As we walked into Exit 2 Bar & Grille, I wondered what to expect from a restaurant named after a highway on-ramp. While accurate – the Youngmann Expressway is the next turn – it would seem to betray a certain lack of creativity. ¶ Inside there was a bar full of people kicking back after work, next to a mostly empty dining room. The menu was standard tavern fare at first glance – burgers, chicken fingers, fish fry. But wait, a burger crusted with espresso and topped with Gruyere? The chicken fingers are buttermilk marinated and hand-dipped before they’re fried to order, the server said. And what the heck is a chicken and waffles entree doing here? ¶ When our dishes arrived, the food showed signs of careful cooking – and even, yes, creativity. Well, shame on me.
Exit 2 owner Lisa Galus has worked in lots of restaurants, most recently in Sonoma Grille. This is her first place. She has hired servers who are good at speed-walking with their arms full. The 77-seat dining room became crowded while we ate, but we got enough attention.
There’s spinach dip, wings and stuffed peppers, the iconic power trio of Buffalo appetizers. Instead of perpetrating heat-and-serve cuisine, though, Galus and Chef Auston Mavrak offer a fresh-made menu. That insistence on house-made products might push prices up a little, if $8 seems like a lot for chicken tenders. But it significantly improves the plates that came out of the kitchen.
Those tenders are labeled “X-fingers” on the menu. I don’t want to know why. I can tell you they were terrific, juicy with a dry crunchy coating, not greasy. We had them as part of a Fryer Basket sampler platter ($12) that had onion rings, fries and fried mozzarella. The onion rings, big solid specimens that get the buttermilk treatment, too, were excellent. The fries, with a crunchy coating, were decent. The mozzarella, triangular slices dipped in crumbs and fried, were a chewy, bland disappointment.
Pickle chips ($5) were another well-fried appetizer, with dill slices so thin they were served almost crispy. The downside to the pickle thinness is they tasted more of coating than pickle. Soft pretzel bites ($4), served with cheese dip, were pillowy, salty mouthfuls.
The Berries salad ($8) came with goat cheese on the side, as requested. Sliced strawberries adorned the top, along with red raspberries and blackberries, but the combination didn’t transcend the mixed greens. It didn’t help that the toasted almonds promised by the menu were missing.
Our server had delivered the specials verbally, but I did catch the ravioli Florentine with grilled chicken ($17). There also was a pork porterhouse and meatloaf. We ordered the ravioli, plus the fish dinner broiled, not fried ($13). Cat asked for the chicken and waffles ($16), and I ordered beef Stroganoff ($17), which is on the menu as “The Strog.”
The house-made ravioli were stuffed with cheese filling that tasted like spinach, which is not a given, even in a “Florentine” dish. The grilled chicken was dry, though, almost crumbly. The fish was decently cooked fresh haddock filet, flaky and mild, with timidly spiced macaroni salad and popular smoky baked beans.
The chicken and waffles were not the classic version, which perches Southern fried chicken on sweet waffles. But it was terrific anyway, with a crispy crumb coat atop Belgian waffles and lavished with butter rum sauce. Cat shared bites all around and there still was half a piece of chicken to take home.
My Stroganoff had tender beef tips and mushrooms in a gravy built on a foundation of red wine, making it taste closer to beef bourguignon than the classic creamy Stroganoff. The beef was admirably tender, and there was plenty of it. Too much, in fact. I would have happily traded a handful of beef for a more reasonable pasta-sauce ratio.
Dessert was an undercooked but plenty fudgy brownie ($5), a straightforwardly eggy crème brûlée ($6) with an undermelted sugar crust, and lukewarm bread pudding ($5.50) that was tasty even though it, too, was undercooked.
Entree helpings were more than ample, making Exit 2 an excellent candidate for eaters who want to have dinner for lunch tomorrow. That said, there are more reasons than leftovers to check out the new family place in Tonawanda that proved Shakespeare right: What’s in a name?
Exit 2 Bar and Grille: 7 plates (Out of 10)
House-made dishes done well puts Exit 2 on the Tonawanda map.
WHERE: 3191 Eggert Road, Tonawanda (837-2523, www.exit2bar.com).
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $6-$13; burgers and sandwiches, $7-$14; entrees, $13-$19.
PARKING: Lot. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.