American Grille, which opened in June 2012 in a remodeled building on the outskirts of East Aurora, is a family restaurant that practically invites you to move in. There’s a fire pit, a roomy patio and a competition volleyball court out back, where league teams play refereed matches. ¶ Inside, there’s a large sports bar lined with big television screens, a banquet room and a dining room. It’s serving up much of the typical modern American restaurant menu, with a few notable upgrades and a stated commitment to buying local produce whenever possible. Burgers, seafood, salads, wings, a few pasta dishes and modest $25 steaks make up most of the choices. ¶ There also are a few adventurous options among the usual suspects. Sure, they have chicken wings ($8.95 single order). For another dollar, though, you can try the peanut butter and raspberry jalapeño jelly version.
We listened to a specials list, and I got lost in the details, but our server let me have the handwritten list to study.
We ordered the house-made onion rings ($5.99), steak lollipops ($10.99) and a Southwestern spinach-based salad ($9.99) for starters.
For entrees, a burger seemed like a decent choice. American Grille starts theirs with hefty 10-ounce patties, and it gives them a prominent spot on its menu, titled “Pride in America Burgers.”
They’re mostly named after presidents, like the Roosevelt ($11.99), topped with capicola, roasted red peppers, fontinella cheese, lettuce and pesto mayonnaise. The Lincoln ($10.99) sports applewood-smoked bacon, aged cheddar and fried egg.
Cat picked the Hubbard ($11.99), named after East Aurora’s own Elbert, topped with roasted pear, Gorgonzola cheese and arugula. Sandwiches come with a side dish, and she got macaroni and cheese.
In a mood for seafood, I ventured for the baked Italian haddock ($16.99). It came with a vegetable and potato, and I chose fresh-cut fries over loaded baked.
Our table was bare but sported a cloth napkin. When our starters arrived, there was barely room.
A plate of a dozen huge onion rings arrived with spicy mayonnaise. They were batter-dipped and fried well, resembling skinny doughnuts without descending into doughiness. They weren’t crunchy, but they weren’t objectionably greasy, either. We couldn’t finish them, and they were enjoyed by other parties later that night.
The steak lollipops were six two-bite hunks of filet mignon that had been grilled and put on skewers. Those skewers were stuck into a half apple, and the porcupinelike presentation was surrounded by four sauces: sweet Thai, barbecue, creamy horseradish and caramel.
We enjoyed the tender beef, but the sticks were really just a serving suggestion. Those were multibite hunks of steak, and I don’t want to gnaw Cro-Magnon style in public. Later I learned customers are meant to cut up the apple and dunk it in the caramel, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.
The Southwestern salad came without olives, as requested. That left a plate of baby spinach topped with scoops of red onion, black beans, bacon, halved grape tomatoes and grilled corn, around a grilled chicken breast slathered in barbecue sauce.
Once the salsa ranch dressing, served on the side, was applied and the salad was mixed, it was a satisfying dinner salad. Notably, the chicken breast was decently moist, not leathery.
Cat’s burger came medium-well as requested, on a soft, sweet egg roll that held the fillings together. Gorgonzola overwhelmed the roasted pear, so the only topping flavor that came through was blue cheese funk. The meat was competently cooked, still moist with a caramelized crust, so I would not shy away from ordering another burger next time. Her mac and cheese was cheddar on top of disappointingly uncreamy elbow macaroni.
Ordering fish in a family restaurant has often caused me regret, but not this meal. My haddock filet was flaky and moist, topped with fresh tomatoes, parsley and Italian cheese. My only regret was not getting more of the fresh tomatoes, but it was tasty and cooked right. Cat went back for seconds, a rare fish moment. The sautéed zucchini and summer squash beside it was cooked right, too, firm but tender. The hand-cut fries were clearly fresh, but soft.
Our server showed us a tray including chocolate cake, mini cannolis and crème brûlée, but we didn’t have time for dessert. Service was decent, except for bringing entrees before clearing appetizer plates.
There’s nothing fancy on the menu, but fancy is not American Grille’s mission. This place aims one notch higher than TGIFridays and usually hits the target. For family dining, American Grille is a solid Southtowns choice.
American Grille: Rating 7 Plates (Out of 10)
Neighborhood hot spot packs customers in for menu of upgraded family favorites.
WHERE: 7901 Seneca St., East Aurora (www.americangrille.net, 655-9757)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $3.99-$16.99; burgers and sandwiches, $8.99-$14.99; entrees, $14.99-$24.99
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.