Samples: Steelhead Irish Pub, Coulter Farms & Pizza Plant

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Steelhead Irish Pub & Restaurant
453 Center St., Lewiston, NY 14092
Phone: 716.754.8181
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"Steelhead's wings were crisped and grilled to near perfection - a rare phrase here - then coated in a good red barbecue sauce that had very little evidence of Guinness flavor."

With temperatures in the low 70's and two full days of possible adventures ahead of us, we decided this weekend to do a little driving: on a tip from a reader, we took a drive out to Lockport's Coulter Farms Market for a frozen, chocolate-dipped banana, explored nearby Lewiston, where we stopped for lunch at Steelhead Irish Pub & Restaurant, and later, stopped for dessert at the Transit location of Pizza Plant, where the once-famous Cannoli Cone has returned to the menu for the summer. All three of our mini-adventures are discussed briefly in this article; no ratings are assigned based on the limited sampling we did at each location.

Lewiston, New York is quaint in the way that the best old parts of New York are: from the buildings that date back to the 1800's to the streets, sidewalks, and little shops, everything looks well-maintained and inviting. Down Center Road alone, we passed by the landmark Frontier House hotel, the Little Yellow Chocolate House, the Orange Cat Coffee Company, and many other places that struck us as worthy of visiting in the future. But after spending hours visiting Wilson, New York's pier and marina, we had only one thing on our minds - lunch. On a whim, we dropped by Lewiston's Steelhead Irish Pub & Restaurant to see what it was like.

The noon hour was drawing to a close, and Steelhead had just enough customers to fill all the tables in its small front patio, so the friendly servers offered us our choice of tables indoors, which was empty when we came in save for some people at its bar. We scanned the menu for Irish fare and found relatively little - it's mostly American items such as crab cakes, fish, salads, and sandwiches, plus a handful of Irish and Irish-inspired options such as Corned Beef and Cabbage, Bangers and Mash, and Shepherds Pie.

We started with the Dublin Stout Onion Soup ($7), a crock of French Onion repurposed with Guinness and a Swiss Cheese topping to become Irish - something we've seen and enjoyed before at Irish restaurants such as The Irishman and Shannon's Pub. Though there was some Guinness flavor in Steelhead's beef stock, this one struck us as the most conventional and forgettable of the bunch, apart from the unusually thick cheese topping, which was fun to chew, if not the tastiest we've had.

Our entree selections were both sandwiches. One of us went with the Reuben Sandwich ($9), Steelhead's best-selling item, in order to sample the Corned Beef; it was topped with Swiss, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing, and its rye was replaced with grilled white bread as per our request. Though not remarkable or generously sized, the slightly greasy sandwich was fairly topped with good meat, and between it and the fries did enough to satisfy our hunger; similarly, the Beef on Weck ($8) was a fine enough rendition, with a handsome, very lightly toasted kummelweck bun that simultaneously obscured and accentuated the slight dryness and chewiness of the sliced beef, which we'd call decent rather than great. Both plates came with sides of nice french fries.

The highlight for us was the plate of Wings Steelhead Style ($7), which Steelhead's menu described as offering a "signature Guinness BBQ" sauce in addition to more typical hot, medium, and mild versions. We'd really liked the Guinness Wings at The Irishman, which were similarly described, so we ordered these to see how they'd compare. The answer: these wings were crisped and grilled to near perfection - a phrase we don't often use - then coated in a red barbecue sauce that tasted good, but had very little evidence of Guinness flavor. Irishman's version was far more distinctive as an "Irish" take on wings, but these were definitely nice.

Steelhead Irish Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Though Steelhead was interesting, Coulter Farms Market was the reason we'd started our Saturday drive: after our article on chocolate-dipped frozen bananas, a reader had tipped us that the small ice cream shop next to this produce market (4076 N. Ridge Rd., Lockport, NY, 716.433.8300) had the best version in Western New York. We arrived to find that the ice cream store had a nice variety of Perry's flavors and candies, with chocolate-dipped bananas constituting only a tiny portion of the frozen dessert menu.

So how was the banana? Most notable was the fact that it was cheap: we ordered ours dipped in nuts for $1.50 - a bargain given that the banana on a stick was large - and watched as it was nicely double-dipped in melted chocolate, coated in crushed peanuts, and wrapped in wax paper. The chocolate was good enough, as were the nuts, but the banana was bland - it came out of a freezer bag and had been overfrozen to the point that its core was icey and almost flavorless. It was fine, particularly for the price, but Balboa Island doesn't have anything to worry about.

That brings us to the last of Saturday's samples, and one that we've been looking forward to for a long time: the return of Pizza Plant's Cannoli Cone. Once a star dessert at this small local restaurant chain, the Cannoli Cone disappeared from the menu roughly a decade ago, but has remained in our memories as an example of how the more frequently smooth ricotta cheese filling and standard tube-like hard pastry shell could be rendered interesting with a more chunky cheese base and a good ice cream cone as alternatives. In the last week or so, it was added as a summer special to the menu of the Transit Road location (8020 Transit Rd, Williamsville, NY 14221, 716.632.0800), and apparently not the Main Street one.

We ordered four of the cones to go, one for each of four people, and they looked mostly like what we remembered: served in bowls with the cones sticking up, much like in the past, they were now each given a Tiramisu-like dusting of cocoa powder and a mint leaf as garnish. Our opinions were polarized; one declared this the best cannoli she'd had since Pizza Plant stopped serving them years ago, another used the word "fabulous," and still another - our biggest cannoli fanatic, and the one who hadn't tried the prior Pizza Plant version - called it the worst cannoli she could recall.

The fourth member of our group could understand where each of the others was coming from, placing the blame on one element: the cheese. As in the past, the filling was a wonderfully textured mix of miniature chocolate chips, nuts, and chunky ricotta, all a lot more interesting in the mouth than the fine-blended, smooth cheeses that we've had and enjoyed at many different places. But whether it was the refrigeration, the water content, the mixing, or something else, the cheese was a little runny and not quite cold enough, which took away from what could have been an awesome dessert. Some fans of the old Pizza Plant cannoli will be satisfied with this version; others will wish for the recipe to receive a little more tweaking. We'd love to see it perfected and back on the menu full time.

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