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No matter where it pops up, Macri's (GMac's) is always reliable

SANBORN -- We've always enjoyed Macri's restaurant in its many incarnations (and there have been several, dating back some three decades to the City Market in Niagara Falls), so we wanted to give the newest version a try. Known as GMac's Inn and inhabiting the former Marlboro Inn building on Ward Road, the current embodiment is perhaps the most impressive to date.

And that is saying something.

Having previously occupied rehabbed spaces on Center Street in Lewiston (home of the former Clarkson House) and the Summit Park Mall (in one of the long-standing anchor restaurants whose name escapes me), in addition to the original "Palace" in the market -- am I forgetting any others? -- GMac's popped up at the Marlboro site a short time back, after fire displaced the previous occupant of the historic structure.

It's never looked as good as it does now: Impressive natural woodwork accentuating the original brick frame, an elevator -- yes, really! -- simplfying access to the upper party portion. Even the restrooms are impressive, ceramic-tiled and roomy, with some of the latest bells and whistles.

But it's the food that draws the crowds, and it seems folks continue to follow, regardless where the restaurant shows up. That's because the food has remained reliably Italian, regardless of where it is being prepared.  Hence, the people keep a-comin'.

As evidence, I present this: We tried to get in twice for dinner, only to find it too crowded on one occasion, and too noisy on the other.

Permit me to explain that last one: We were actually able to squeeze into a table at the height of the Friday dinner rush one night, but the place was so crowded that simple conversation was virtually impossible. The folks surrounding the huge bar area were creating quite a racket, resulting in vastly increased vocal volumes in the adjoining dining area. It was a classic case of cause-and-effect.

We had to raise our voices just to decide that it would be too aurally uncomfortable to remain, what with one of my daughters being sensitive to loud noises. So, sadly, we left.

As a result, this review is based upon a couple of lunchtime visits. But that's okay.

Some of the lunchtime offerings -- the Pittsburgh salad, for instance -- are the very same dishes offered later in the evening, Toss in some homemade soup and the stuffed hot pepper appetizers that are made on-site, and you get a pretty reliable indicator of what's cooking at dinnertime.

On our most recent visit, we started things off with the five-cheese stuffed peppers ($10.95). As an appetizer, it was the perfect starter, arriving quickly. Warm and inviting, the two large peppers were easily sufficient for four to share. The peppers themselves were comfortably hot -- not overwhelming -- and the cheese filling was done perfectly. Nice flavor, without being overpowering.

I struggled between the beans-and-greens and chicken tortellini soup before deciding on the latter (cup, $3.50). It offered a tasty clear broth, chock full of cheesy torts, large chunks of chicken and celery slices. It had a wonderful homemade taste. Very satisfying.

Having tried the eggplant parmesan sandwich the last time I was in, this time I went slightly off-course with the zucchini parm sandwich ($7.95, same as eggplant). Although one of the least expensive items on the luncheon menu, when coupled with a generous order of fries, it offered a more-than-satisfying meal.

Served on a fresh hard roll (Costanzo's, I presume?), the sandwich featured several battered planks of thin-sliced zucchini topped with a nice, hearty red sauce and the obligatory cheese, nicely melted. At its core, the filling was probably close to an inch thick, although it wasn't the least bit difficult to bite or chew. And extremely tasty. I am an eggplant parmy fan, but I think that this may become my new go-to.

The girls were eyeing up the salads, and couldn't decide between two, so they ordered both and decided to share. The Mediterranean ($13.95) offered assorted greens topped with grilled chicken breast, mandarin oranges, walnuts, dried cranberries and bleu cheese crumbles, topped with a lite Balsamic dressing. The Pittsburgh salad ((15.95) was built atop a similar bed of greens topped with a five-ounce grilled sirloin steak, tomatoes and gorgonzola cheese, with sweet potato fries mixed in for good measure.

Both were imposing creations. The fact that each was finished with nary a smattering of green left on the plates is testament to the quality of the dishes.

Although slightly baffled as to what qualified it as "Mediterranean," Teresa declared her salad to be "awesome," saying that the blend of sweet and sour tastes worked marvelously together. The chicken was tender and tasty, the walnuts imparted a nice crunch and the dressing was the perfect topper to it all, she said. The sweetness of the oranges nicely offset the bitterness of the cranberries and, to a lesser degree, the bleu cheese crumbles.

The Pittsburgher was a mountain of a meal, made all the better with the inclusion of what seemed like thick, hand-cut sweet potato fries that were tender and tasty. The steak was substantial for a small cut, yet nice and tender and nicely seasoned. Steffany isn't really a fan of either tomatoes or gorgonzola, but she ate the dish as prescribed and declared it very good.

I have to mention the bacon onion marmalade burger ($11.95) that Teresa had on our previous visit. The name alone left us somewhat tentative to give it a shot -- a sweet, savory marmalade of diced bacon  and caramelized sweet onions? -- but she decided to give it a try. Even though it reminded her of something she'd see on one of her challenge cooking shows -- you know, the kind where they give chefs some pickled porcupine, chocolate-covered ants and snickerdoodle cookie mix with the direction to "make it a meal."

In this case, the unusual combination worked well and resulted in a tasty, different kind of burger. Nice to see that kind of creativity on a restaurant menu.

Back to our current visit: Shocked that, in spite of the sizes of our meals, we were not bringing anything home, we eschewed dessert. Truth be known, I couldn't have fit in another bite. But we all were totally satiated, and as far as that goes, I was not the least bit surprised. Typical Macri's meal -- no matter where you get it.

GMac's Inn
5894 Ward Rd., Sanborn
3 1/2 stars
(Out of four)

Favorite dish: Stuffed hot peppers
Needs work: Evening noise levels
Healthy choice: Mediterranean salad
Price range: Moderate
Service: Good
Noise level: OK early, loud later
Wheelchair access: Yes
Parking: Connected lot
Kid appeal: Workable
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Monday.


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