Miller’s Bar and Grille used to be called Miller’s Steak and Crab House. Owner Paul Miller said he changed the name because he thought it sounded too fancy and might be deterring customers from coming by for lunch or a simple meal. ¶ The West Seneca roadhouse still serves steak, crab and oysters, and we tried the fancy stuff during a recent visit. ¶ My meal left me thinking changing the name was a good idea. When I tried standard tavern fare, like a big burger or a salad topped with chicken tenders, I enjoyed what Miller’s had to offer. When I tried the fancier dishes, like salmon fillet or a soft-shell crab sandwich, I cast covetous glances at the burger. Fortunately, I am married to the burger’s owner, so I got another bite.
The night our foursome arrived it was between polar vortexes, but still plenty cold as we parked with the pickup trucks behind the building. We wandered through the back door and into the dining room. Up front, there’s a bar where people were drinking and watching television.
The table was set on an uneven bit of floor, so we pointed at another, and were told it was reserved. We volunteered that we had called in a reservation, which is true, and our friendly server gave us the table. It was more comfortable seating, but it was cold, so we kept our coats on while we ate.
Many of today’s newly formulated tavern menus have a dash of arugula here, a slab of pork belly there. Miller’s isn’t trying to be a gastropub. But it does make an effort to surprise customers with food that punches above its weight class.
Chicken tenders rolled in crushed Cap’n Crunch cereal, crispy-sweet and oddly addictive, show up in a sandwich ($7.59) and salad ($8.29). Thursday is Specialty Burger Night, with an array of over-the-top burgers (like one topped with fried mac and cheese wedges, onion rings and barbecue sauce) at $8-$10 for a 4-ounce burger, $2 more for the half pounder.
At its menu’s core, though, Miller’s is a tavern serving tavern standards. You can order the beer-battered haddock fish fry ($10.49) on Wednesdays and Fridays. The lunch menu includes wraps, seven salads, more sandwiches and burgers, and a strip steak ($19.99).
The dinner menu’s more ambitious efforts include salmon fillet ($15.99), apricot bourbon chicken ($15.99), and pastas from chicken marsala ($15.99) to shrimp scampi ($17.99).
We ordered seafood dainties ($4.99), Buffalo shrimp ($6.99), oysters Rockefeller ($7.99) and the chicken crunch salad for appetizers. Our entrees were the steak and crab cake combo (at $24.99, the most expensive dish); salmon fillet; and the 4-ounce Big Cheesy burger with the mac and cheese plus onion ring topping ($8.99). I had the soft shell crab sandwich ($8.99), which comes with “fancy sauce.”
Dainties, pinky-sized shrimp tails that we pried out of their shells and dipped in butter, were plump enough to justify the work. Buffalo shrimp were tasty too, inch-long breaded and fried morsels that soaked up a zippy cayenne sauce.
The chicken crunch salad was satisfying, indulgent but balanced, with the sweet-salty chicken resting on its chaise lounge of iceberg lettuce, red onion and tomato. Everybody at the table said they would order it again.
Oysters Rockefeller were tender enough in their broiled shells, and buttery crumbs were a plus. But whole baby spinach leaves frizzled and darkened under the broiler didn’t deliver the vegetal flavor that successful Rockefellers do.
Michael’s seared salmon came out a disappointingly dry medium-well, though not noticeably browned. He liked the buttery broccoli and sweet potato fries with honey.
The steak was cooked to the right temperature, but it was chewy and underseasoned. The pair of crab cakes had enough crabmeat to satisfy and a whack of chile heat.
My soft shell crab had been battered and fried in a way that soaked up oil. The fancy sauce was interesting, chipotle honey perhaps, but it wasn’t enough to make the sandwich enjoyable.
The beef patty in Cat’s burger was seasoned well and lightly crusted, juicy, with a hint of pink left. The mac and cheese triangles added crunch with a cheesy note, and the onion rings added an “oh man” factor.
Dessert was a pleasant surprise. For $2 we got cake “shooters” in flavors including red velvet, caramel brownie and cherry cheesecake. They were rich, bite-sized cakes layered with filling in glasses just big enough to fit a spoon. I liked the cheesecake best, but would have been happy with any of them.
Don’t ask the Miller’s kitchen to get fancy, and you can have a pretty good meal there.
Miller’s Bar and Grille: 6 plates (Out of 10)
Burger, chicken crunch hit the spot, but tavern’s fancy stuff didn’t keep up.
WHERE: 3373 Clinton St., West Seneca (668-5500, www.millersbarandgrille.com)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $2.59-$5.99; salads, $2.99-$8.29; sandwiches and burgers, $7.29-$11.99, entrees, $9.99-$24.99.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.