A restaurant needs to attract customers to survive, drawing them like iron filings to a magnet. ¶ Have you ever been hungry as you passed Exit 48 on the Thruway, and felt your steering wheel tugging ever-so-slightly toward the exit? You just passed Alex’s Place. ¶ Follow the pull straight through the first set of lights and turn left on Park Road. Less than a mile and you’re there, hickory smoke and sweet pork perfuming the parking lot, feeling sad for the poor souls who stopped at the first Bob Evans they saw. ¶ There’s no doubt Alex’s, the celebrated Batavia rib joint, already has the custom of the locals. On a Saturday night the parking lot was filling up. The hostess walked us through a bar where people watched television and dipped into the complimentary cheese and cracker trays while they waited for the rest of their party.
It’s dim inside but it felt like a 1970s yacht club, with tasseled glass tulip lampshades and servers moving with deliberate speed, carrying more plates than seemed possible with only two arms.
No trainees here. A minute after our server brought my beer, she reappeared with another, apologized for bringing the wrong one and swapped them. I hadn’t said a word. Later, when I needed more napkins, she had already brought them.
Alex’s baby back ribs are smoked with hickory and charcoal for six hours, according to Executive Chef Hassan Silmi. They have won awards, and the praise of friends. I asked for a barbecue combo special, with a quarter rack of ribs, a quarter chicken, skewer of grilled shrimp and a corn muffin ($18.99).
The pot roast sliders ($7.99) are also reputedly popular, so I asked for those. Cat ordered the Danish French onion soup ($3.50 small, $1.50 upcharge with entree), which added blue cheese to the standard cheese-topped crock treatment. Calamari with peppers ($9.99) rounded out the appetizers.
Cat opted for seafood, choosing the pan-fried sole with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach ($16.99). Entrees come with soup or salad and a side dish.
There’s a little loaf of crusty warm bread brought out first, with more butter than you should probably eat.
That’s especially true if you’ve ordered fried calamari. Alex’s version was crunchy in a robust crumb coat, chewier than I like but not fishy in the least, better than average, especially dunked in the fresh-tasting marinara. It was punctuated with pepper rings that had been sauteed with garlic to round out the vinegar tang.
The pot roast sliders, which came with a pickle, could have anchored lunch. Soft but sturdy rolls held tender shredded beef layered over coarse coleslaw that was still crunchy, and made me wonder yet again what people see in celery seed.
The Danish onion soup, browned under a salamander, seemed like cheese overkill until some blue cheese ended up melted into the sweet, rich broth. Whereupon the soup’s owner issued a statement that included the words “Get out of my soup.” The side salad, dressing on the side as requested, was uneventful.
The barbecue arrived in style, edges of the ribs, chicken and shrimp caramelized to a succulent crisp over the charcoal grill. The four big shrimp were still moist, neatly curled around pineapple pieces and slathered in barbecue sauce. The corn muffin was moist but not sticky-sweet. The chicken was tender, but not as smoky as the ribs.
Those were fire-blessed through and through, the pork coming off bones cleanly, with almost-charred edges that added caramel.
Cat’s fish was good, crispy around the edges of the filets and heaped with interesting stuff, but she needed her share of ribs too. Her rice was slightly gummy, but I admired my side of mashed potatoes and gravy for the light texture of the spuds and classic brown gravy.
Also, Alex’s makes its own pies. Cat got chocolate cream, I ordered the banana cream, which offered banana slices suspended in vanilla custard. If you like country-style pies with sturdy pastry crusts and lots of whipped cream, you will swoon. For $3.95.
Next time? Forget the combo, I’m getting straight ribs. Alex’s is get-off-the-Thruway good.