The Value Play, or, Filled Up For $15 a Head at Dandelion's

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1340 N. Forest Rd., Williamsville, NY 14221
Phone: 716.688.0203
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"The massive plate arrived with extremely large, breaded slices of eggplant atop a huge bed of spaghetti, all covered in a nearly end-to-end stretch of melted cheese."

"Value play" is the phrase we've taken to using when we visit restaurants that aren't extraordinary on food quality, yet deliver such quantity for the dollar that they're hard to take issue with. Tucked away for decades behind a plaza that holds the notable Fuji Grill and Dessert Deli, Dandelion's is the very definition of a value play - the sort of place that doesn't have flashy signage, yet makes it easy to fill your stomach with good American and Italian food for $15 or $20. Like many of Western New York's suburban restaurants, there are no surprises here save for the lower-than-expected checks, and for many people, that's reason enough to pay it a visit.

If you've been to virtually any place in Buffalo with a mixed American and Italian menu, you probably know what you're going to find on offer at Dandelion's. Spread across six pages, the menu devotes one full page to hamburger variants and another to all the area's expected sandwiches - Beef on Weck, reubens, various chicken sandwiches, and a fish fry sandwich, almost all in the $9 range. There are the typical $4-$5 soup and chili choices, eight $9-$11 entree salads, a handful of $6-$8 appetizers ranging from chicken wings and fingers to quesadillas and nachos, and a collection of $13-$19 fried and broiled entrees - seafood, steak, and chops. Then there's the salad bar, found in the back of the main dining room and included with most of the entrees, offering a reasonable spread of different vegetables, crunchy noodles, bacon bits and croutons, two different types of lettuce, and a bunch of dressing options. The items we tried generally looked a little better than they tasted, but everything was at least fine.

Even if we'd ignored the salad bar, our group of four would have eaten well enough for two meals. Appetizers, such as a single order of 10 Jumbo Chicken Wings ($7.50) and a bowl of the French Onion au Gratin Soup ($4.50), were both quite good: ordered "hot," the Wings were plump, crispy, and covered in a very good traditional spicy sauce that was a little on the buttery side, setting off one of the people in our group but satisfying two others. Slightly sparing on its top covering of Provolone cheese, the French Onion Soup was nonetheless entirely competent, with a nice hunk of bread, plenty of onions, and a slightly sweet beef broth inside. Like the Wings, it wasn't the best we've had, but it was pretty good.

The "whoa" factor really kicked in with the entrees. Our server recommended the Chicken Parmesan as one of Dandelion's best items, but we tried to go modestly more nutritious with the Eggplant Parmesan ($15) instead. There wasn't any health food in the massive plate that arrived, with extremely large, breaded slices of eggplant atop a huge bed of spaghetti, all covered in a nearly end-to-end stretch of melted cheese. Everything on this plate was good, with the oversized, slightly crunchy eggplant pieces taking a starring role, soaking in a legitimately nice homemade tomato sauce and gooey cheese. This wasn't a gourmet plate, and the piece of garlic toast that was included was actually pretty mediocre, but if any dish here typified the value play, this was it. Again, the salad bar was included, and after an appetizer and this entree, we couldn't even think about eating anything else.

A Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger ($9) was upgraded for a buck more with french fries, which turned out to be the highlight of the plate, served in a more numerous quantity than the splayed hamburger in our photo might suggest. Three of us took turns snatching up the crispy, semi-thick fries, and agreed that we liked them a lot, but the member of our group who ordered the burger wasn't as thrilled by the meat, which was ordered medium but arrived undercooked inside. Had it been cooked correctly, it would have been a fine burger, she said, but as-was, it wasn't satisfactory.

There were other dishes. Billed as "Buffalo's Finest," the 1/2 Haddock Fish Fry ($8) was a long, nicely beer-battered portion of fish served with a sweet potato, cole slaw, and tartar sauce. Our photo doesn't do justice to the size of the haddock, which was enough for a couple of people to share, and satisfied both; a full-sized version is $11, once again salad bar inclusive, and would have left plenty to take home.

A more balanced plate was the Broiled Haddock Dinner ($11), a 10-ounce filet served Italian style with an herb crust and a lemon slice on top. Properly cooked and tender, this haddock wasn't anything special, but then, haddock rarely is; like the fried version, the fish's freshness and mildness were the draw. It was served with a baked potato, requested dry, with sour cream on the side. Once again, there were no surprises there.

Before drinks and tax were included, the bill for our meal was under $60 - only $15 per person - and we were genuinely stuffed: we didn't get desserts here, didn't walk over to Dessert Deli, and didn't really eat anything else all night. Other patrons at the place seemed similarly contented while we were there, as well, and signs on the walls and tables hinted at smart promotions to bring in clientele - a kids' night with a magician, 10-cent wing specials, and other tricks to keep people happy and coming in the door. Western New York may have no shortage of places offering similar menu options, but with prices and portions like these, it's obvious why Dandelion's has drawing crowds for so long.

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