If you’re not the type to glance out the windows occasionally while heading down a curvy, fast-moving road, you’ve probably never seen Niko’s Big Fat Greek Restaurant.

Blended in well among the waterfront homes along River Road and featuring a much less gaudy sign and parking lot than the name might imply, it would be easy to pass by Niko’s without knowing what was being offered up inside.

A real shame it would be, too, because Niko’s serves up one of the most satisfying low-key lunch opportunities in the Tonawandas, along with some hearty and tasteful Greek dishes.

Living in Western New York for eight years, I’ve visited an inordinate number of the area’s Greek restaurants, particularly those that stay open late and serve coffee. My eating partner on a recent Friday afternoon, one-quarter Greek by heritage and long-time Western New York resident, provided actual experience to supplement my out-sized opinions on food.



IF YOU GO



WHAT: Niko’s Big Fat Greet Restaurant

WHERE: 2298 River Road, Wheatfield

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

PAYMENT METHODS: Cash and checks only; no credit cards accepted.

MORE INFORMATION: Call 743-1410.

In a nutshell



Service: Remarkably prompt and friendly (the kind that makes you drink about five sodas before you realize you’re getting refills)

Fits in a lunch hour? Maybe a half-hour, if you know what you want and eat fast.

Kid-friendly? Menu has the standard complement of chicken and hamburger dishes, and adventurous tykes can certainly get by on pitas and salads.

Average cost: A Greek dish and splitting an appetizer (that could really feed four) was about $10.50. Some dinner items are a few dollars more.

RATING: *** out of four

Niko’s dining room, with about 10 tables, gives ample space around a modestly-decorated room, although a couple of picnic tables offer fresh air along the river. To say the least, service was prompt and friendly, and the dishes came to our table swiftly during a reasonably busy lunch hour.

I generally judge a Greek restaurant based on the quality of three features — the tzatziki sauce (known to street-purchased gyro fans as “cucumber sauce”), the gyro meat and the handling of dishes using phyllo, a ubiquitous ultra-thin pastry dough.

A serious mound of tzatziki ($4.95) came to the table with freshly oiled and grilled pita. Niko’s, like almost every Greek restaurant around the region, uses sour cream as a substitute for the traditional yogurt (drained over many, many hours), but does well in its balancing of mint, cucumber and garlic flavors.

I decided to try the spanakopita ($7.50), a pastry-like pocket of spinach, feta cheese, onions, egg and seasoning sandwiched by layers of phyllo. The phyllo crust was supple, slightly sweet and rewarding with every bite, but the slightly nutty flavor of the spinach and creamy softened feta still came through.

My companion’s open gyro ($6.50) came with another side of tzatziki and a few strips of pre-formed lamb gyro meat, spiced a bit too much like ready-serve sausage for my taste. This preparation is, again, different from what one would find in Greece (or even more densely populated cities), but basically the standard across this part of New York.

Both meals came with Greek-style salads loaded with pepperocini, olives, tomatoes, onions and other surprisingly fresh produce. Between these hearty meals and my indulgent taste for tzatziki, desserts of rice pudding and Greek custard were relegated to the take-out bag.

My companion, however, had previously been served a just-finished cup of the pudding ($2.50) and declared it “Far beyond the best,” and, actually, “divine.” I don’t quite know what makes the custard Greek, but it tastes great covered in that same delicious phyllo.

Niko’s has succeeded at a location where many an eatery has fallen before. When you serve full-sized, carefully tended meals at modest prices, however, a Wharton School MBA isn’t needed to understand the appeal.

Contact reporter Kevin Purdy at 693-1000, ext. 107.

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