NIAGARA FALLS – It’s a term often used in a pejorative sense these days, but its beauty, as they say, lies in the eyes of the beholder.
“No frills.” Wikipedia defines it as “a service or product for which the non-essential features have been removed to keep the price low.” Products and services commonly falling beneath the “no frills” umbrella include airlines, supermarkets, vehicles and vacations.
Permit me to perhaps expand that definition a bit and include restaurants, which would seem a natural inclusion – at least the “mom-and-pop” type places that used to anchor neighborhoods and cater to the locals. Not the chain joints, nothing that would pop up in a major plaza or mall or anything like that. We’re talking little corner joints that faithfully subscribe to the “less-is-more” mentality.
Augie’s Sunrise Diner fits comfortably within that description, even though it has moved – to the far corner, at least – of a fairly major shopping center, the former Pine Plaza at the intersection of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Military Road.
Augie’s used to inhabit a significantly bigger building a bit further down Military, and correspondingly commanded a bigger chunk of the local restaurant trade. But things change, and life changed for the Augustino family, proprietors of Augie’s, prompting the move to the smaller, friendlier confines of a former Quizno’s restaurant.
The faithful appear to have followed, dropping in for their usual breakfast, lunch or early dinner. Augie’s seems to serve a regular (perhaps older) clientele, with many of the regulars addressed by name and in familiar tones. It’s like the old “Cheers,” in that regard: where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.
That’s part of the no-frills mentality, I suppose: what they lack in amenities and formalities, they make up for in familiarity and attentiveness.
There are simple paper placemats, for instance, advertising elements of the local business community. Even the decor is sparse (although it always was, even in the old place); the best feature would be the vintage photographs lining the walls of such past Niagara Falls institutions as the Starlite Drive-In and other LaSalle-area landmarks. There are old schools, plazas, even maps of the original neighborhoods.
It’s quaint, it’s homey, it’s no-frills.
It’s what makes Augie’s what it is.
The food? Typical diner-type fare. You can very easily imagine this place dropped comfortably down into the ’50s or ’60s and never missing a beat – probably with a soda counter, a jukebox (maybe even those little ones they used to have at individual tables) and a waitress with a form-fitting uniform and a little hat (roller skates optional). You know, just like the old pictures...
It just gives off that kind of vibe.
They offer up a whole host of breakfast options, and several of the dinner choices are named for the regular patrons who apparently favor that particular dish. They also feature Italian specialties, some excellent soups, and “the usuals” such as submarine sandwiches, burgers, steaks, salads and the likes. Traditional “family-style” dinner offerings – fried chicken, liver-and-onions, meat loaf, breaded pork chops – also play a key role in the menu.
One of the nice things about the place is the fact that they offer breakfast all day long. Omelettes, waffles, eggs in any variety imaginable. Despite the traditional “dinnertime” hour of our visit, Steffany nevertheless insisted upon breakfast, and was quick to settle on the Belgian waffles with whipped cream and strawberries ($6.19). For a mere 80 cents more she could have had it with ice cream.
She immediately declared it to be “great” and began clamoring about returning the next day to sample the blueberry version. The waffle was big and thick and nicely cooked, crispy outside and tender inside. The whipped cream was light and sweet, and the fruit just topped it off perfectly.
All the ruckus about breakfast got my wife hankering for one of her favorites, steak and eggs ($10.29). It consisted of an eight-ounce New York strip served with two eggs, toast and home fries. The steak was wonderfully tender, cooked to order and very tasty.
It’s hard to screw up eggs, but easy enough to make so-so home fries. These were nicely crisped and tastefully seasoned. Topped with a squirt of ketchup, it was breakfast at its finest – even at 6 p.m. The eggs and toast were like bonuses.
That fried chicken? Hot and crunchy on the outside, but a little cooler inside; made me suspect that it wasn’t freshly prepared, but rather packaged product that was just heated up – which is OK, I guess. It was tasty enough, and plenty of it for the price (four pieces). The meal is Ted Viele’s favorite, by the way, according to the menu. Ted, I am right there with you. I had it with a baker, and the potato was hot and fresh.
The garlic toast was very tasty, which isn’t always the case. Well done!
We’ve had the fish dinners ($8.69) before (battered, baked or breaded) and they are always reliable choices, as are the Italian specials like rigatoni or chicken parmy ($7-9).
They offer a significant kids’ menu and some great homemade desserts. Steffany can’t wait to return for a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich (whatever that is!)
I can’t wait to see if they remember our names!
Augie’s Sunrise Diner
8207 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls (298-4288)
3 stars (Out of four)
Favorite dish: Breakfasts are great
Needs work: Ambiance
Healthy choice: Several options
Price range: Very affordable
Service: Very good
Noise level: Low
Wheelchair access: Yes
Parking: Large connected lot
Kid appeal: Plenty
Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m..