Family restaurants are a dime a dozen. They've been kicking around since people first discovered Howard Johnson's blue and orange roadhouses. The draw is middling comfort food for mom and dad, along with highchairs, crayons for coloring, and kiddie meals.
The Neighbor's, a new eatery in Waterville, seems to have taken the genre to a higher level in a bid to become all things to all families. Choices on the kids' menu range from spaghetti and pizzas to shakes and root beer floats, but the restaurant also caters to children of varying ages with video games, skeeball, pinball, and Xbox tournaments on Tuesdays; an "Itty Bitty Potty" with a toddler-level sink, and a Sunday kids' dinner buffet.
The adults get their due by way of a copper bar stocked with beer, wine, and spirits; wine-tasting events, margarita and martini specials, and best of all, surprisingly sophisticated fare for a roadside family eatery.
On our visits, for example, we picked from a choice of sensational crab cakes, chili, Delmonico and red pepper steaks, blackened salmon, kabobs, homemade desserts, and on weekends, eggs benedict, omelets, and breakfast burritos.
The apostrophe on The Neighbor's sign is a door-knocker, and the friendly slogan is "No Need to Knock." Located on Dutch Road just off Rt. 24 in Waterville, the complex includes an adjacent "convenience cafe" - read "carry-out" - called On the Way. The local owner, Kristen Birkmayer, also lays claim to the Village Pizza Factory in Whitehouse.
In a setting of soft yellow and red walls, the ambiance in The Neighbor's' two main dining rooms is casual and airy, and the service is as warm as the melted mozzarella bruschetta. A good way to start a meal is with the crab cake appetizer ($6.99), two crunchy, pan-seared beauties that are as good as I've had in these parts. Among the alternatives is the $7.49 hummus plate with a generous helping of toasted pita and vegetables. On the other hand, a $6.99 six-pack of tiny grilled hot dogs on warm buns is better suited to the young-'uns.
Sandwiches, referred to as "hand-helds," range from burgers and perch to a swell Sicilian chicken panini ($6.49) with roasted red peppers, basil, and chipotle ranch dressing. Chili ($3.49/$4.49) is stocked with Italian sausage, beef, and cheese, which went down well with a lunchtime house salad and an open-face meatloaf special ($8.99) with garlic mashed potatoes and gravy.
For dinner, we hit the jackpot with succulent blackened Atlantic salmon ($14.99), crunchy outside and moist within, and country fried chicken ($10.99), four crispy, juicy pieces.
Topping off the evening, we passed up the touted Kim's made-from-scratch cheesecake for a lovely slice of chocolate cake ($4.99) dripping with frosting.
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**** (4 stars)
Address: 7541 Dutch Rd., Waterville.
Category: Dress down
Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday. Reservations are accepted
Wheelchair access: Yes
Average price: $$
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Meals are paid for by The Blade