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By Joshua Maloni
Lewiston is now home to the reigning and defending beer-battered champion.
For the second year in a row, readers voted Apple Granny Restaurant as “Best Fish Fry” in Western New York. A record 2,006 votes were cast in the Niagara Frontier Publications contest.
“I think we're very happy, and we're very proud and thankful for that,” co-owner Chuck Barber said. “You know what the great part about this is, is that our customers nominate us. They're the ones who vote for us. They're the ones who keep it going every year, and come in and talk about the fish, and we couldn't be more thankful for the loyalty and support of it.”
Apple Granny’s traditional Friday fish fry is a beer-battered haddock served with french fries and a side of coleslaw ($11.95).
Customers commented on the size and quality of the fish, as well as the wait staff’s service.
•James said, “The best beer batter ever. Light, crispy, flaky, and delicious!”
•Amanda noted, “Whether baked or fried their fish is always made perfectly. Even when they are super busy on Fridays (which is ALWAYS), everything still comes out hot and FRESH! Cannot recommend them enough!”
•Christine declared, “It is very tasty and it is very big. … Definitely worth the money.”
•Gloria explained, “Beer battered is one of my favorite and it’s crispy and not greasy. You can choose your side and also comes with delicious coleslaw.”
•Ann said, “Size, price, taste, mmmmm ... delicious!”
•Mary Ann proclaimed, “It is a huge portion of thick, fresh white fish with a delicate, delicious golden outer layer. Perfection.”
•Jerry wrote, “Been going about 8 years! Always constantly great! No one comes close.”
•Joy said, “The fish is fresh, tasty and utterly delicious. I dream of it!”
•John noted, “The fish is always fresh and the portions are huge. The service is wonderful as well as the atmosphere is always friendly.”
•Celia proclaimed, “It is soooo delicious! It is perfectly seasoned every time. The whole dish is done so well. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!”
•Nancy simply stated, “It is so big, fresh, flaky and tender. Has the best batter. They also have senior portions. It just melts in your mouth when you eat it. The price is right for all that you get. I would say it is the best fish fry ever!”
“We can't say ‘Thank you’ enough,” Barber said.
He explained, “The customers are what makes it the best fish fry. I hope they would let us know if something wasn't right on their plate, because they've been here week after week after week. We want to hear that. But all we could say is ‘Thank you.’ We appreciate the support. And we look forward to seeing all of you.”
“And we'll do it again next year, if given this opportunity,” co-owner Michael Burke said.
What Makes Winning Fish?
“There's a lot that goes into our fish fry,” Barber said. “First and foremost, I think is its quality. We're very particular about the vendor that we use; we stay local; but we have a great working relationship with the vendor that comes in. We then take a lot of time inspecting and checking that fish, even when it comes in our door. But I think a lot would be spoken to the size – the portion size – of our fish. The consistency of the meal. I think that you'll see it's cooked by the same great cooks that have been here for over 15 years in our kitchen cooking up that Friday fish fry.
“I don't think ours is greasy. You go to many fish fries and many times it's greasy or soggy. Ours is consistently not. We offer a full range of side options, so that you could really make sure it's something that meets the taste you like. Our coleslaw we mix up here. A lot of people love that coleslaw; that brings them back just as much as the fish, sometimes, and a lot of great options that go with it.”
“I think Chuck nailed it,” Burke said. “He said the consistency of it goes to a good working staff that knows how to make it; knows how to do it quickly. You know, once you get seated in Apple Granny, you're probably only waiting 15-20 minutes for a meal. And that goes to having good staff around us. And every time we do one of these interviews, Chuck and I always say it goes to the staff in this building. It goes to the fact that we don't have a lot of turnover in here. Chuck mentioned it: The same guy’s cooking that piece of fish that has been for 15 years. And it's a great tradition that we're continuing here from the Roberts family.”
A Village Tradition
Friday night at Apple Granny’s is, well, it’s “Where all the action is,” Barber said.
“I would say that it is a fast pace. It's a busy place,” Burke said. He noted, “The bar is busy, the tables are busy, there's quick turnover. But the food is good. The food is consistently good. So, you're not going to get rushed out of here; you're going to be able to enjoy your meal for an hour, and have a reasonably priced meal, and a reasonably priced drink, and have a good time with it.”
“I think that Friday is where it always happens,” Barber said. “It's very energetic in here, there's a great buzz, there's a lot of noise – but a good noise in here. It's a lot of fun and excitement. It's not untypical for people to come in and know three, four different tables of customers and friends and family throughout Lewiston, and they end up standing around the dining room talking.”
“The whole week is a lot of fun, but Friday is when it all comes together,” he added. “All hands are on deck here, and there is a lot of excitement and energy, a lot of laughs.
“And I tell people, you know, some people get discouraged, because they're worried about the wait. It’s worth the wait.”
Apple Granny’s isn’t a fast-food restaurant, though food (both eat-in and takeout) is delivered at a reasonable rate of speed. Getting fish dinners out quickly, while maintaining quality, is a challenge.
“I think there's a lot of behind-the-scenes planning and structure built into Friday,” Barber said. “Sometimes it may seem like so much is going on, but it is structured. As I said, all hands are on deck. It's part of the thing that Mike and I were able to take over an existing restaurant that’s been around for over 40 years here in Lewiston. And we've established the right routine. …
“Not only do we have a lot of people waiting at our door, we do a very large amount of takeout orders. And we expect the same quality food to go out with our takeout as we do for the people who are coming in and sitting at the table.
“We believe we have the right people on. We believe we put a lot of behind-the-scenes setup into that. One of us is always here to make sure everything's going in the right direction, and to meet and greet everybody. We love to see everybody who comes in on Fridays – any night, as well. But there is a lot of work to be done; a lot of the right preparation. Like I said, we spend (time) prepping that fish, getting it ready, ensuring it's all set.”
As they were being interviewed on Thursday, Barber and Burke were in the process of receiving their fresh fish order.
“The fish is getting ready to be prepped. It’s sourced locally. Once that delivery arrives, it's a process,” Burke said. “It's not just take it out of the box and throw it in a fryer. That's not what goes on here. … You can't just take the fish out of the box and throw it in a fryer and expect a good, quality result.
“Chuck alluded to it a little bit earlier when he said there was a process to it. It is a process. It starts today, which is the day before fish fry Friday. And it carries on right until the end of the fish fry Friday, so that we know that we still have a good quality piece of fish that is available for Saturday and Sunday.
Praise to the Staff
“I don't think we could say enough about the staff that we have here,” Barber said. “I think that, as much as Mike and I try to make sure it's all set and ready as best we can, I also do believe that, between the cooks in the kitchen and the servers who come out, they won't let a bad fish come out. If they see it doesn't look right on the plate, or it doesn't feel right, as best as possible, they themselves will stop and catch that. They want to make sure that they're bringing out the best quality food that's representative of Apple Granny’s. We wouldn't be Apple Granny’s if it wasn't.
“At Apple Granny’s, we want to be known for good, quality, consistent food.”
“And you know, having worked a good number of Fridays in this building, I can tell you that the return rate on somebody being dissatisfied is extremely low,” Burke said. “It might be one a night. And you can't please everybody. But, when you're getting through 99-and-a-half percent of people that are satisfied, that's definitely saying something.”
Apple Granny Restaurant is located at 433 Center St., Lewiston. Call 716-754-2028.
BEST OF THE BEST
Following Apple Granny Restaurant, NFP readers said the top five fish fry locations include:
√ Jay’s Place, 5446 Walmore Road, Lewiston
√ Linda’s Catering Co./The Elks Lodge, 7710 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls
√ The Isle View Bar & Grill, 791 Niagara St., North Tonawanda
√ Youngstown Village Diner, 425 Main St., Youngstown
√ The Beach House Restaurant, 5584 E. River Road, Grand Island
Apple Granny’s had both the highest number of votes and individual voters.