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At the Yelling Goat in Lancaster, a strong rebound after a fire

When The Yelling Goat opened on Lancaster’s Central Avenue in 2015, it already was a pretty good restaurant. Its chicken wings imbued with warming, aromatic Ethiopian berbere spices immediately joined my pantheon of Best Non-Traditional Wings. Its operators, career restaurateurs John Rooney and Laurie Kutas, have made pushing the envelope a specialite de la maison since opening Tantalus in 2003.

Remember that spot, on East Aurora’s Main Street? A menu that read like a world atlas, and wasn’t much shorter? Tantalus eventually begat Medici House, tilting Italian – and then, audaciously, added an Ethiopian room called Thea’s, until closing in 2016. The Yelling Goat, clobbered by fire in February, went dark.

I will tell, you, I feared for those wings. The building is still clad in Tyvek, because exterior renovations aren’t complete, but that’s just camouflage. Inside, it’s full speed ahead.

The owners set the tone. On a busy night, Rooney was either playing air traffic controller in the kitchen doorway or carrying plates out himself, while Kutas worked the room, chatting with customers.

The Yelling Goat in Lancaster. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

When the blaze forced the restaurant to close, the owners were able to keep paying employees base wages, the sort of paid vacation restaurant staff rarely enjoy. As a result, they only lost one staff member. Maybe that helped explain the swift, effective service, staffers hustling but still taking an extra moment to make sure customers were happy.

The Yelling Goat menu, which still seems impossibly long for a restaurant its size, is a best-hits compilation backed up with traditional tunes.

Tantalus’ CB Insider stuffed burger ($15.95) is back. The 10-ounce hunk of ground beef hides a payload of bacon and Cuba Lake cheddar cheese, offered cooked to “pink or no-pink.” Pink was well-crusted medium rare, tipped into carnivore swoon territory by the smoky payload in each bite.

Consider corned beef, too, with a Reuben sandwich ($12.95) with house-made corned beef, Thousand Isle dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on griddled rye bread. It was a tidy sandwich, not an overstuffed knife-and-fork version, one you could actually pick up and eat.

The Reuben sandwich at the Yelling Goat. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The pizzas that started at Tantalus are on every other table at The Yelling Goat, in 18-inch and 12-inch. From traditionals like pepperoni and margherita ($13.95/$20.95) to esoterica like ham-dotted Asian mango ($14.95/$21.95), their golden crusts are airy and crackly like fresh loaves of Italian bread.

A version adorned with tart cherries and blue cheese ($14.95/$21.95), made beautiful music with zingy fruit and fungal funk, backed up with the savory sweetness of caramelized onions, mozzarella and garlic, and peppery bite from a drift of fresh arugula.

The cherry blue pizza at the Yelling Goat. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Seeing “Authentic Chicago deep dish” pizza thrilled this Chicago-born eater, especially since it’s rare to extinct in these parts. Ordering a spicy chorizo version ($22.95) brought a pizza that was certainly deep and loaded with cheese, loose sausage, pickled peppers, and tomato. But its crust – up to 2 inches thick around the rim – was made of the same dough, not the buttery, flaky crust I remember.

Another seldom-glimpsed regional delight appearing here is chicken-fried steak ($19.95). Much to my relief it was a credible version, pounded-out beef the size of a shoebox lid, floured and fried to a golden crust and napped in peppery cream gravy. Underneath was a pile of properly lumpy mashed potatoes.

Regional standard success continued with the Friday night fish fry ($13.95). Crackly beer batter over a plate-length filet was well received, as was vibrantly fresh cole slaw and decent fries. Macaroni salad offered al dente elbow pasta but could have used more vegetable crunch in with all that sweet mayonnaise.

Pork belly comes by the pound ($13.95), braised until tender, sliced and deep-fried until crispy, then dunked in chicken wing sauces. The honey-lemon version with sesame seeds needed more acid to balance the sweetness, but the meltingly soft interiors clad in crispness needed no apology.

The Pork Belly by the Pound with lemon honey sesame at the Yelling Goat. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Vegetarians can do well here with pastas, pizzas and salads ($15.50-$24.95), but there were no vegetarian entrees.

Among pastas, White Tuxedo ($20.95) assemblage of tomato garlic sauce, anchovies, Kalamata olives, prosciutto, porcini mushrooms, white wine sauce and truffle oil came off as umami overload, making it tough to pick out flavors amid the hubbub.

A traditional spaghetti carbonara ($19.95) hit the spot with toasty garlic and bacon notes and a cheese-egg sauce that eschewed the heavy cream crutch used to slick up impostor versions. You know a pasta is good when you’re willing to eat it cold out of the take-home container the next day with the refrigerator door open.

And those berbere wings ($12.95) – aromatic crunchy-skinned chicken digits with tangy-sweet honey-yogurt sauce – are still worth the drive.

Months after it reopened, the crowds are coming back for a solid foundation of scratch-cooked casual classics mingled with off-speed pitches that find the plate. As it turns out, The Yelling Goat was only taking intermission. Lately it’s been playing to standing-room crowds nightly, its voice stronger than ever.

RESTAURANT REVIEW

The Yelling Goat – 8 plates (out of 10)

Location: 205 Central Ave., Lancaster (683-0462)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: sandwiches and burgers, $9.95-$15.95; pizzas, $13.95-$22.95; entrees, $15.50-$29.95.

Parking: lot, street

Wheelchair accessible: yes

Gluten-free: pizza available

Exterior of the Yelling Goat in Lancaster. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

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