We visited East End Grill & Taproom in East Aurora on a Tuesday night, so I thought we'd be safe from the crowd. But a parade had just ended and East End looked like a popular post-jamboree spot.
I brought with me two fine critics -- my mother, who has spent almost her entire life working in restaurants or school kitchens, and Anna, a Polish college student working at a Girl Scout camp kitchen with my mom for the summer. They covered two different perspectives -- expert and international, an improvement on my perspective of food and beer, which is "I like it."
Conveniently located on Main Street, the dimly lit bar had a few tables and booths toward the back, the bar was to the right. We chose a table next to the window, useful if you're in need of a little more natural light. A young, cheery server took our drink order. Picking from a chalkboard list of 16 beers (10 of which were available), we inquired about several. "Is this dark?" "How hoppy is this IPA?" "What is the cherry ale like?" The server knowledgeably explained each beer, as if she had tried them herself, or had been serving them for a while.
The air inside was a little muggy, and I regretted not seeking a table outside underneath the front-porch shelter where we could see families chatting and children drinking out of little cups. It's apparent that East End serves a big dinner crowd, especially after events.
The bargoers inside ranged in age from their 20s to 70s. A younger group sat at the bar, drinking beer, catching up. Behind the bar were flavored vodkas and rows of other liquors, surely for use later at night. But at 7 p.m., a group of grandmothers munched on salads in a booth in the back, an extended family gathered around a big table and the atmosphere was calming and laid-back. Only a few chairs were open at the bar. Peanut shells dropped to the floor as friends cracked open salty peanuts and popped them into their mouths.
East End was evidently busy for a Tuesday night, for our beer and subsequently ordered appetizers took a little bit to get to our table. Mom ordered the Derailed Black Cherry Ale, and Anna ordered the Blue Point Blueberry -- I suppose they were feeling a little fruity. Real blueberries floated in Anna's Blue Point, and her face lit up brightly when she saw them, graciously thanking the server as if they were a gift just for her. We watched as they bobbed in the beer as the carbonation bubbles made them sink and rise. I had the Flying Bison Rusty Chain beer -- right from Buffalo.
Owner Tom Mullen claims Flying Bison as his favorite, explaining it's crucial to have local brands on tap. For patrons staying at the hotel next door, he wants to show them a taste of the area. And for residents of rural towns like South Wales and Holland, East End is one of the only places you can go if you want something more than a Bud Light or Coors. Drafts here cost $4 to $6.
Mom said our appetizers -- crispy catfish nuggets ($5.99), coconut shrimp ($7.99) and sweet potato fries ($2.99, $4.99) -- were straight out of a five-pound bag (she had made them once for a restaurant down the street). However, the sweet potato fries were yummy! Sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar with honey on the side, the orange fries were hot and sweet, satisfying Anna's sweet tooth. The coconut shrimp were as crunchy as the peanut shells cracking under our feet. The dipping sauce, which was also prepackaged, was tangy with a hint of thyme.
East End has live music Saturdays and Sundays. During our visit, the Beatles played through the speakers -- just the right volume for conversation. It was extremely comfortable, but I got a sense that it may get more rowdy at night. A giant tube towered over the bar, with a sign titling it the "Table Tap," claiming to hold two beer pitchers. Maybe another time.
East End Grill & Taproom
701 Main St., East Aurora www.eastendgrillandtaproom.com, 655-0550 .
Music: Live music on the weekends, and not-too-loud, friendly classic rock on the weekdays.
Dress: Whatever, really. Jeans and sneaks to freshly pressed slacks -- this isn't a judgmental place.
Drinks: Beer, and lots of it. A grand assortment of microbrews including local favorites.
Food: A big menu boasting "The East Ender" half-pound Angus burger and chicken wings.