NIAGARA FALLS -- The great thing about a place like Power City Eatery is that the products they put forth are uniquely their own -- from home-cured and smoked meats to breads and bagels baked on-site. When you're talking about a sandwich shop, it is difficult to overstate the difference "fresh" makes.
They do other little things that make a big impact, as well, like packing their own tea bags, baking their own cookies and using locally produced goods whenever possible. It is that kind of attention to detail the separates the contenders from the pretenders.
Make no mistake, Power City Eatery is a contender. Like any contender, however, they have some work to do in order to claim the crown and earn the title of "best sandwich/coffee shop in the Greater Niagara area."
As it stands now, they may be the number one contender. If doing "the little things" right is what put them in that position, it may be "the minutiae" that either pushes them over the top, or keeps them in the perpetual bridesmaid position.
To wit: The PCE Reuben ($12) features "house-made corned beef and house-made caraway rye bread, topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. That sounds phenomenal, and rightly should have been -- but wasn't quite. In this case, the devil was in the details.
The meat itself was thick and moist, with some wonderful inclusions of fat that seemed to confirm that not only was it house-made, but also hand-cut. Personally, I would have liked it to be just a tad saltier, but that kind of complaint can be easily resolved with a dash or two from the shaker -- no deal-breaker there.
Neither Gene, one of my dining companions, nor I felt that the bread quite lived up to the meat, however. It was obviously fresh and extremely crusty, but that was not our major peeve. I didn't notice any seeds, and the rye flavor just did not seem to come through strongly, in our opinions.
Where we failed to fully buy in, however, was with the toppings. If you skimp on the kraut or the dressing (or the cheese, for that matter) on a Reuben, what you end up with is merely a corned beef sandwich minus the mustard. and that is pretty much where Gene and I were at with the PCE Reuben.
"Very dry," Gene commented when I sought his opinion. He took another bite and squinched his face a bit, trying to decipher exactly what was missing.
"You know what it is?" he asked, and I quickly interjected "the sauerkraut."
"There isn't enough sauerkraut," he agreed, shaking his head.
"Or dressing," I added.
The last complaint we rectified by going to the counter and asking for a cup of dressing, which was cheerfully supplied. Dipping it into the orange sauce did make a considerable difference -- although it failed to completely compensate for the lack of sufficient sauerkraut.
To my way of thinking -- and I think Gene comes from the same sandwich school of thought -- it isn't truly a Reuben unless it's dripping dressing, oozing melted Swiss and dribbling kraut from the corners. A Reuben is not a sandwich one should consume if unduly concerned about grease stains on the front of the shirt. Our cheese was insufficiently melted and nary a drop of dressing, kraut, anything spilled out -- not good.
There were good signs there, to be sure, but at $12 for a decent-sized (not huge, by any stretch) sandwich, you simply can't skimp on the "details." But that is a fixable problem.
Also good: The accompanying pickle was crisp and tasty, and a nice compliment to the fresh potato chips that were also a nice touch.
Fellow diner Teresa sampled the Cataract Classic ($9), a sandwich on house-made Italian bread and featuring Genoa salami, hot capicola, cappy hot ham, provolone cheese, roasted red peppers, tapenade and a herbed vinaigrette. As is PCE's desire, it resembled something you'd get at a New York City deli.
Packed thickly, the tastes melded into a nice, spicy blend, with the olive tapenade and the vinaigrette giving it a nice finishing kick.
"I loved the tapenade," she said. "The cold cuts were great. The crust of the bread was a little too crispy for me, though."
Rounding out our foursome, Steffany had the daily special ($9), a Greek sandwich that offered turkey, feta cheese, tzatziki dressing, cucumbers, tomato and roasted peppers. She held the tapenade, but still praised the flavor blends. "It was awesome," she said, "the bread was perfect, crispy, very fresh. The Greek flavors came through very strongly."
In the past she has sampled their Veggies sandwich ($8), which she said "made my mouth happy" with its "creamy" pairing of marinated portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, sauteed spinach and basil pesto on house-made multi-grain bread.
Both she and Gene rave about the coffee; on our trip, I sampled the Chinese flower green tea and found it to be quite enjoyable, a thickly-packed homemade satchel imparting wonderful flavors and a slight sweetness.
PCE is housed in a very industrial-looking setting, a long and open space with several tables and a comfy-looking corner with couches and a curated art display chronicling the history of Niagara hydropower (that's another of their goals, according to their website, to add an artsy/educational element to the dining experience).
They also offer breakfast, wines and beers. Oh, I almost forgot about my house special chicken-and-dumpling soup ($5/$7), a very nice concoction that appeared to be very homemade. The tasty broth was brimming with carrot and celery slices, hunks of chicken and several large, tasty dumplings. Very well done!
There's a pastry case and you can also purchase cold cuts by the pound -- very NYC, indeed. The folks at the counter were very friendly, which is maybe a little less NYC.
The prices are maybe a touch on the high side but, hey, quality costs a little more.
Price range: Moderate
Service: Very good
Wheelchair access: Yes