair. The lower level is lit by a humongous, ranch-style wooden wagon wheel chandelier that’s 10 feet wide, if it’s an inch. Simply massive. Must have come from Paul Bunyan’s wagon. That fixture alone could light the entire room.
It all makes for a very “homey” feel to the place, and the friendly staff does nothing to detract from that. Weirdly, though, that homelike vibe continues with the laid-back approach to service. Despite having only four tables occupied on this particular evening, the service was leisurely, to say the least. Drink glasses went unfilled for long periods. And the wait for our food was downright inexplicable.
All told, we were there for nearly two full hours – which might have been nice had it been a romantic date, but it wasn’t. It was just a dinner stop. A very l-o-n-g one at that.
I opted for the daily special, vegetable beef barley. Everyone else went for the French onion, including daughter Meagan, who ordered a crock ($4.95) as her dinner, since she had eaten only a short time before.
I was very encouraged that the veggie beef barley was exceptionally tasty. The others, however, didn’t feel likewise about their French onion.
Most of the criticism seemed to center around the seasoning, which was rather liberally applied and left a bad taste in the mouth. Meagan guessed that it may have been parsley; whatever it was, it was overused, in their opinion.
I sampled the soup and found it to be OK; the provolone melted over the top was nice and bubbly, the broth was pretty good. I’ve had better, but it wasn’t bad. It did have a lot of rather large pieces of onion in it. Maybe they used an onion variety that didn’t mesh well.
We did find agreement on the caramelized apple stuffed chicken ($16.95), which both Nick and Steffany had as their entree. Billed as a chicken breast “stuffed with caramelized apples and mascarpone cheese, topped with a sweet brown sugar Apple Jack sauce,” it was actually a grilled breast served atop the mascarpone and then topped with an apple pie filling. No stuffing. No caramelized anything. No Apple Jacks, that we could tell.
“Highly disappointing,” Nick commented. “All I tasted was the apple pie filling.” Steffany agreed, saying it seemed to have been slapped together kind of haphazardly.
The saving grace for Nick was the brown-sugar glazed carrots served with the chicken. They were simply amazing, a subtly sweet treat.
The Bakery is known for its steaks and ribs, so we couldn’t get away without trying at least one of the specialties. Teresa did the honors, ordering the full rack of baby back pork ribs in a Bakery special barbecue sauce ($21.95). They were everything they had been built up to be, just fall-off-the-bone tender and exceptionally meaty, bathed in what seemed to be a homemade sauce. It was tangy but with a soft edge, maybe just a tad hot.
It came with a house salad, which was OK, and a baked potato, which came with the sour cream on the side. A very nice plate, all in all.
I decided to go with the chicken schnitzel. At $15.95, it was billed as “panko-coated chicken breast sauteed with fresh mushrooms and served in a rich red wine herb sauce.” That really wasn’t what I got.
Schnitzel is traditionally beaten flat, gently breaded and carefully fried to a crispy golden exterior.
A flattened, crispy breast topped with a few mushrooms and a dollop of sauce would have been nice. What I got was what seemed like a regular grilled breast, smothered in a mushroom-wine gravy. That gravy easily overpowered any breading, rendering it gooey and pasty underneath. It wasn’t terrible; it just wasn’t what I had been hoping for.
The Bakery also has a reputation for fine desserts, but by the time that portion of the evening rolled around, we were not in the mood for any. As it was, we dropped $100 on a meal for five, and only one of us went away feeling truly satisfied.
I don’t know whether we stopped in at a bad time, or what, but we were definitely primed for more than we got.
Oh, well – at least the ambience was nice.
The Bakery Restaurant and Lounge
3004 Niagara St., Niagara Falls.
Review: 2½ stars (out of four)
Favorite dish: Barbecue ribs
Needs work: Caramelized apple-stuffed chicken
Healthy choice: Broccoli and pasta
Price range: Moderate
Noise level: Comfortable
Wheelchair access: Yes
Parking: Connected lot
Kid appeal: Limited
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.