3972 Union Rd., Cheektowaga, NY 14225
Web: Otto's Restaurant and Bar
See More Restaurant Reviews For:
American Bars Beef on Weck Candy Chocolate Desserts Italian Wings
"Apart from the soggy, quickly collapsing bottom bun, and the fact that the razor-thin sliced beef was a little overcooked, we liked the sandwich, though its fries were as bland as the pasta, bread, and salad."
Curiosity is one of the driving forces behind the many hundreds of reviews we've written for Buffalo Chow - a willingness to give up weekly visits to old favorites in order to sample new restaurants and actually visit ones we've seen for years without stopping in. There are days when we've wondered, for example, how we could possibly have missed trying Otto's Restaurant and Bar in Cheektowaga, which has been sitting there at Union and George Urban for as long as we can recall; the same was true about Antoinette's Sweets in Depew, which we've passed on Transit too many times to count. This week, we gave them both a shot, and though we didn't leave either place feeling like we'd been missing a lot over the years, we did come away more impressed with one than the other.
There's a big crowd at Otto's on a Friday night - enough to completely fill two dining rooms and a closed-off bar between them - and as we finished our dinner, we realized that there had always been a short line waiting for a table there; new people seemed to be coming in just 5 or 10 minutes shy of the next vacancy, the sort of perfectly balanced supply and demand any restaurant would love to have. But from the moment we walked in, we hadn't been able to shake the sense that we were a little out of place: as we looked at the scenes from Italy and bottles of wine that are nicely painted on the walls, the conversation at the table next to us was straight out of MTV's show Jersey Shore, including discussions of how many days a week the guys were spending at the gym, the challenges someone faced in giving up cigarettes since smoke tastes so good, and so on. Neither the Sabres nor the Bills had a game that night, but quite a few people were wearing jerseys, anyway. We got the impression that Otto's is just one of those "left for the bar, right for the food" sort of places, with just enough class in the menu and dining rooms to distinguish itself from the typical area tavern. Its wooden tables were kept clean with red vinyl tablecloths, and apart from forgetting to bring over (or charge us for) an order of onion rings, our young server was friendly and attentive.
Otto's menu is as familiar as can be around these parts, but we were optimistic about what was to come from the dishes we selected. We passed on the deep-fried mushrooms, cauliflower, and mozzarella sticks, skipped the two soups and several salads, and gave the sub and pizza sections of the menu only brief glances before moving on. The prices are all reasonable - virtually everything on the menu except for full Italian dinners sells for $10 or less - and there's a small seafood section, consisting of clams, shrimp, and fish, served fried or broiled. We gravitated towards the "house specialty" Roast Beef on Weck ($7), became excited at the reference to "Jumbo Roaster Wings" next to the similarly $7 Chicken Wings, and felt obliged to try one of the priced-to-move Italian dishes: at only $13.25, who could complain about a full Chicken Parmigiana dinner, complete with spaghetti and a dinner salad?
Order placed, we were delighted to start the meal with a complimentary loaf of fresh, hot bread and butter - rarely these days does a restaurant deliver a loaf of bread that can melt the butter it's served with. Our enthusiasm dimmed a bit when we realized that the bread was plain: warm, moist, and basically flavorless. But it's a freebie, we figured, and not exactly an integral part of the meal, so no problem. Right?
Unfortunately, the rest of the meal continued what the bread had started. An order of Chicken Parmesan arrived piping hot, but literally nothing on the huge plate tasted quite right: the chicken inside seemed to have been re-constructed from chopped up meat, and was dry from being cooked as non-contiguous pieces; similarly, there was nothing especially good about the breading, the sauce, or the cheese. We both kept slicing into the makeshift cutlets trying to find something to like about the plate, but we couldn't, and realized that this was one of the least appealing Chicken Parms we've sampled in the area. Its accompanying salad and pasta were both fine, but once again, plain.
We had a somewhat better experience with the "house specialty" Beef on Weck - six ounces of sliced meat on a kummelweck bun that had some of the best coarse salt ever to touch our tongues, but few caraway seeds, and little chance of firmly holding the wet beef stacked inside. Apart from the soggy, quickly collapsing bottom bun, and the fact that the razor-thin sliced beef was a little overcooked, we liked the sandwich, though its fries were as bland as the pasta, bread, and salad. Our plate of Wings did in fact include large pieces of chicken, but they arrived dry, barely spicy, and - once again - boring, despite our choice of "regular" rather than crispy preparation, and a request for sauce that was as hot as possible. We've had spicier wings out of supermarket freezer boxes.
As you've probably noticed from prior reviews, we try to make two or more visits to the vast majority of restaurants we cover, and there's generally at least a little something compelling on the first stop that encourages us to return again for another. At Otto's, that just never happened. Our meal was odd and dissatisfying, with such lackluster dishes that we had no desire to order dessert, issue a star rating, or even return to sample more of the food. We have no doubt that this is a busy, popular, and long-lived place; that said, it's not one that we'd have any great need to revisit in the future.
Editors' Note: This review originally contained a partial discussion of Antoinette's dessert and candy shops, which has been moved into a separate article.