Katie Yu’s family turned their former ice cream shop into a small neighborhood bistro a couple of years ago. The Hollow Bistro and Brew has earned a following since then for its sandwiches and comfort food offerings, lots of familiar dishes with stylish tweaks. ¶ Many offer flashes of Asian character mixed in with a grab-bag lineup of middle American flavors with glimpses of Italian, Cajun and Middle Eastern. There’s Chinese five-spice powder in the calamari coating, and the mussels are flavored with coconut-milk-based Thai red curry, quite possibly the only Thai red curry for sale in Clarence.
The place hardly seems exotic when you walk in.
There’s about 40 seats and one long room with a bar running along its west side and a dark wood bench along the other. There’s a curtain around the doorway to ward off drafts, but it’s rather cozy on a winter’s night. It was over three-quarters full when we visited on a recent weekday for dinner.
Usually when there’s half a dozen nationalities represented in a menu, the results are often pedestrian, with nothing done particularly well. That’s not what I found here.
We ordered spicy shrimp sauté ($9.50), which had me thinking Spanish with spicy peppers and chickpeas with bacon, tomatoes and shrimp. The broccoli cheddar soup ($4) just sounded good. We also ordered polenta with tomato sauce and smoked mozzarella ($6).
I ordered the pork porterhouse ($18), which comes with mustard and New York maple syrup glaze and whipped sweet potatoes, and opted to upgrade the dinner salad to a grilled portobello salad with onion marmalade and gorgonzola cheese for a $3 surcharge. (It’s $7/$9 by itself.)
Cat chose the char-grilled swordfish with sweet soy glaze, pork dumplings, ginger sesame snow peas and pickled ginger ($27). For another $3 she upgraded her salad to an Asian field greens salad with fried wontons, mandarin oranges, alfalfa sprouts and a malted soy vinaigrette.
The shrimp sauté hit the table topped with two dainty grilled toast batons. Its chile kick was palate-wakening but not painful, a nod to tapas perhaps. The plump shrimp were hearty and went well with earthy chickpeas, and the tomato sauce held it together. My only downer was the toast, in that heftier bread might have made it easier to dispatch the dish’s contents.
The broccoli cheddar soup was luxuriously creamy, but still tasted like green vegetable, which is a more rare achievement than you would think. It was splashed with spicy pimenton, or smoked paprika, adding welcome zing and smokiness.
The polenta was two half-inch-thick triangles that had been crisped before being blanketed with tomato sauce and cheese, drizzled with balsamic reduction and chives. That’s a lot of hats for the polenta to wear, but it needed them all to keep the cornmeal mush interesting.
The grilled portobello salad was terrific, founded on meaty, smoky, warm mushrooms in a nest of greens, accented with tangy onion jam and salty gorgonzola crumbles. The honey vinaigrette smoothed over their differences.
We didn’t thrill to the Asian salad, even though it had good ingredients on the plate. Cat thought the dressing wimpy, not assertive enough, while I though it tasted odd – not gross, just head-scratchingly different.
Our entrées were winners. The swordfish was the star of the night, crusty yet mild, moist and tender inside, glazed with a finger-licking-good Asian sauce. The accompanying pork dumplings, with well-seasoned meatballs inside tender, browned wrappers, kept things interesting and were a natural fit with the sauce and crunchy green snow peas.
My pork porterhouse was slightly pink inside, making me happy. I’m tired of overcooked chops, and the tickle of heat from the maple mustard glaze was welcome, too. Showing restraint, Chef Greg Pecora hadn’t turned the sweet potatoes into pie filling with cream and brown sugar, just spiced them a bit to show off their natural sweetness.
Crème brûlée and apple caramel crumb ($6) were our desserts. The apple number held plenty of soft fruit, brown sugar topping and ice cream, but could have benefited from contrasting texture. The crème brûlée custard was delicious but the brûléeing hadn’t been completed, leaving large grains of sugar instead of melted coating on one corner.
The Hollow Bistro offers an interesting menu that is a chance to dine well in the heart of Clarence.
The Hollow Bistro and Brew: 8 plates (Out of 10)
International flavors spice up menu of familiar dishes at former sweets shop.
WHERE: 10641 Main St., Clarence (759-7351, thehollowclarence.com)
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Lunch soups and salads, $4-$12; sandwiches and pastas, $7-$11; dinner entrees, $15-$27.
PARKING: Lot beside building, street.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No.