When heading to see the Pendleton Krawczyks for Christmas, we knew we were close once we spotted the small Niagara Produce fruit and vegetable stand on Transit Road from the back of the family truckster.
But that was eons ago. The original Niagara Produce opened in 1961; a swanky new one opened in 2014. The best way to describe it? A grocery store/nursery/gift shop.
During this busy season, we like places like NP that provide an opportunity to grab something cheap to eat while checking off a few things from our to-do list — like getting a Christmas tree and poinsettias, or grabbing a six-pack of craft beer we can slap a bow on for whoever’s “new boyfriend” might show up for the party.
Niagara Produce’s café occupies a cozy corner with several tables and chairs. There is a mix of help-yourself items plus food service at a counter. We like that nobody will question your motives if you simply want to grab a bag of Cheetos, a pop and a 99-cent pizza square. (The pizza looked good, by the way.)
The everyday cafe menu is fairly big. A simple hot dog ($1.99) and black Angus burger ($3.49) lead to items like a salmon burger ($4.99), grilled Italian sausage ($3.99), beef on weck ($3.99), grilled turkey Reuben ($4.99), grilled ham and cheese ($3.99), tuna melt ($4.99), two six-inch chicken tacos with black bean corn salsa ($4.99), etc.
[Related: Last week's Cheap Eats on Kalypso]
Wraps are $5.99 and six-inch subs using the same ingredients are $3.99. Choices range from chicken salad (regular or harvest) or tuna salad to turkey bacon ranch and a meaty ham, pepperoni and salami combo.
We were tempted by the hot entrees with two sides ($6.99). On our Sunday visit, chicken bacon Alfredo pasta, a breakfast casserole and beef pot roast were featured. Sides included mac and cheese, green beans, red-skinned mashed potatoes, and roasted zucchini with tomatoes. Sides alone start at $1.99. We were told choices are pared down on weekends with more during the week.
We started instead with two absolutely wonderful small soups ($2.99). Not really that small, the Italian sausage chicken had slices of zucchini and was delicate, but flavorful. The spicy pork Brussels sprouts were outstanding. The rich, hearty broth had a nice kick, hunks of pork and lots of sprouts and rice. An unusual combination that worked.
Packed with chicken, pepperjack cheese, fresh lettuce, beautiful tomatoes, hot sauce and banana peppers, our Spicy Chicken Wrap ($5.99) was a chore to finish.
More modest, the bacon cheeseburger ($4.99) was definitely homemade (uneven edges gave it away). Served on a toasted Costanzo's roll it was topped with melted cheese and tons of bacon. We didn’t opt for lettuce and tomato, but judging by the wrap, it would have been fresh. In fact, Niagara Produce’s cafe is up there with the gold standard — Wegmans — albeit on a smaller scale.
We grabbed a small cup of rich Gevalia brand coffee ($1.29). The darling check-out girl said, “Feel free to refill it while you’re in the store.” There’s free cups of water, too.
As we toured we discovered everything from retail gift cards and lovely Christmas cactuses to fun pet toys, making Niagara Produce a worthwhile Cheap Eats destination this holiday season.
Niagara Produce Café
8555 Transit Road, Clarence (625-9151)
Cafe hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Niagara Produce hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Scene: Café inside Niagara Produce that serves tasty food.
More: Trees, wreaths, poinsettias and “gifty” items like craft beers, birdfeeders, pet toys, winter hats, food (North Tonawanda's Platter’s Chocolates, Jamestown’s The Basket Co. candy and popcorns), books, gift cards, fruit baskets, etc.