Alton's, or, When Couples Disagree On Whether To Return

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Alton's Family Restaurant
2250 Walden Ave., Buffalo, NY 14225
Web: Alton's Family Restaurant
Phone: 716.681.7055
Rating:    [learn more]
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"The Greek salad was actually something pretty close to beautiful, with very fresh lettuce, tomatoes, pepperoncini, carrot slices and feta underneath thin purple onion ribbons."

Even happily married couples know the feeling - there's always some restaurant that one person would gladly go back to, and the other's not so thrilled about. For us, Cheektowaga's Alton's Family Restaurant is the paradigm, an unquestionably homey American and Greek place with fine service, a decent menu, and aggressive prices, all of which add up to experiences that could as easily fall on one side or the other of our 2.5-star rating. Due in part to its proximity to the Walden Galleria Mall and Super Flea, we've visited Alton's either separately or together four times over the course of the last year, and for whatever reason haven't previously gotten around to writing about it. This week, we decided to change that and finally give it a full review.

Value, familiarity, and availability are Alton's biggest draws: like many of the area's "Family Restaurants," the menu consists primarily of the sorts of simple sandwiches, salads, fried appetizers, and Greek options that Western New Yorkers have come to expect, only with most items priced at $8.50 or less, and a number of full homestyle dinners - good Spaghetti and Meatballs, Pork Chops, and Meat Loaf - that mostly sell for between $9 and $13. There's also a breakfast menu with eggs, omelettes, pancakes, waffles, and French toast, with almost everything priced at $6.50 or less, and most items in the $5 range. Servers focus solely on taking orders and delivering food; you pay your check at the cash register up front before you leave. On our visits, we've found the crowd to skew older, and seemingly familiar with the place, while there are always at least a few younger families at tables, as well. A big sign out front notes that the place is open 24 hours a day, six days a week; it closes at 11:30pm on Sundays, and obviously draws different types of patrons at different times of day.

On a previous visit together, we tried breakfast items such as the Chocolate Chip Pancakes ($5) and Corned Beef Hash ($6); they were entirely adequate, filling, and not surprising in any way. And we've also tried the Greek Lamb Chops - uncharacteristically expensive at $17 for a relatively small portion of tender chops, served with a salad and potatoes. This time, we went with a mix of lunch and dinner mainstays, starting with the Spanakopita Platter, a piece of Greek spinach pie served with a Greek salad for $8, also available without the salad for $5.50. While this wasn't the best piece of Spanakopita either of us have had locally - it was a little burnt on top this time after having been cooked properly on a prior occasion - it was reasonably sized rather than miserly, moist enough to eat every bite, and properly balanced such that the spinach, feta cheese, and phyllo dough all competed for tasting attention rather than appearing grossly out of proportion. The Greek salad was actually something pretty close to beautiful, with very fresh lettuce, tomatoes, pepperoncini, carrot slices and feta underneath thin purple onion ribbons; with the included Greek dressing, we found it to be entirely enjoyable.

Other items we tried on this occasion were mixed in quality. The Sample Platter ($7), a plate with two Chicken Fingers, two Mozzarella Stix, two Pizza Stix, and a bunch of Onion Rings, was almost entirely forgettable, save for the option we were given to customize the Fingers with our choice of wing sauces, and either keep or substitute french fries for the Rings. We went with hot sauce for these Fingers and kept the Rings, finding both to be fine; the Mozzarella Stix were typical pre-made fare, high on breading and good enough while they were warm, while the Pizza Stix were pretty bad eggrolls stuffed with bland pepperoni and cheese. Another plate we ordered with sauceless Chicken Fingers and French Fries was more of the same; stuff that could have been found in a supermarket freezer section and deep-fried at home.

A couple of local favorites, the Roast Beef on Weck sandwich ($6) and the Chicken Wings (10 for $7), leaned pretty close to the "bad" side of our scale. We were actually depressed when we saw how the Beef on Weck looked on delivery, its bun separated to reveal a skimpy portion of dull-looking, dry beef. Properly assembled, the fresh kummelweck roll worked its typical salt and caraway magic to cover the beef's imperfections, and though first-timers would have been fine with the sandwich, it wasn't great - we actually wouldn't hold it out as even a good example of the item. The wings were something close to blasphemous: ordered as hot as Alton's could make them, they arrived seemingly broiled or baked rather than fried, barely crispy, and very close to mild in flavor. While the wings were big and moist, we didn't enjoy eating them one bit; they weren't as close to the real thing as ones we've had at Buffalo wing wannabe restaurants outside the state.

This particular meal at Alton's was mostly like others we've had there: one of us was pleased enough by the food to suggest a 2.5-star rating - the mark of a place that's just good enough for us to willingly visit again - and the other was closer to a 2-star rating, which is akin to an "I'll go if I'm pulled, but not otherwise" opinion. If we used quarter-star ratings, we'd have rated this place in the middle, but we rounded upwards given the value pricing. For sure, Alton's proximity to nearby shopping and the fact that it's open so early and late would be reasons to consider a visit, but as our split of opinions indicates, go in expecting an affordable, no-frills meal and you'll be more likely to be satisfied here.

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