276 Oliver St., N. Tonawanda, NY 14120
Web: Granny's Family Restaurant
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American Greek Lebanese Mediterranean North Tonawanda Tonawanda
"The quality and preparation of the beef was a big surprise: ordered and cooked medium rare, it was wonderfully tender and hinted with a little lemon juice - better than the lamb."
To begin a review of any restaurant with a discussion of a dessert - let alone a fairly common one - may imply several things. It might suggest that the rest of the meal wasn't noteworthy. Or that the meal ended better than it began. Or that the dessert in question was really something special. We'll leave you to decide whether one or all of the above was the case, but we must say this: Granny's Family Restaurant has some truly great homemade Baklava, notably made with a surprisingly clean and light sugar syrup rather than thick, gooey honey, and very finely ground walnuts rather than pistachios or almonds. Literally one bite into its golden phyllo dough body, we knew the $3 piece wasn't big enough to share, nor would we be sated eating only that slice. We'd have to return again for this, if nothing else.
Though it had been recommended to us by a fellow diner at the Lebanese Festival, Granny's hadn't evoked that sort of confidence when we walked in the door. Apart from its bright blue walls and clean-looking carpeting, the place was nothing special to look at, and small by the standards of Mediterranean family restaurants in other Buffalo suburbs. Apart from a handful of menu items that distinguish it from the average local diner - the ground beef dish Labni, Babaganoug eggplant dip, Humus, and Tabouli, all written with their less common Lebanese spellings, and presented with relatively little flair on plain plates - Granny's could be any other inexpensive American sandwich and breakfast shop; the menu includes many simple diner-like picks, with virtually every lunch and dinner entree listed at under $11; most are in the $8 to $9 range.
But Granny's had been recommended for the Lebanese food, so that's what we sought out, and found that the items really had their ups and downs. First to appear at the table were plates of Tabouli and a Beef Souvlaki ($7.45), the former included with an entree-sized portion of Grape Leaves ($11). Though there wasn't anything amazing about the Tabouli - lemon juice-soaked, finely chopped parsley with bits of bulgur wheat and diced tomato mixed in, served atop some lettuce - we've become big fans of this dish in recent months as an alternative to typical salads. Granny's version was good, except for a dry accompanying pita, one of several identical ones served with the meal.
We'd ordered the Beef Souvlaki to share, and what arrived was another of the so-so pitas, loaded up with sliced lettuce and tomatoes, then topped with roughly seven chunks of beef and a ton of fresh feta cheese. The quality and preparation of the beef was a big surprise: ordered and cooked medium rare, it was wonderfully tender, hinted with a little lemon juice, and so good that we had one of those "how much of this do YOU want?" discussions before finishing it off. There wasn't a lot of meat here, but the Souvlaki was good, and we found an okay pickle slice and very fresh pepperoncini hidden under the pita.
Granny's Grape Leaves entree was pretty good, though not up to the standards of Natalie's. Arrayed on a plate with two cartoony eye-like pools of olive-topped hummus - an chickpea and tahini dip with too much paprika mixed in, and another bland pita on the side - there were nine warm rice-filled and finger-length Grape Leaves. These were the better items on the plate: they didn't exactly burst with flavor, but a fresh, lemony taste ran through their slightly crispy leaf exteriors to their cores. Between the included tabouli, hummus, and leaves, this entree struck us as a really good value for the $11 asking price.
Though Granny's service was quick and reasonably attentive, it wasn't totally in intended order, so one item we'd ordered as an appetizer arrived at the end of the meal: a piece of Spanikopita ($4.45) showed up alongside a Lamb Shish Kebab ($7.45) that was intended to be one of our entrees. We've eaten a lot of Spanikopita over the years, and seen this phyllo dough and spinach pie appear as everything from a lightly baked, tall-stacked pile of cheese, spinach, and dough to relatively small, squat, or burned versions. On the plus side, Granny's version wasn't overcooked, but it was just plain, with a thin layer of spinach between similarly thin layers of dough, and little if any cheese; a pickle slice on the side of the plate didn't make up for its blandness. The Lamb Shish Kebab was even less impressive in both quality and quantity, a single line of small chunks of lamb meat that had been significantly overcooked past our medium rare request, to the point where lamb flavor was nearly absent, and all but two pieces were lacking in any sort of tenderness. This entree was almost entirely salad, and came with a toasted pita slice that was entirely unlike the others Granny's was serving - warm, buttery, fluffy, and delicious, though not split.
At this point - before the desserts - the meal had been really up and down, so we were glad that it ended on a positive note. Of the menu's three dessert options, we selected two, skipping only the "Custard Carmel;" the aforementioned Baklava and a bowl of Rice Pudding ($3.25) arrived almost immediately after we ordered them. You already know our feelings on the Baklava, which was so wonderfully fresh that we knew before asking that it had to be homemade; the Rice Pudding by comparison was a small but well-loaded and nice enough bowl of dense and creamy, nutmeg-topped rice that we gladly shared. It couldn't compete with the Baklava in sweetness, but it was good enough to order again.
All in all, we liked but didn't love Granny's: individual items are a little unpredictable in terms of preparation and quantity for the prices, such that if you order the right things - say, the Grape Leaves entree and a piece of Baklava - you'll come away thrilled, while another order, such as the Lamb Shish Kebab and Rice Pudding, might leave you underwhelmed. The sharp variations between dishes were the primary reason we went with a 2.5-star rating rather than something higher, despite the fact that we really liked some of the items here a lot. Granny's is a nice pick for fans of Lebanese and Mediterranean food who happen to live nearby; we'd come back again if we were in the neighborhood, but mightn't make a special trip out to North Tonawanda for it... except if we were in need of some especially excellent baklava. That alone may be worth the occasional visit.