Partner's Pizzeria in Tonawanda is such a big place, with such a massive sign, that we were very surprised to walk in and find that the vast majority of the building is taken up by its kitchen. It's really more of a pizza factory, with huge grills and multiple pizza ovens visible from the counter and glass wall that separates the kitchen from the four tables in the dining area.
Don't look for charm in the dining area; there isn't any, although there is a wall air conditioner for those steamy days. With slightly greasy tile floors and only a large TV for decor, it's clear that most people sit down only to wait for their orders.
Partner's is proud of the fact that it is open 365 days a year, with delivery until 4 a.m. This is mentioned both on the printed menu and on a bright-pink sheet stapled to the menu. It's an appealing situation, especially on those late nights when you're hungry and don't feel like driving.
There's a good selection of pizza, ranging from slices for $2.25 or a 9-inch personal size with cheese for $6.15 to sheet pizzas for $22.49, with many kinds of toppings, including pineapple, spinach, anchovies and broccoli, as well as steak, chicken breast, chicken fingers and taco meat.
There are also 23 hot and cold subs, ranging from plain cheese ($4.79 for a half) to half of a steak and chicken finger "stinger" ($6.99).
There's also a selection of deep-fried extras, including pizza logs, jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks and breaded mushrooms and cauliflower, all for $6.25.
After ordering and paying at the counter, Ruth, John and I chose one of the six glass-topped tables outside under a large awning. It's on the busy corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Eggert Road, so there's plenty to watch.
Be sure to keep your eye on the counter inside, though - there is no table service, so your order will be put in the window for you to pick up. It worked for us. Everything was packaged in to-go containers, the pizza was in a box and we got a stack of paper plates, napkins and plastic cutlery.
The fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza ($9.75) was distinctive, made with very thick, perfectly baked dough and a ton of cheese. The danger with thick pizza dough is that the middle will be undercooked, but the bottom of this one was gorgeously golden and the crust had a slight crispiness that yielded to the knife, revealing a deliciously steaming interior. The sauce provided a good taste and texture counterpoint to the thick layer of melty mozzarella. The sausage topping ($1.99), a dozen or so chunks sprinkled on top, was good without being great.
We liked this pizza, although it would not be to everyone's taste. You will not find the Manhattan-style thin crust, foldable slices with just a light layer of cheese here. But we enjoyed this version, and we could see how it could easily become a favorite.
Also unusual were the barbecued and charred wings (single order $9.25). The 10 good-sized wings were slathered - drippingly so - in a thick tomato-based barbecue sauce that seemed to have come straight out of a bottle. They were grilled a bit, with a few visible char marks, but we prefer grilled wings that have spent longer on the grill and from which most of the barbecue sauce has seared off. However, once you got past the messiness, they were delicious.
A chicken taco was made in a soft, warm, flour tortilla that was packed with white-meat chicken and perfectly spiced with just a hint of heat. It was a real bargain at just $3.99. A trip to the counter for forgotten sour cream (25 cents more) resulted in a wait of several minutes, but as I said, the kitchen is enormous, so maybe it's kept in a far-off refrigerator.
A royal half-sub ($5.79), made with capicola and a thin patty of Italian sausage, was served on a nicely toasted roll. Both the capicola and sausage were flavorful and the combination was good.
The sirloin steak sandwich ($6.45) was impressive, with a thin slice of grilled steak hanging out both sides of a soft, fresh roll. A thin layer of melty cheese inside made this an enjoyable, if somewhat greasy, sandwich. Perhaps because it was sliced so thin, the steak was tender, and it was extremely flavorful.
While we ate, we watched several people pull up, get food and take it home. That's a good idea, although I heard that Partner's also delivers until 4 a.m.
3 out of 4 pennies
934 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda
Open from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily, 365 days a year