4936 Ellicott Rd., Orchard Park, NY 14127
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American Beef on Weck Fish Fry Orchard Park Seafood Steak
"While we'd call the cup closer to Lobster Chowder than a bisque, Eckl's so loaded the nearly white, creamy soup with lobster that every spoonful contained pieces of meat."
To describe the last seven days as our "too many cupcakes and roast beef sandwiches" week would be to wrongly suggest that we couldn't bear to eat one more. Of course not: we always have room for another beef on weck, and we're occasionally willing to drive out of the way to try a supposedly special version of our favorite local sandwich. That's what brought us to Eckl's Beef & Weck Restaurant, a name that conjured up images of an unpretentious fast food shop, only to shatter them upon arrival. This is a legitimately nice, dimly-lit restaurant on a side street in Orchard Park, just fancy enough outside to let patrons know that T-shirts and shorts aren't ideal attire; once you're inside, any comparison with, say, Charlie the Butcher is hard to make.
Whereas you'd be lucky to find formal table service at many of Western New York's "beef and weck" establishments, the servers at Eckl's are dressed better than most of the patrons; they appear in formal white shirts and dark pants, bearing complementary dishes of finger-ready veggies, including sweet pickles, spicy peppers, olives, radishes, celery, carrots, and baby corn. This classy and once commonplace snack tray simultaneously evokes Eckl's 1934 roots, and keeps patrons happy while they're waiting for their appetizers to arrive; we loved this, and enjoyed the couple of slices of bread that accompanied it.
Eckl's menu is short and very much to the point. In addition to a first page with drinks and desserts, there's one page of food, notably including four Roast Beef plates, two in sandwich form and two without a kummelweck roll. There's also a variety of mostly fried seafood options: haddock, yellow pike, and catfish filets, plus scallops, shrimp, and oysters, with broiled orange roughy, salmon, and sea bass for the oil-adverse. These, along with the menu's short collection of fresh meats - lamb chops, pork chops, a strip steak, and filet mignon - constituted virtually all of the choices, with a weekend-only Prime Rib special at the top of the page, and a short list of simple sandwiches, salads, and wings at the bottom. It's obvious that Eckl's is trying to cater to two different audiences: budget-conscious diners looking for burgers, fries, and bar food, and less frugal sorts looking for a typical American steak or seafood meal.
Based on the items we tried here, it's easy to see why both audiences would be satisfied. To sample the upscale fare, we picked a cup of the Lobster Bisque (normally $5), which was added as a $2 upcharge to the eight-ounce Lamb Chop we'd ordered for $12.95. We've spent the last two days talking about the Bisque, which used a not-so-cheap or -easy trick to break with convention in a crowd-pleasing way: Eckl's so loaded the nearly white, creamy soup with bits of lobster that every spoonful seemed to contain dozens of little pieces of meat. While we'd call the cup closer to Lobster Chowder than a buttery bisque, it's hard to take serious issue with anything that has so much lobster inside.
The Lamb Chop was very good, as well. Served on a sizzling hot skillet, the chop was thick, nicely browned on the outside, and possessing a delicious rare center - a hint or two under what some would consider to be the medium rare we ordered, but ideal for us; the chop was also relatively low in fat, appropriately gamey, and succulent. Eckl's only misfire here was its single onion ring and parsley sprig topping; the fried ring was soft and not especially tasty. A plate of included french fries, not shown, was low on salt and otherwise unremarkable.
We also tried a quintessentially Buffalonian meal, sharing one of Eckl's locally well-regarded Roast Beef on Weck sandwiches ($9), and individually partaking in a bowl of the French Onion Au Gratin soup ($5), plus a classic Haddock Fish Fry ($15) - each of these items was good enough to recommend to our readers, but also a little surprising. The soup arrived with a wonderfully broiled layer of cheese on top, which we pierced to find soft and only slightly too few croutons inside, along with plenty of onions and a nice broth. While the soup was lighter and a little sweeter than the hearty, salty beef broths we tend to prefer, it let the cheese, onions and bread shine on their own; we'd most likely order a bowl of this again.
Eckl's Haddock Fish Fry was huge: 12 ounces, said the menu, though it seemed bigger than that, and our server noted that on Fridays the filets typically need to be folded at the edges so as to avoid falling off the plate. Numbers aside, it was a massive portion for the asking price, cooked properly, though with an unusually light batter that made it taste like an oversized and abnormally fresh fish stick. A high-quality cole slaw, deliberately peppered and less wet than most, accompanied the fish, as did a fine baked potato. You'd have to be training for an eating competition to be able to finish everything on this plate if you'd already eaten an appetizer.
That brings us to the Roast Beef on Weck sandwich, the reason we initially sought out Eckl's - it's reputed to be one of the area's best. Though it arrived looking seriously frumpy, such that we struggled to get a picture of it that did it some justice, that was the fault of a wide, large roll that was far more generously topped with salt than with caraway seeds. Despite its appearance, however, the roll tasted good, with enough caraway flavor and salt to satisfy our needs, and Eckl's beef was undeniably very good too: thin-sliced but juicy, cooked properly to our medium rare order, and reasonable in quantity. Though we wouldn't say that it was worth $9 by comparison with other, less expensive local roast beef favorites - you can get an even better prime rib sandwich at Charlie's for that price - we both enjoyed it.
We contemplated trying Eckl's desserts, but passed when we found that virtually all save the ice cream and blueberry pie came from Butterwood's, which we didn't want to spend the money to sample again - this was probably a good thing, however, because we were stuffed and otherwise quite satisfied. After some discussion, focusing on the restaurant's nice, date-worthy ambience, reasonable prices, and very good food across both "high" and "low" cuisines, both of us agreed on an appropriate rating for Eckl's: while nothing save for the Lobster Bisque was drool-worthy, everything was either good or very good, the mark of a three-star restaurant. Notably, though the Beef on Weck mightn't be the very best we've had locally, we can definitely understand why it and the rest of the menu would go over so well with Bills fans and Orchard Park residents alike. Carnivores would do well to pay this place a visit.