6343 Transit Rd, East Amherst, NY 14051
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Well-established ice cream parlor with a classical drive-in theme, featuring weekly classic car gatherings and a number of good, inexpensive desserts.
Some desserts, milkshakes, and hot food items range from mediocre to bad, the latter in particular generally not worth re-ordering in our experience.
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"Showing up on a Tuesday night and sticking to the old sweet standards is the safest approach if you decide to pay this place a visit; you'll more likely be satisfied."
As we understand it, Pautler's Drive-In on Transit Road has been to Clarence what Anderson's is to other suburbs surrounding Buffalo: a beloved ice cream and custard shop with a hot dog and burger grilling station on the side. We frankly weren't familiar with the place until only recently - after its most recent change of ownership - and can't vouch for its past quality. But today, after five or six visits, we're convinced that if food or service once made this place special, they're no longer standouts; the only major reason to stop by is for the classic cars that show up to show off every Tuesday night.
The Story: Sure, we've seen restaurants staffed largely by teenagers before, but it's amazing just how young Pautler's collective staff looks: virtually everyone taking orders and serving dishes here appears to be just on the edge of 16 or 17, friendly but inexperienced. As such, an odd little chaos seems to dominate at the counter, where a mass of people swarms around waiting for one of the four people taking orders. The menu, a collection of burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, french fries and frozen desserts, is entirely posted above that counter, so you mull your choices, look for a chance to move forward to place your order, and then wait. However long it is, something always seems to take just a little too much time - a milkshake, a sandwich, whatever. But in our experience, it always comes out as ordered, and no matter what time we've visited, we never seem to be the only ones at the place.
Highs: The best items we've had at Pautler's are the ice creams and custards - we've been generally satisfied, if not totally blown away by the Mexican and Turtle Sundaes, as well as a special offering called the Mint Explosion, all served for $3-$4 in smallish styrofoam cups. Pautler's seems to be using good off-the-shelf picks for both the bases and toppings, and though nothing is ever served with some signature flourish, we've never had a problem enjoying a sundae here.
Other factors that seem to be major draws for Pautler's are classic cars and convenience. The Transit Road location in East Amherst draws a lot of traffic from Clarence, a town that up until recently hasn't had a huge amount of competition for the dessert dollar; even still, a dessert at the nearby Cold Stone Creamery or Alethea's will typically cost more. This is a comparatively cheap place to take kids to eat, and the Clarence Bike Trail ends at the shop - a nice way to recharge, or erase your losses, after an extended ride.
Additionally, every Tuesday night, half or more of Pautler's parking lot becomes a place for classic car owners to show off their restored and polished beauties, and patrons can enjoy the cars for free after coming for a snack. This seems to be pretty popular - as much or more of a draw than anything that's going on inside the restaurant.
Lows: We've been consistently unimpressed by the quality of Pautler's non-dessert items: we've tried everything from the Roast Beef on Weck ($5) to the Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($5) to the Italian Sausage ($4.25) and Hamburger ($5.25), and with only one exception, we've come away feeling like we'd never need to order the items again. The buns are on the edge of freshness, almost chewy in texture, and sometimes too large for the quantity of meat, while the meats range from bland - a forgettable "cajun" version of the Chicken Sandwich - to overcooked, as in the Italian Sausage. The only good hot item we've tried was the wing sauce-flavored Chicken Fingers ($5.50), which weren't so much memorably delicious as acceptable and edible.
Though its desserts are generally good, Pautler's does make some mediocre to bad ones. It offers flavors for its Milkshakes ($2.75-$3.75) and Lemon Ice ($3) that just don't taste like you'd expect; a clearly artificial, not so great banana syrup was added to a chocolate milkshake rather than real bananas, and rather than offering a second flavor of "Blueberry Ice," the staff just mixes blueberry flavor into lemon ice, creating a nearly inedible combination. Whether it's the lack of an experienced chef's discretion - a person who would limit the things that can and can't be made - or proper ingredients, or just the presence of a "we'll do whatever" attitude behind the counters, we've found that Pautler's seems willing to sell sweets that just don't taste good. But since you technically ordered them, you'll feel like you're partially the one to blame.
The Verdict: A two-star restaurant is one that we'd call passable - fine but not consistently good, with at least as many not so hot items as enjoyable ones. If we issued quarter-stars, the meals we've had at Pautler's would put it closer to a rating of 1.75; apart from the fried items, we wouldn't ever order its hot menu choices again, and we're now actively cautious when picking desserts, as well. Showing up on a Tuesday night and sticking to the old sweet standards is the safest approach if you decide to pay this place a visit; you'll more likely be satisfied by the simplest treats it offers, and if not, you'll at least be able to enjoy the fleet of old cars in the parking lot. Otherwise, stick to the nearby Dairy Queen, which offers similarly affordable soft-serve desserts.