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Cheap Eats

From dogs to seafood: Tonawanda's Old Man River has tastes of summer

A giant whale on the roof resembling blue waves makes it easy to find the summer favorite Old Man River.

Live music booms from the back patio where people line up at the seafood shack to get their fill of raw clams and fried shrimp platters. The vibe is casual, filled with locals in comfortable summer clothes and tacky Hawaiian T-shirts mixed with people in athletic gear who just finished walking the path overlooking the water.

Although Old Man River may look like your everyday hot dog stand, for more than 30 years this Niagara Street waterfront restaurant in Tonawanda has been taking its grill options to the next level during the summer months.

Sure you can get a regular hot dog, but Old Man River has at least 10 other flavorful takes on hot dogs, too.

The Poutine Weenie ($5.39) is loaded with fries, cheese curds and gravy that gives it that mix of famous Canadian flavors with plenty of gooey, melted cheese and savory gravy. The Piggly Wiggle ($5.39) is a bacon-wrapped, cheese-filled, deep-fried hot dog packed full of smoky salty flavors and perfectly crispy.

The Chicago Dog ($6.19) is an all-beef hot dog served on a poppy seed roll with tangy mustard, green relish, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, peppers, celery salt and pickle spears that add a nice salty-sour flavor with a slightly acidic vinegary finish.

Vegetarians aren't left out: The popular Bunny Dog ($3.59) is a big grilled and marinated carrot dressed up like a hot dog.

There's a full menu outside of hot dogs. Burgers can be ordered plain ($3.79), with cheese ($4.19) or a specialty like the roasted red pepper burger ($9.59) with sweet marinated charred red peppers, a spread of creamy garlic mayo and melted provolone.

Old Man River grill worker Pat Carney tries to keep up with the hot dog orders, which is no easy feat. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Grilled chicken sandwiches are juicy and char-grilled with a little crisp on the outside are perfect for a lighter option.

The Western New York Special Chicken Sandwich ($7.59) doesn’t mess with a good thing - it piles the flavorful boneless chicken breast with lettuce, plump tomato and mayo. It's perfection that hits the spot on a hot day.

The Rodeo Chicken Sandwich ($9.59) with cheese, crispy bacon, tangy barbecue sauce and crunchy onion rings is a flavorful, tricked-out take on the original.

Your trip is not complete without a side of Old Man River's famous sweet potato fries ($5.39) smothered in half-melted butter and drizzled with a generous amount of sweet honey.

The outdoor seafood and barbecue shack on the back patio has a variety of options to fill you up, although not all are in Cheap Eats territory.

Baskets of fried, crispy seafood dunked in sweet heat cocktail sauce, include mini crab cakes ($12.95), briny clam strips ($12.95), breaded shrimp ($12.95), and plump scallops ($12.95). They aren't just tasty, but easy to share while enjoying drinks with friends.

From left, Jennifer Gilday with her daughters Anna, 16, Ashley, 21, and cousin Bobby Thomas, far right, enjoy cheeseburgers and onion rings at Old Man River. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Feed the group with The Sea ‘n Suds basket with six raw clams, six steamed clams, six clams casino, two ears of corn, and four beverages ($35.95). A full rack of tender, barbecue ribs falling off the bone and doused in sweet barbecue sauce comes with two sides ($28.95). If you’re more in the mood for surf than turf, indulge in a 1 ½ lb of sweet, hearty ready-to-crack-open lobster with steamed clams, shrimp, corn and salt potatoes ($69.95).

There’s plenty of beer and wine available in the back including standard Labatt Blue, Bud and Coors ($5.25), along with Corona ($5.50) with a few rotating local draft beers (ask what’s available that day). Wine selections include pinot grigio, white zinfandel, chardonnay, merlot ($6.75), while White Claw and Truly ($6.75) are both available.

On your way, don’t forget to grab a scoop to-go from the ice cream stand.


Old Man River

375 Niagara St., Tonawanda (693-5558)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, from mid-April through September depending on the weather.

Wheelchair-access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Yes

Parking: Yes

Old Man River, a summertime mainstay in Tonawanda, is known for the gigantic blue whale on the roof. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

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