Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen is in a one-story building with a low, shingled roof on a busy corner in Williamsville, but it almost feels like the country.
Patrons at the half-dozen picnic tables outside can gaze admiringly at the sign, which is topped by Charlie's head and shoulders, clad in white hat and jacket. It's a bit humorous to go inside and spot Charlie himself working in the kitchen, but there he was, preparing fresh asparagus spears on the Saturday when Pat, John, Paula and I met for an early lunch.
The front of the building has been converted into the ordering area. You face the open counter, which holds samples of some of the specials and gives a view of the carving board with beef, chicken and more.
Charlie's is renowned for beef on weck, but the menu is more extensive than you might realize. There are, for example, four kinds of sausage -- Polish, Italian, bratwurst and spicy Portuguese chorizo -- each served on a roll for $4.29. A charbroiled chicken spiedie -- chunks of marinated chicken -- or a half-pound butcher burger are $4.25; a Sahlen's hot dog is just $2.99; knockwurst with sauerkraut is $4.99; and a thick cut of bologna, fried like a steak and served with onions and peppers, is $4.49.
There are daily sandwich specials, which range from meatloaf on Tuesdays for $5.29 to tenderloin on Saturdays for $9.99, and daily dinners, including a Friday fish or corned beef, each $9.99.
We placed our orders, paid and took a seat in the dining room. There are five booths, a half-dozen tables and seven stools at a counter that looks into the kitchen, where the workers prepare food.
The dining area is homey, with a Buffalo News handy to be read while you wait, oilcloth on the tables topped with clear plastic and an old-time stove refitted as a condiment holder.
Soon enough, our food was ready. As expected, the beef on weck ($6.29) was stellar. The beef, four thick slices done just slightly more than medium, was tender, juicy and flavorful. The roll, such a vital part of the weck sandwich, was fresh and excellent, topped with crunchy salt and caraway. Before the sandwich was assembled, the cook grabbed the top slice of the roll and dipped the bottom into a steaming kettle of what we call "au jus." It added intense flavor and a bit of moisture, though the sandwich was not drippy.
The butcher burger ($5.25) was also very good. The beefy patty was slightly lopsided, an indication that it had been hand-formed. It was topped with a perfectly melted slice of American cheese, lettuce and tomato. The roll, the same on all our sandwiches except for the beef on weck, was soft and fresh, topped with a dusting of cornmeal.
There was nothing mini about the mini turkey sandwich ($5.29), a smaller portion than the regular turkey sandwich ($6.29). This satisfying sandwich was made with turkey freshly sliced off the breast and topped with a smear of cranberry relish -- a Thanksgiving reminder on a roll. It was delicious.
The pulled pork ($6.29), a special of the day, was a generous portion of tender shredded pork in a very good barbecue sauce. The texture was just right, neither too chewy nor too crumbly, and the few larger bits of pork were perfectly cooked and full of flavor. The sandwich held together and wasn't too messy, always a plus at lunch.
Our sides of fries ($2.39) and onion rings ($2.49) were good and hot.
We intentionally left room for dessert, which at Charlie's is kept simple. There is ice cream, rice pudding or bread pudding. We had the final two and both were excellent.
The bread pudding was sweet, rich and custardlike. We ordered it topped with vanilla sauce, which was drizzled across the bread pudding square and bumped up the sweetness a bit. The rice pudding was similarly delicious, a creamy concoction that was sweet and cool. We ordered it topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon and whipped cream. We got a few extra spoons and shared bites, exclaiming over both. It was a delicious end to an exceptional lunch.
CHARLIE THE BUTCHER'S KITCHEN
3.5 pennies (out of four)
"Like Grandma's house"
WHERE: 1065 Wehrle Drive at Cayuga, Williamsville (633-8330)
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes