NIAGARA FALLS – As our waitress dished out an unexpected helping of spooky history, we looked around the nearly century-old Red Coach Inn and couldn’t believe our ears. A former brothel? In this classy looking joint? OK, maybe ...
Haunted by a malevolent female spirit? A jilted past employee, perhaps? Now wait just a minute!
But then it happened – a strange buzzing, a shadowy presence. Just like that, it appeared out of nowhere: a pesky housefly, darting in and out as if to intentionally disrupt our dining experience. It deftly avoided our swinging arms and menus, as if guided by some unseen entity. How do you tell if a fly is female? I thought.
Coincidence? Given the history of this place? You be the judge.
All I can say is, it didn’t disrupt our dining experience, which, for the most part, was quite enjoyable. Granted, at $80 (with tip) for lunch for four, it better have been enjoyable. And it was.
Built in 1923 to resemble the Old Bell Inn of Finedon, England, the Red Coach seems like it would be a better fit alongside or even inside Old Fort Niagara, along the shores of Lake Ontario out in Youngstown. Instead, the Red Coach overlooks the upper Niagara River rapids – providing an excellent view via its glass-enclosed patio, I might add – and its Old World charm includes leaded windows, horseshoe-shaped dining booths and a mammoth central fireplace.
A vaulted timber ceiling, upholstered chairs and (electric) candle chandeliers complete the decor and set the tone for a memorable dinner.
We had heard of lengthy serving times and did find that to be somewhat accurate, although it was nothing unbearable – and it did provide time to hear of the place’s history, including its appearance on a past episode of “Ghost Hunters.’’ We also had time to amble up the twisting staircase to the second-floor restrooms (which, I might add, were immaculate).
When our food finally arrived, we were generally pleased. The coconut and toasted almond shrimp appetizer ($10) offered four large, butterflied Asian tiger shrimp, lightly breaded and served with a spicy orange sauce. A past Taste of Buffalo “People’s Choice” award winner, it was quite good as a starter.
We also sampled the French onion au gratin soup ($4 for a bowl) and found it to be equally well done. The broth was tasty – a tad salty – and chock full of onions. The cheese topping was nicely browned and oooey gooey.
We tried the Brunch Burger ($12), a grilled-to-taste half-pound angus patty topped with an egg (sunny-side up), American cheese, leaf lettuce and red onion on a Kaiser roll. Served with french fries, the burger was juicy and every bit of eight ounces. The egg topped it off nicely; it was seasoned well, and was a filling treat.
Another special of the day was the prime rib sandwich, at $15 a little pricey, but definitely a satisfying selection. It was served on a small submarine-style toasted ciabatta roll and offered shaved prime rib beef topped with cheddar cheese and a creamy horseradish sauce. My wife is quite the horseradish fan and was somewhat disappointed that it got pretty much drowned out in this sandwich, but she still managed to enjoy it.
The horseradish wasn’t totally lost (I sampled a bite), but it wasn’t very prominent, either. It might have been nice to include a small serving on the side for those who like their horseradish on the stronger side.
The most pleasant surprise of the day, I think, was my daughter’s shepherd’s pie ($10). It offered ground beef, Spanish onions, corn, peas and cheddar cheese in a country beef gravy and was topped with smashed potatoes. Very tasty and extremely well seasoned. It was a little on the small side and didn’t come with the fries or salad that the sandwich dishes had, but for lunch, it was quite enough, I suppose. She truly enjoyed it.
I had leaned toward the Monte Cristo sandwich ($10), but (as usual) broke down when I saw a Red Coach Reuben offered ($11). It was served with dill pickle slices (I don’t recall seeing those) and a pasta salad. My wife had been eager to sample the pasta salad but was totally disappointed with the dry, strange-tasting concoction that arrived at the table.
It wasn’t a mayo-based pasta salad, nor did it offer an oil-based dressing. Instead, it was as if it had been rubbed with some type of spice that I could not quite identify but which imparted a slightly unpleasant flavor. It had a few black olive slices and tiny squares of (cheese? tofu?) – something I likewise couldn’t quite pin down.
We all sampled it and uniformly disliked. Oh, well, you can’t like everything.
The Reuben itself was pretty good, well stacked with shaved corned beef – a little of which was stringy – it also offered goodly amounts of sauerkraut and (which is not always the case) a sufficient amount of Russian dressing to keep it from being overly dry. Not the best Reuben I’ve ever had, but certainly far from the worst.
My daughter commented that the Red Coach would be a great place to take a business client, or a date. It just has that kind of atmosphere.
And, of course, that incredible view.
And if the spirit strikes, you would always have plenty to talk about!
Red Coach Inn
2 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls Phone: 282-1459 Three stars out of four
Favorite dish: Shepherd’s pie
Needs work: Pasta salad
Healthy choice: Seafood salad
Price range: On the high side
Service: Very good
Noise level: Quiet
Wheelchair access: Difficult
Parking: On-street, nearby lots
Kid appeal: Limited
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.. Website: www.redcoach.com