We’ve often said that we don’t give chain restaurants enough love.
We’d like to rectify that stance with the family bundle dinner we discovered at Bravo! Cucina Italiana in the Walden Galleria.
Ostensibly, mall restaurants are subject to the overall declining foot traffic, so it makes sense they'd offer deals to entice diners in other ways. The wonderful meal we enjoyed was worth a trip.
Our waiter never missed a beat bringing us the requested family bundle and happy hour menus. Although the happy hour specials are for “in the bar area,” he was more than obliging to bring us $5 glasses of a delicious cabernet-merlot. (Weekday happy hour $5 specials include wines, local craft beers and special cocktails. Wednesday adds $5 martinis.)
We added a $6 happy hour pepperoni cheese dip with Parmesan flatbread crackers. Served in a cute iron skillet, the pepperoni, sausage, ricotta cheese and tomato sauce was baked together into bubbling gooey goodness. We scooped every bit with super crispy crackers. It was delicious, addicting and just enough for four.
Folks who make meals of appetizers take note. The $5/$6 happy hour bar bites include two flatbreads (a chicken, bacon and spinach or a roasted tomato and ricotta), a Bravo burger with fries, crispy shrimp napoli, stuffed banana peppers or fingerling potato skins with bacon, green onion and a lime crema.
But the star of our trip was the bundle special.
Served Sunday through Thursday (dine in; everyday take out), the bundle includes salad and an entrée. Since it is served family style, everyone at the table gets the same salad and entree.
The impressive entrée choices are Pasta Bravo (grilled chicken, mushrooms, rigatoni in roasted red pepper cream), Pasta Woozie (grilled chicken, fettuccine, spinach and alfredo sauce), chicken or shrimp diavolo (both in a spicy tomato cream sauce), spaghettini and meatballs, eggplant or chicken Parmesan, grilled chicken marsala, sausage tortelloni and our choice, Mama’s Lasagna Bolognese.
The excellent chopped salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, black olives and feta cheese in a red wine vinaigrette arrived in a big bowl with serving tongs. (A Caesar salad is the other choice.) Though I'm not a regular proponent of iceberg lettuce, it worked perfectly in this salad to provide a crunchy backdrop to the other ingredients. It was fresh tasting and its dressing mopped up nicely with the hot focaccia bread served with dipping oil.
A perfect amount of time passed for our appetizer and salads to settle. We were surprised when two platters of the lasagna bolognese arrived. We expected skimping and were happily proved wrong.
The dish reminded us of a deconstructed lasagna, with pasta folds of cheese and meat sauce topped with melted cheese that was easy to serve. Each pillow-like pasta envelope was delicate with a chunky tomato sauce that was a good balance of savory and sweet. There was plenty of meat sauce and melted cheese, too. It couldn’t have tasted better.
We were stuffed. Bundles feed four to five people and our group of four decided it was more toward the five end of the scale. A good portion came home.
Our two glasses of wine, two sodas, an appetizer and the dinner totaled $70.98, with tax $77.19 (excluding gratuity). Add in the excellent service and beautiful September patio table, and our regular budget-friendly Thursday dinner turned into something special.
Walden Galleria, Cheektowaga (684-4595)
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Family Bundle: $49 (feeds 4-5 people); served Sunday through Thursday in restaurant, take out anytime.
Happy Hour: Weekdays in the bar from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. with $5 beer, wine and cocktails. Bar bites start at $5.
Parking: Lot. Restaurant validates $10 valet parking.
Dietary: Gluten-free pasta available for Pasta Bravo and Pasta Woozie on the family bundle.
Story topics: Walden Galleria dining; Bravo! Cucina Italiana