Seldom is the phrase “your mileage may vary” more appropriate than when you are discussing a buffet.
The proprietors certainly have a large influence – they determine the quality and selection of ingredients, the presentation and maintenance of the food stations, and the price. Then they throw open the doors and do their best to keep up.
Therefore, when I tell you that we really liked the white pizza at Toni Pepperoni, which was hot, fresh and delicious, be aware that you may prefer another pizza that was just brought out of the kitchen. Even the number of people in the place at the time you are there can affect your experience.
The good side of a buffet is that if something doesn’t look good, you can skip it and choose something else.
Having said all that, Ruth, Dan, John and I enjoyed Toni Pepperoni when we stopped in for an early dinner on a Sunday. There were several hits and just a few misses, and we certainly got our money’s worth.
We’d been to Toni Pepperoni about five years ago, when it was located on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore. This location, in the Maple Ridge Plaza at Maple and Sweet Home roads, seems brighter and less like a bar than the previous spot. The entryway is walled off from the dining room, with a cashier’s station on one side. The prices are extremely reasonable: $6.25 for each adult, $2.99 for children ages 3 to 7, free for kids under 3. Soda is $2.29, a little on the high side, but you get a large plastic cup and the choices include root beer, loganberry and other exotic options.
The place was well-staffed while we were there, with the kitchen help keeping a close eye on the offerings and quickly replenishing anything that got low. Other staffers roamed the dining room, picking up used plates and wiping away spills.
The buffet is far larger than you might expect. In addition to the 10 pizzas displayed under warming lights, there were two kinds of plain pasta with a cheese sauce, red sauce and red sauce with meatballs in it.
There are also chicken fingers, French fries, a medium-sized salad bar that included potato and pasta salad, and a crock of soup, which on this day was chicken rice. So even if you don’t like pizza – and who doesn’t like pizza? – you could fill your plate happily.
But of course, the reputation of a place like this is staked on its pizza. So how is it?
For the most part, it’s good. The crust is a bit thinner than medium and slightly sweet. There was a thin layer of red sauce, even on the plain cheese or cheese and pepperoni pizzas, and the eater who prefers non-saucy pizza was delighted.
Some of the toppings were exceptional. The pepperoni was the quality kind that bakes into a cup shape with charred edges, and was very good and a bit spicy. Both the Buffalo chicken pizza and the barbecued chicken finger pizza were flavorful and topped with plenty of chicken. The sweet pepper and sausage pizza was an interesting and tasty combination. We were fans of the white pizza, which was nicely spiced and topped with thin slices of fresh tomato.
Not so good was the steak pizza, which, sprinkled with a paltry amount of thin-shaved steak, seemed not to move as fast as other selections and looked dried out. The garlic and cheese pizza needed more garlic.
The mac and cheese sauce for pasta was bright orange but a bit bland. The red sauce was better and the meatballs were surprisingly tender and flavorful.
The chicken fingers were a real hit; tender strips of juicy white meat offered in mild and medium spiciness, as well as with a slightly sticky, but very delicious barbecue sauce.
The salad bar was exceptional, offering three types of crisp lettuce and many fresh toppings, including thin-sliced onions, chopped peppers, croutons and chickpeas.
There were a couple of dessert options, including a cinnamon dessert pizza that was brushed with a buttery topping, and some small dough nuggets with a dusting of sugar. The salad bar also had two crocks of pudding, vanilla and chocolate, both smooth, cool and sweet.
At least one birthday party was going on while we were there, and a back room filled with arcade games attracted some younger patrons. Flat-screen TVs on each wall were tuned to sports.
Where: 4224 Maple Road, Amherst (876-8664)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Monday through Saturday,
noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.