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American Grille is a homey spot for food, drink

We love a good backstory, and the American Grille has one.

Located along Route 16 on your way into East Aurora from Elma (and before the Knox Farm), some may remember the restaurant was Bourbon Street, and prior, Kettles. In July 2016, husband and wife owners, Jennifer and Patrick Staerker along with T.C. Laury, purchased the place from the previous owner who felt it needed a full-time local owner.

Ironically, the Staerkers were expats looking to move back to the area.

“Patrick is from Western New York and studied at RIT’s School of Hospitality & Tourism,” said Jennifer Staerker. After college, he moved to Florida, working for 23 years in the industry.

“We lived in Panama City Beach, and while it’s beautiful, the people are transient. It wasn’t an environment to raise our son. There was no sense of community like here,” she said.

American Grille bartender Amy Greene makes a drink for a customer. Dan Zajac, right, looks on. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The Staerkers saved up, moved back to the area without jobs and began looking for a restaurant in November 2015. It took some time, but they're now in business.

So why the name American Grille? The Staerker family has a long history of military service.

The restaurant interior reflects the name with murals on the wall. We loved that the place was toasty warm, literally, when we stopped on a frigid day. (Maybe their Florida stint compels the Staerkers to crank up the heat?)

The layout includes a big open bar area with seating, plus separate dining spaces with tables and booths. We especially liked the brick wall arches that add visual interest. And who would think hanging unused beer taps could be so stylish?

The Meyer and Howe families have dinner at the American Grille. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

There are 13 taps indoors, with seven more outside during the summer on the patio. (The patio looked really neat, even with piles of snow.)

Drafts include the standbys like Labatt, Guinness, Blue Moon and Stella Artois along with locals like Flying Bison, Southern Tier and Ellicottville. A Saranac caramel porter and Sam Adams winter lager provide enough variation for everyone. Bottled beers include the usual, plus selections from Great Lakes Brewing and a gluten-free Red Bridge.

A specialty cocktail menu for 2018 is in the planning stages (Voodoo Juice, the Perfect Storm and Huckleberry Lemonade anyone?). Gleaming Moscow mule cups at the bar bring the promise of several mule variations.

The food menu features house-smoked meats from custom-made smokers you'll see sitting outside. The couple drove to Alabama to pick them up. Meat is smoked using local cherry wood.

A look at the bar area in American Grille. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Smoked beef on weck ($12) and a Big Wolf sandwich made with house-smoked barbecue pork, brown sugar cured ham and bacon ($14) are just a couple of the items made with the smoked meats. A pork quesadilla has Cajun seasoned pulled pork ($15), and smoked wings ($8, $12, $22) are featured, too.

In other words, lots of good smoky food to go with drinks.

We loved our smoked beef on weck, and the fact we could get house-made mac and cheese side with it. Other sides include fresh-cut fries, black beans and rice, coleslaw and a side salad. Gluten-free buns are available and a new pizza oven is being installed. (A good reason to return sooner rather than later.)

What we really loved was the family friendly atmosphere. Perhaps that's because when family motivates folks to move from sunny Florida to Western New York to open a restaurant, it’s the one ingredient that really makes the whole place work.

CHEAP EATS

American Grille
7901 Seneca St., East Aurora

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and  11:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

Parking: Large lot.

Wheelchair-accessible: Yes

Happy Hour: 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday with buy-one, get-one bottled beer, well drinks or glass of house wine.

Fun: 11 TVs and Chexx Bubble Hockey indoors, ping pong and darts outside, weather permitting.

More: Vets with ID also receive 15 percent off food. Live music during special events. Summer outdoor volleyball league. Patio with fire pits.

Dietary: Gluten-free menu items.

American Grille is at 7901 Seneca St. in East Aurora.(Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

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