NEWFANE – Before I commence with the critique of Bill’s Diner – which, by all appearances, is a very popular place here in Salmontown – a couple of quick announcements:
First, keep in mind that I am only the messenger. Second, please don’t shoot the messenger.
I say that because, from all appearances, Bill’s Diner is only slightly less popular than Bills football. On a recent Sunday afternoon, the crowds at both places were near-capacity (and I sense that the diner fans would be every bit as vociferous in support of their favorite Bill’s as their counterparts at The Ralph).
Lest you get the wrong impression, the verdict on Bill’s (the diner, that is, not the football team) isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that the smell alone immediately puts you in the mood for some serious eating, and the servers haul out portions that rival the size of the fish coming out of that ever-popular dam across town. Most of it was pretty good, too.
The bad news is that some of the selections could use a little “seasoning,’’ if you know what I mean. I would consider tossing a few back and letting them “mature,” just like an undersized salmon.
The place was packed on the Sunday afternoon we visited, with the distinctive aroma of pasta spreading throughout to entice undecided visitors. It turned out that there were a couple of pasta-related specials being offered, including lasagna and eggplant Parmesan with spaghetti. There were several other alluring specials (sorry about all the fishing references, but when in Rome …) including liver and onions, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and meatloaf. I could understand why the place was teeming.
We decided on the baked meatloaf ($7.95), the chicken souvlaki breakfast ($5.95), the meat lasagna ($8.95) and the eggs and pancakes ($5.25). Daughter No. 2 wanted to add on a small Greek salad, which also added an extra $4.95. She was expecting less, and probably wouldn’t have done so had she known the cost.
I started things off with a bowl of the Cajun chicken rice soup ($2.95). It sounded different, and it was, to a degree. Moderately spicy, it was thick and tasty and featured a good amount of pulled chicken meat. Like I said before, they don’t skimp at Bill’s.
The lasagna (I had also contemplated the eggplant Parmesan, but the waitress swayed me the other way) consisted of a large hunk of the pasta pie and a side order of garlic bread. The bread was so-so, more of an afterthought than anything. It really didn’t add anything to the meal.
The lasagna was neither particularly meaty nor cheesy; it was mostly noodles, topped with a very basic sauce that was a little too sweet and leaned toward the canned side. It was passable – like the Bills’ new offense – but could have benefited from a little beefing up – like the Bills’ offense.
The meatloaf, likewise, needed a little help, but with a liberal dashing of salt and pepper, accompanied by a few dollops of ketchup, it was pretty good. Many places prefer to let the customer do the seasoning, so that it can be done to taste, and that’s OK. It was certainly the case here.
Three slices of the shaped meat were enough to satisfy anyone’s meaty dreams. The accompanying mashed potatoes were smooth and quite flavorful, and the gravy also was very tasty.
Daughter No. 1 wanted breakfast, and she likes to sample Greek offerings, hence the chicken souvlaki breakfast. She was disappointed, however, that the chicken did not appear to have been marinated. It was OK, she said, but she would have preferred a stronger flavor. The tzatziki sauce was wonderfully rich and tasty, however, coming close to making up for the chicken shortcomings. She had some home fries on the side and declared them “nothing special.”
Daughter No. 2’s eggs were fine, and the short stack of pancakes would have been a meal in itself for many folks. On top of that, she had that “small” Greek salad, which was anything but. It was fresh and stuffed full of good stuff, a nice – but pricey – add-on.
It’s nice that Bill’s offers breakfast all day long, but for a place that’s not all that big, it also offers a rather extensive menu. There are specialty sandwiches, fish and seafood dishes, burgers, Italian plates and plenty of “classics,” such as pork chops, roast beef and the like. You won’t find a thing on the menu over $10 – and many offerings are under $5 – and the portion sizes certainly are a bonus.
One thing’s for certain: You aren’t going to go away hungry.
Bill’s doesn’t forget the kids, either. Those 10 and younger are offered goodies such as grilled cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti, chicken fingers and many other choices.
When everything is taken into account, it’s a nice, homey, family place.
2762 Main St., Newfane (778-5672)
◊◊½ stars (out of four)
Favorite dish: Cajun chicken rice soup
Needs work: Meatloaf
Healthy choice: Greek salad
Price range: Very affordable
Service: Very good
Noise level: Moderate
Wheelchair access: Yes
Kid appeal: Oodles
Hours: Open daily 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.