(Revised and greatly extended below.)
I am currently sitting in the vestibule of a restaurant waiting to be seated. The wait is 45 minutes, and we’ve been here 15. We’ve never been here before, so here’s hoping! The fact that the place is full of locals is encouraging; this is what Anthony Bourdain always advised travelers. When in a new city, go eat wherever all the locals are. If nothing else you will get competent food, since nobody stays in business, much less packs the place, by giving their customers food poisoning.
It’s fish fry night. Further updates as events warrant!
UPDATE: The hostess missed us, crossed our name off, and put us right in front of the live band when we asked why everybody but us had been seated. Oy.
Oh, that table by the band? That wasn’t happening. Now we’re in the bar. Over 75 minutes after walking in the door, we have finally ordered food.
UPDATE II: The place was jammin’ for a Friday night, so we were told a 45 minute table wait. No problem, we put our name on the list, went and sat down. Now, this place is a converted house with a large addition, so the floor layout is pretty convoluted, and the waiting area consists of two small adjoining rooms, only one of which is actually in the line of sight of the hostess. We waited in that room.
(Also, just as we arrived–and the place is packed even before this–a party of nineteen is being seated.)
The hostess somehow managed to seat someone in our place, crossed our names off and went about her night. By the time we realized what was going on, we emerged into the other waiting area to find nobody at all waiting except us. The hostess pops up and smilingly greets us like we just walked in. The Wife leans over, points to our crossed-off names, and says, “That’s us. Can we please get a table?” The hostess obliges…putting us in this big room with an amped-up Irish band, at a table about six feet from the stage.
(Also in the back room with the band is the afore-mentioned nineteen-top, the ones who got seated an hour ago, and they don’t have food yet. Again, local mom-and-pop joint, packed on a Friday night. We have long-since tempered our expectations as far as quick food delivery, but we did not factor into our plans a frankly dumb hostess.)
(Yes, I stand by that. She was bubbly and barely apologetic even when we pointed out that she’d basically screwed us out of our turn in the queue.)
This doesn’t work. We sit for five minutes until the server finally arrives. The Wife talks to the server. I can’t hear anything at all. The Wife finishes her talk with the server–they’re shouting into each other’s ear, and I still can’t hear anything–and she texts me from across the table. It’s a small table, by the way. Server’s looking for another table. Server comes back and moves us to a high-top in the bar. Yay.
We order food and drinks. Off the server goes. Five minutes later, back the server comes, with The Wife’s draft cider but without the yummy-sounding Bailey’s-based cocktail I’d ordered, because they’re out of something to make the drink with. I order another drink that I’m less enthused about, but when it comes, it’s OK. It’s a Screwdriver made to look green with the addition of Blue Curacao. It’s fine, not a bad drink at all! But by this point we’re pushing 90 minutes since we walked in the front door.
There’s another large party, a twelve-top, seated next to us. They’re having loud fun, which is fine, it wasn’t bothering us. A guy comes over to greet us and says something like “Are we too loud for you?” We assure them that no, they’re not…and he says, “I know how it is, you come out looking for a nice dinner together on a Friday night and these three Irish hooligans start playing music in your ear.” Oh…this guy isn’t from the large table next to us, he’s from the band, which is taking a break. We assure him they’re not, just that our evening to that point had been rough.
Another guy comes by about fifteen minutes later, seeing us nursing a couple empty drink glasses and our waters, and asks cheerfully, “How was everything?”
Our awkward answer: “We…haven’t been served yet.”
The guy’s face falls instantly and off he shoots to the kitchen. Back he comes a minute later, assuring us that our order will be out in about five minutes. We tell him that’s fine, OK, but we’ve been in the joint since 7:00pm and it’s now 8:45. His mood gets even sadder.
Server comes back to tell The Wife they’re out of baked potatoes. The Wife, who really wanted a baked potato, is disappointed but orders sweet potato fries.
(Oh! We’ve ordered two fish fry dinners, The Wife’s being gluten-free. The whole reason we’re trying this restaurant is that they have a gluten-free beer-battered fish fry. The only other places we’ve found in the region that offer this dish are either on the other end of the Buffalo region, or far enough outside Buffalo to not even be considered part of the Buffalo region at all.)
Off the server goes to confirm this. No sooner is she gone through the door to The Wife’s rear than a food runner appears from behind me, bearing our dinners. With The Wife’s baked potato. Now we’re finally eating, though we’re confused by the potato thing. Server returns a minute later; turns out that the servers don’t do the actual running of the food to the tables, so it can be a bit of a dance to keep track of which table is going to be affected by the restaurant running out of things as the night progresses. We’re cool; we have food.
How was the food? It was really good! Now, a fish fry is kind of like pizza: even a bad fish fry is still OK. The standard is beer-battered haddock, and though some places change this up for seasoned panko or the like (especially places that offer a gluten-free version), generally a Western New York fish fry is the same kind of offering anywhere you get it: the piece of fish, a potato of some kind (I always get fries), and one or two cold salads. (Here they were macaroni salad–omitted from the GF version–and coleslaw.) Sometimes there’s bread (this place didn’t do bread, I did not miss it). One common flaw with the fish fry is the batter being too thick, so it gets a bit doughy in spots, and the side that’s served down on the plate gets, well, wet. This flaw did not exist at this joint. The entire piece of fish was crispy in the batter department and perfectly flaky in the interior fish department.
By the time we got our food we had long since reached the point where hunger was no longer “the best sauce” but would actually be an impediment to flavor since we’d be eating out of hungry spite rather than genuine enjoyment. However, the food was good enough to win us back over, and after the first few bites of “Just gimme something to eat, anything, I don’t care“, we were both back to “Damn, this is really good!” (I was smart enough to hasten this point by eating half my fries and mac salad before I even touched the fish. Which came out hot, by the way, so it’s not as if our plates were sitting under a warm pass-over for any length of time.)
We’re eating our fish fry dinners* when the guy who looked like we’d kicked his puppy when we told him how long we’d been here shows up. He turns out to be the owner of the place, the one with his name on the front of the building. And he feels genuinely terrible about how it’s all gone, and without us even saying a word he tells us our entire meal is on him that night. There are more apologies throughout, but we finish eating and by now we’re back to being somewhat happy.
Feeling a little guilty when we’re all done–and the owner has not only picked up our meal but given us his card and told us to call him personally when we decide to come back and try the place again–we decide to stick around and listen to the band a bit, because they really do sound quite good and we feel a bit bad about the whole “asking for a different table” thing. We’re just in time to hear “Danny Boy”, a couple of reels, and one other song with suggested-but-not-actually-ribald lyrics. (You know the kind, where the rhyme scheme suggests strongly that you’re about to hear something dirty but then they use a completely different non-rhyming word instead.)
It’s after 9:30 by the time we’re finally heading back to the car, and the place is still busy, though not quite as busy as it was at 7:00. Having worked in restaurants, I remember how once in a while you’d have a party for whom everything went poorly, and I have to give them all credit (minus the clueless hostess) for doing what they could to salvage the situation. I also assume that this was by no means indicative of their typical level of service, because the place was packed. No restaurant-slash-tavern enjoys that level of business by being bad at service. We were just the unfortunate souls at the poker table, sitting on a pair of three’s. It happens.
So yes, we’ll go back at some point. They do have a good fish fry there, and I really do like the atmosphere of the place. Next time we’ll try to not go there on St Patrick’s Day Weekend, though. (In this area, the St Paddy’s Day festivities are never limited to St Paddy’s Day.)
(No, I’m not naming the place because I’m not a restaurant critic or a food blogger and I don’t want to throw rocks at a place that bumbled a bit on our first trip there.)
*Here’s something that always bothers me: What would the plural of fish fry be? Because it’s an entire dinner, so fish fries doesn’t really feel right–that seems to imply something like fish sticks. Fish frys just looks bad, as does fish fry’s. It’s a common verbal thing: “Hey, let’s go get some fish fries tonight!” But written out I have no idea how to spell it, hence awkward usage like “fish fry dinners”, which sounds stuffy as hell.