Kennedy's Cove: A Homey But Pricey Clarence Steakhouse

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Kennedy's Cove
9800 Main St., Clarence, NY 14031
Web: Kennedy's Cove
Phone: 716.759.8961
Rating:    [learn more]
Pros:

A Clarence-area alternative to some of WNY's larger and pretentious steakhouses, with a standard variety of meat and poultry dishes, plus quite a few seafood and dessert options. Generally good food and service.


Cons:

Under the best circumstances, prices are only a hint lower than top options, despite lower overall food quality and ambience; some items were disappointing. Inconvenient cash-only policy and upcharges may surprise you.


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"We collectively came armed with $280 in cash expecting the bill couldn't be much higher than that, yet ran short, and had to decide whether to use the 'ATM' or cut the tip."


Like many of Buffalo's decades-old restaurants, Kennedy's Cove has a reputation: specifically, it has been said to offer steakhouse-quality steaks at half the price of other local steakhouses. We hoped that this was true. Thanks to its Main Street, Clarence location, the Cove is closer to us than most of the high-end area steakhouses we've reviewed, and less pretentious, besides. So we set out this week to see where this one fit into the big picture, only to discover that it didn't quite live up to the hype. Though Kennedy's Cove serves a nice meal, it's actually roughly as expensive as its top competitors - in other words, very pricey - and not quite up to their standards of food quality, decor, or service.

In fairness, the hype might have been true at some point in the past. Kennedy's Cove has been in operation for 28 years, and went through a change of ownership in 2001, updating its interior and menu to keep pace with trends. Separate menus on the restaurant's web site show that prices have increased even since then: the 10-ounce filet mignon, for instance, jumped from $31 to $33, and the 8-ounce lamb chops rose from $33 to $35. As noted in our review of Buffalo Chophouse - the area's best, and classiest steakhouse - there, you'll pay $36 for a comparable portion of lamb, and $36 for its 10-ounce filet, albeit a la carte. Its competitors, such as Black & Blue, tend to include more for their lower prices.

Here, in addition to your steak or other meat, your entree includes a starch of your choice - baked potato or fries - plus a piece of garlic bread and a thin slice of melon. You also get a soup or simple salad, with $2 upcharges for a Caesar or a more deluxe potato, and there's an option to add seafood to any plate. If you steer clear of the appetizers, which start at $6 (Fried Fresh Mozzarella) and average $12 (Bacon Wrapped BBQ Scallops or twin Crab Cakes), going all the way up to $30 for "Lobster Dainties," it's possible to leave the Cove with a lower total bill than at some competitors.

We didn't. Our group of four excitedly started with the Stuffed Pepper ($9.50) and Stuffed Shrimp ($14) appetizers. While the menu's description notes in smaller print that the Peppers are of the "Hot Banana Pepper" variety, it doesn't emphasize just how hot they are: even served with garlic toast, they were spicy enough to stop two of our group from eating more, but our spice lovers found them to be very good - appropriately firm rather than soggy, and the bread stuffing a nice alternative to the cheeses we so often see in these peppers elsewhere. Kennedy's Shrimp were also breaded, but additionally included Maryland crab on the inside, cooked just a little too much such that the crab wasn't quite as distinct or moist as it could have been. The plate arrived with four mini-forks and lemon slices, one not shown in our photo, but only three shrimp; this reminded us that while the dish was good, it wasn't a fantastic value for the price.

The items included with our entrees ranged from okay to good. Two of us upgraded to the Caesar Salads, which arrived attractively topped with plenty of thinly-grated, dry Mozzarella, and had a fine balance of lettuce, dressing, and croutons. Our other two diners took the standard green chef salad and steak vegetable soup, respectively, the former fresh and nicely chilled, the latter flavorful and enjoyably salty. Most of us went with the french fries, which were fine - a little soggy - but we weren't impressed with the dry and bland garlic toast or the razor-thin sliced melon; they seemed to be on the plate more for filler than flavor.

Our entrees were all in the good, not great category, with at least one caveat for every item we ordered. Two of us ordered 10-ounce Filet Mignons, both with Kennedy's "Famous Blackened" rub - recommended by our server - and on a positive note, both were cooked properly to order, one medium, the other medium rare. Yet we agreed that the filets rated in the 2.5-star category: the cuts were a little fatty, not quite as charred on the outside as we would have preferred, and too subtly flavored given what "blackening" normally suggests. They didn't seem worthy of their asking prices.

In keeping with our past steakhouse reviews, we also ordered the lamb chops without blackening to see how we liked the traditional preparation, noting the absence of the menu's promised mint jelly on the plate we received. The chops rated at the 3-star level on taste and preparation - they were cooked medium-rare to order, wonderfully tender, and tasty, if a hint more gamey than most of the lamb we've had elsewhere; the eight-ounce, $35 portion's also smaller than the 12-ounce, $29 one we've enjoyed at Black & Blue.

Two of us added on $7 side dishes of Stuffed Scallops, which were served broiled with crab stuffing and a thick, creamy "seafood sauce." While we were both pleased with the quantity of scallops and shredded crab in this bowl, we split on the sauce: one of us felt that it distracted from the taste of the scallops and obscured the crab, while the other liked the cream and felt that the item was very good. While the price was about right, this dish would have been more universally satisfying with the sauce presented as an option.

The fourth member of our group, a vegetarian, offered mixed praise for her $16 vegetable entree plate: while eating, she proclaimed the baked sweet potato to be amongst the best she'd ever had, but described the same plate's artichokes as chewy, and the sauce drizzled over them as bland. That price didn't include her Chef's Salad, which cost $7 more to add on, and piece of garlic toast, which saw an additional 50-cent charge, bringing her total before appetizer or dessert to $24.50. While Kennedy's Cove makes no claim to offer vegetarian fare, it's worth noting that those so inclined will struggle for options on the menu, which other than the items noted above has a few $20 poultry picks, nine seafood dishes starting at $23, three steak sandwiches - including a well-regarded $16 tenderloin sandwich - and a handful of soup, salad, and side items.

Somehow, despite ordering appetizers and entrees, we all still had room for desserts, opting to sample four: the Peanut Butter Pie ($5.50), Frozen Key Lime Pie ($7), an Apple Dumpling ($5.50), and the "Chocolate Gnash Layer Cake" ($6.25). Reactions varied sharply: one of us opined that the desserts were collectively some of the best she'd tasted at a restaurant in a long time, and another liked the Apple Dumpling so much that he didn't care about the other items. The third of us really liked the Dumpling, liked the Key Lime and Peanut Butter Pies, and didn't like the cake; the last of us thought the desserts were all below-average save for the good but small piece of Peanut Butter Pie, finding the Chocolate Cake dry, the Apple Dumpling plain, and the Key Lime Pie lifeless and internally icy.

At an inexpensive restaurant, these sorts of mixed reactions might be understandable on the "get what you pay for" philosophy, but at $75 per person after tip, our meal at Kennedy's Cove was the opposite of cheap. It's also a cash-only restaurant, with a $2 on-site "ATM" that actually only dispenses paper slips that can be used to pay the bill. We collectively came armed with $280 in cash expecting the bill couldn't be much higher than that, yet ran short, and had to decide whether to use the "ATM" or cut the tip. Of course, we did the right thing and used the "ATM," which made our out-the-door cost for the meal even higher.

It's worth noting one final marked difference between Kennedy's Cove and its competitors: the overall dining experience, which patrons expect to pay some premium for. While Buffalo Chophouse looks like a classic, old money dining room and Black & Blue offers a sophisticated, new money alternative, both spacious, Kennedy's Cove feels like a small, repurposed house with stone-covered interior walls and no desire to go further upscale. We found the service prompt and courteous, but not fawning, and the ambience closer to a nice family restaurant than a steakhouse. This isn't a place that we'd pick for a date, and it certainly wouldn't be a cheap one.

Overall, if Kennedy's Cove was once an affordable alternative to a fancy steakhouse, that's no longer true: you may pay slightly lower prices, but you'll get less impressive food, and dine in a setting that is nice enough, but not on par with the area's classiest alternatives. Our group concurred on a 2.5-star overall rating, reflecting generally good food with notable highs and lows at premium pricing; we felt that we'd sooner return to the Buffalo Chophouse, Black & Blue, or even potentially E.B. Green's, the latter the closest to this in aggregate quality.

Kennedy's Cove on Urbanspoon


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