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An honest neighborhood spot 

Michael Baumer grew up working for his father, Timothy, at Timothy Patrick's. There, he developed an idea of the kind of restaurant he wanted to run. In 1998, he and his wife, Gretchen, built McArdle's from the ground up. Five years later, the restaurant is a testament to Baumer's vision, popular for the right reasons.

            Like some restaurants of which I've been critical, McArdle's is trying to compete with chains, specifically places like Applebee's. But McArdle's does it with a lack of pretense. There are no cilantro-based dishes. There's no sea bass, ceviche, or cioppino. There are chicken wings, salads, soups, and burgers. A friend of mine talks about "honest" food, and I'm not always sure what he means. But this food is honest.

            Applebee's uses the tag line, "Neighborhood Bar & Grill," though it's nothing of the sort. McArdle's, in fact, is that. The waitresses treat you like a person, no corporate shtick. But McArdle's is a match for the chains in its contemporary, well thought-out look. The building is new, but has an earthy, oak floor, and the tables, booths, and trim are solid ash.

            On my first trip, our entire party had fish fries. Generally, I go for battered fish rather than breaded. But McArdle's breading is light, letting the fresh, moist haddock remain the point. Heaps of excellent fries and cool cole slaw filled the plates and us nicely ($8.95).

            We had an infant with us, which went very well. We had plenty of space, and the privacy afforded by the high booths is great for self-conscious parents. McArdle's also has good high chairs, and there are always several families there.

            Chef Jason Kunzer has presided since the beginning, having come from the Newport House. He and the Baumers insist on high-quality ingredients like Angus beef and sashimi-grade tuna, and almost everything is made from scratch. Jason, Michael, or Gretchen personally looks over ever item that comes out of the kitchen, and the attention shows.

            On a second visit, we tried the homemade soups. Bean and ham was seething with ham flavor and bean richness, but was undermined by a bit too much salt (cup, $2.50; bowl, $3.50). My companion felt the lobster bisque had too much going on, overwhelming the lobster's subtlety ($3.50/$4.50). Baumer says Kunzer makes it this way to have a bisque that stands out. You be the judge. Both soups had great, natural consistencies (or to be technical, no yucky gloppiness).

            After a nice salad, we moved on to a special called fried ravioli "pizziola" ($12.95). Large ravioli were lightly breaded, fried, and served with onions, olives, peppers, tomatoes, and chorizo. It was a dark, smoky-flavored dish with great textural variety. My companion found the idea of frying ravioli an abomination, but still ate his half. The ravioli were thick with filling, which balanced the crisp outside well. The sausage really lit it up, though there could have been more.

            We also split a reuben ($6.50), and it was a fine execution of the classic. The medium-thick, seeded rye was grilled perfectly, and the proportions and distribution of the corned beef, swiss, kraut, and Russian were dead on. Fries are an extra $1.25, which makes a reuben with fries a bit dear at $7.75. Other popular sandwiches include shaved prime rib ($8.25 with fries) and chicken and portobello mushroom ($6.50).

            Specialty desserts are made by local baker Kathy Pullano, a childhood friend of Michael's. The pies are made by the School of the Holy Child, and we tried a couple at least in part to support that good cause. But the peach and pecan pies were also very good, generous with real crust and tasty fillings ($2.75 or $3.75 a la mode).

            Its commercials say, "Come to McArdle's, where the difference is in the details," and there's something to that. Martusciello's bread improves everything; all tables have real pepper mills and bottles of McArdle's own barbecue sauce; and McArdle's Irish Ale is made exclusively for the restaurant by Custom BrewCrafters in Honeoye Falls. It's easy to understand McArdle's popularity. Generous, good, clean, friendly, and comfortable is a fine combination of adjectives.

            Often, it's worrisome when a local restaurant makes such an obviously large initial investment. Michael admits that even with the restaurant's popularity, business is tough. The Green Tavern just went under, a victim of chains and, perhaps, construction on 31F. McArdle's feels those same pressures. But with honesty and focus, the Baumers should keep folks coming back for years.

McArdle's, 1355 Fairport Road, 377-5520. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 to 11; Saturday, noon to 11; Sunday, noon to 9.

Food tip

Caving to years of pressure from fans, The Apple Tree Inn, on route 104 between Spencerport and Brockport, is now open for dinner Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Lunch continues to be served Tuesday through Sunday. Call 637-6440 for information. Culinary conundrum of the week: Virtually all cutting-edge and ethnic restaurants are east of the Genesee although about half the Rochester population lives on the west side. Why is that?

--- Michael Warren Thomas

Michael Warren Thomas can be heard on WYSL 1040. Tune in on Saturdays for gardening, restaurants and travel from 9 to noon, and on Sundays for antiques and wine from 10 to noon. Listen on the web at www.SavorLife.com.

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