This time of year, pumpkin gathering and Christmas tree cutting will have us traveling to the hinterlands of Western New York.
If you find yourself heading out Route 400 to Olean Road (Route 16), the Zider Zee Restaurant is an excellent foil to the grumbling stomachs associated with these cold weather outings.
You cannot miss it. Just look for the giant windmill.
The restaurant's slogan is "Where Friends Meet to Eat." Our group ("the aunts") met at 6 p.m.
Established in 1955 as a seasonal hot dog stand, Zider Zee was named for a World War II song that made reference to the Zuider Zee, a fjord in Amsterdam.
On our visit, the place was decked out in fall decor. The dining room was spick-and-span and nicely warm on a chilly night.
Hot dogs (including the Zee Dog with Swiss cheese and bacon, $4.29) are still on the menu, but the Zee has expanded since its early days.
Like most good diners, breakfast is served all day. The Zee is known for its homemade country sausage. The "Big Buck Platter" (presumably for the hunters who frequent the place) has two eggs, home fries, pancakes and sausage for $6.99, while sausage, biscuits and gravy clock in at $5.99.
Tempting, but we were here for dinner.
Our waitress was darling. She gave us space to visit and she was efficient, but she never rushed us.
Aunt No. 1 ordered the spaghetti and meatballs special (half size for $6.95). Aunt No. 2 went old school with liver and onions ($8.99). For Aunt No. 3, a grilled Reuben ($6.95); for my mom, a Bleu Burger ($6.95).
With Thanksgiving on the mind, it was a classic turkey dinner ($8.99) for me.
Aunt No. 1's spaghetti came with a beautiful, small bowl of bright, fresh, green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. A pleasant surprise.
For me, broccoli cheddar or beef vegetable soup? I went beef. Lots of meat made it hard to find vegetables, but who complains about a beef soup with lots of beef?
The spaghetti arrived in a pretty white bowl with two good-sized homemade meatballs and a slab of toasted garlic bread. Aunt No. 1 noted the meatballs "weren't hard, like other ‘golf balls' she's had out," and the sauce was just right. The half order was plenty.
Aunt No. 2's liver and onions were another hit. Tender meat was topped with beautifully caramelized onions and three big strips of perfectly cooked bacon. Her sweet potato fries were crisp and light.
My dinner's generous slices of moist turkey were layered over seasoned stuffing with just enough gravy to avoid a drowning situation. On the side were real mashed potatoes and a cute cup of cranberry sauce with whole berries (just how I like it).
Both dinners also came with a soft dinner roll, butter and canned green beans, for that vintage diner touch.
Aunt No. 3's Reuben was another diner classic. A generous portion of tender corned beef, layered with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and melted Swiss cheese arrived on marble rye with sweet potato fries and pickle coins. Aunt No. 3 noted the pickles tasted homemade, but we never asked if they were.
Mom's burger was topped with plenty of bleu cheese. Her potato salad side was a pretty dish of nicely diced red-skinned potatoes mixed with finely diced celery and carrots, and a little green onion. A light hand made this potato salad, as the amount of mayo was perfect.
A sign outside touted the Zee's homemade pies, so of course we indulged. Unfortunately, they were out of coconut cream.
My sugar-free apple pie ($2.95) would fool anyone. A sweet-tart apple filling was topped with what reminded me of placek crumbs. I couldn't tell the difference without sugar.
The banana cream ($2.95) had a good crust, with hunks of banana layered in a golden filling. The chocolate peanut butter pie ($3.95) was light and delectable. Both were topped with whipped cream that wasn't overly sweet.
A carrot cake cheesecake ($3.95) intrigued us. It had a crust I think was part crumb, carrot, walnut and raisin (just like the cake), topped with a perfectly light vanilla filling. Another winner.
Upon leaving, we noted shelves filled with a mishmash of coffee cups. We asked what they were about.
Our waitress replied, "Oh, those are for our regulars. They come in, grab their cup and sit down."
Yep, apparently this place is where friends meet to eat.
Zider Zee Restaurant
4 pennies (out of four)
Where: 9096 Olean Road, Holland (537-2298)Hours: Open 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.