This has been the perfect summer for dining along the water. The breezes from the lake, river or canal make even the hottest day pleasant, and the sights and sounds of passing boaters and kayakers make even a lunch hour feel like a vacation day.

At the Dockside Inn, you can choose the exact amount of sun exposure you prefer. The top part of the two-level patio is covered by a sturdy canvas roof; the tables on the lower part are open to the sky. Inside the long, low building, which is set along the canal and decorated in a nautical theme, a roll-up garage door brings the outside in.

On the Sunday when John, Pat, John and I stopped by for lunch, the sun was bright and the temperatures were in the mid-80s at noon. We picked a table near the water edge of the patio, then shuffled it in a foot or two to get out of the direct sun. A gentle breeze cooled us as we watched every size and type of boat, as well as an assortment of water bikes, paddle boats and kayaks, float by on the canal.

The Dockside Inn has a sizable menu of appetizers, soups, salads, wraps and "boatwiches," which include burgers, sandwiches and a couple of subs. There's a local theme to some of the menu items -- a section called "Canal Towns" enables a customer to eat his way from the Buffalo (a single order of wings for $4); through the Tonawandas (jalapeno poppers, $6); past the Lockport (a basket of chili cheese fries, $5.50); and on to the Palmyra (two pizza logs, $4.50). We weren't in the mood for a gastronomic journey across the state, so we made our menu selections without regard to geography.

Our first pick was the Baja ($8.99), described as a Cajun-seasoned chipotle southwest burger topped with pepperjack cheese, jalapenos and chipotle mayo. It was ordered with not too much cheese, and so it was delivered. We were surprised to find that this is actually two burgers with cheese and sliced jalapenos layered on each side and in between, then stacked on a fresh roll. It was a tall order to eat, with plenty of heat and a delicious mixture of tastes.

The Regal ($7.99) was a patty melt made with American cheese, grilled onions and bacon on two large slabs of grilled sourdough. Every component was perfectly cooked, from the juicy burger to the crispy bacon, and these, too, made an excellent combination. The fresh sourdough was particularly good. Both sandwiches came with fries, which were medium-thick, crispy and served right out of the fryer.

The Buffalo chicken finger wrap ($8.99) was made of chopped chicken fingers, lettuce and tomato in a soft flour wrap. Possibly because the chicken was chopped, the wrap fell apart after just a couple of bites, a minor concern. The fingers can be served hot, medium or mild, and even the mild we selected had a kick. The wrap was served with chips and a scoop of cole slaw, both fine.

The tuna-stuffed beefsteak tomato ($8.99) sounded like a light lunch, but think again. It starts with a large plate heaped with easily half a large head of crisp iceberg, which is sprinkled with shredded cheese and studded with large, crunchy croutons. In the middle of this mound of lettuce sat a large, ripe tomato, which was sectioned into eight segments, opened and stuffed with a large scoop of light tuna prepared with mayonnaise and celery.

The tuna was cold and fresh, but it fell short of greatness -- I'd have thrown in some grapes and sliced almonds. It was impossible to cut through the tomato to free a segment without pushing lettuce from the edge of the plate onto the table and the floor. There was too much lettuce to finish.

We also ordered the Brockport, a basket of sweet potato tots ($4), which was fabulous. They were made with finely chopped sweet potatoes, formed, fried and sprinkled with some brown sugar before being served. These small nuggets, with a tender center and crunchy exterior, appealed even to those of us who are not fans of sweet potatoes.




3 pennies (out of four)    

"Good food, views."    

WHERE: 153 Sweeney St., North Tonawanda (693-3100)    

HOURS: Kitchen opens at 11:30 a.m.; closes at midnight daily except for Friday and Saturday, when it is open until 2 a.m.