NIAGARA FALLS – They call it a “gastropub,” defining the term as “a public house specializing in serving high-quality food.” I call the Griffon Pub “over the top,” simply over the top.
How else would you define deviled eggs mixed with shredded chicken, crumbled bleu cheese, diced carrots and celery strips, and drizzled with red-hot Frank’s sauce? Or beer-battered onion rings that you could literally wring into a glass and drink? Even the fries that accompany your sandwich are creative, hand-cut and seasoned with garlic and parmesan.
The website boasts that their food is “unique ... creative ... fresh ... thoughtful ... original ... cooked to order.” To that, I would add check, check, check, check, check and check.
That’s not to say that everything about the place is top of the pops. My booth bench could have found weekend work as a teeter-totter. The place is dark and noisy and often crowded – not the best choice for an intimate date, but then again, it is a “pub.” A gastropub, at that, and in that respect, it fully lives up to its name. On our two visits, everyone in tow simply raved about their food.
Formerly a popular diner, the folks who took the place over last summer transformed it into a gastropub by redoing most of the interior, adding a tin-style ceiling, custom stone wall panels and even a faux fireplace in the women’s restroom (I am told). They topped it off by adding 50 beers on tap, from lagers and stouts to porters and ales, and just about everything in between.
But the real creativity was saved for the menu. Oh, there’s the typical pub fare – burgers, sandwiches and deep-fried appetizers. Then there are the lobster-and-crab cakes, the Ahi tuna tostadas, the blue crab dip, the roasted strawberry salad, smoked gouda shells and cheese, the Kona coffee hanger steak, and so on. I think you get my drift.
Even the typical stuff is done with extreme flair: take the Black and Tan onion rings, thick cut and battered sufficiently to achieve the appearance of rings on ’roids. These babies have muscle, and the Black and Tan (actually Guinness Irish Stout) glaze comes through loud and clear. Like I said earlier, you could wring these into a glass and have a pint with your order, or you could just enjoy them as served and get a good start on your buzz. For $6, it works either way.
The chicken and waffle sandwich ($12) is served up on freshly made chive Belgian waffles, sliced in half and stuffed with a Southern-style fried chicken breast, jalapeno coleslaw, Applewood smoked bacon, a slice of Wisconsin cheddar and a spicy maple mayonnaise. Did I say over the top? I meant “through the roof.”
It was ditto for the crab dip ($11), a high-class appetizer if ever there was one. Consisting of lump blue crab mixed with cream cheese, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, red peppers, onions and fresh herbs (bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees and serve with crispy toasted garlic bread crostinis), it was the toast of the party until, that is, the Buffalo chicken deviled eggs ($7) came along. As described earlier, they were topped with bits of deep-fried chicken strips. It was like combining your run-of-the-mill egg appetizer with your chicken wing entrée, and saving time by eating it all at once. Believe it or not, it worked. Well, I might add. Bravo to the chef.
We had a couple of the fresh, handmade burgers, which start at $8.50 and allow for custom add-ons. Even the $8.50 price tag isn’t bad when you consider that you get a half-pound blend of chuck, short rib and sirloin, served in a luscious, soft Brioche bun. We had ours topped with a fried egg ($1.50) and cheese (choose from American, cheddar, mozzarella, pepper Jack, Gruyere, smoked gouda or gorgonzola, add $1 to $1.50). Arriving at the table, your first thought will be: “How am I supposed to fit that into my mouth?” You will find a way, though, and you will be terribly glad that you did.
Juicy, cooked to perfection, creative, fresh, thoughtful – all those adjectives seem to fit. And we’re just talking about their burgers.
The beef on weck ($9), which I highly anticipated, was perhaps the only real disappointment. Served with horseradish and a cup of au jus on the side (our server explained that they were seeking to avoid the “soggy” sandwiches often seen in other establishments), it looked tasty and started out well. I quickly realized that the weck roll didn’t live up to its looks, needing more coarse salt and caraway.
The sandwich itself was good the first couple of bites but quickly lost definition in the middle when the beef became somewhat soggy and stringy. It was literally hard to get through in spots. The dill pickle slice that accompanied the sandwich was pretty pedestrian, as well, and did not add to the experience. That’s unfortunate, because in my weck-eating world, the pickle should complement the sandwich with a sharp, dill-y bite. This one didn’t.
The fries, though, were really good – and they held up under a full-frontal assault of malt vinegar and ketchup. The garlic-parm flavoring still bled through, believe it or not.
That’s about all the bad I can say about the place. I mean, how can you criticize a place that offers beer-battered, baked and Cajun fish dinners during Lent – not to mention Italiano, garlic-Parmesan and butter-crisp, whatever that is. That, my friends, is going above-and-beyond – or over the top, if you will.
Folks were packed in like sardines on one of our visits, which came during happy hour, and the other wasn’t much better. It’s less noisy (and dark and crowded) at lunchtime, so you may want to consider that route. At the old Lewiston Village Pub (owned by the same folks, since closed), there was some segregation between bar and dining area, but that doesn’t seem to be possible in the new, less roomy digs. C’est la vie.
One final word of warning: If you sit in the same booth we occupied (left side, near the front, beneath a funky wall hanging), make sure the smaller person sits on the outside – otherwise they may get launched skyward when that bench seat kicks into gear. Good thing I sat alone that day ... but it did make for some fun maneuvering while we waited for our food to arrive.