Only during the holiday season could the neon light proclaiming "Eat 'Em Hot" on the front window of Sal's Lounge be missed. Nestled into quaint, residential Olmstead Avenue in Depew, Sal's blended in on a recent Wednesday night as inflated Santas and icicle lights went whizzing by.
" 'Em" means the wings, and Sal's certainly takes pride in its crack at Buffalo's specialty.
Sal's won "Best Wings" at the Taste of Lancaster in 2005. The trophy to prove it sits atop the scratch-off lottery machine -- the substitute for a mantel in Sal's.
While most wing-talk centers on Anchor Bar or Duff's, Sal's has a loyal following in these eastern suburbs and beyond. Mike Wehner Sr., father of owners Mike and Geoff, said it's not unusual for a cab from the airport or a car with out-of-state license plates to pull up. Expatriates now living in Massachusetts bring Tupperware to Sal's and load up, he said.
The wings were the draw for our party of four, eager to sample the much-heralded breading and medium, hot and barbecue flavors. It was a one-woman operation as Debbie poured drafts at the well-stocked bar and cooked food orders from Sal's modest menu (the Cajun fries aren't listed, but ask for them -- they're a necessary complement to any wing order). A quick look in Sal's postage-stamp sized but immaculate kitchen suggests anything but the basics would be too ambitious.
All the drink prices were more than reasonable, hovering around $2.25 or $2.50 for the old standbys such as Molson and Labatt up to $3.25 for what Debbie called "top of the line" brews such as Guinness -- definitely an indication of Sal's blue-collar leanings. One suggestion: Order drinks in a tall glass instead of a bottle, if you can; it's slightly larger by volume and a few cents cheaper.
The patron count was sparse, with only 10 to 15 at any given time during the night's Sabres game. But regulars say Sal's is standing room only on Friday nights and the weekend. Our only potentially negative observations included a lack of TV volume well into the first period, until a patron spoke up, and a scarcity of entertainment -- the pool table was supposedly carted away a few years ago to make room for more tables.
After a succession of owners since the bar became Sal's in 1976, the Wehner brothers became proprietors in August 2000. Changes are in the works; the menu is being revamped, and the interior is slowly being remodeled. "One wall at a time," said Wehner.
Sal's must be a good neighbor to have survived on a row of suburban family homes for so long. In fact, Sal's no-frills, genuine character and mature clientele may even endear it to the neighbors.
283 Olmstead Ave., Depew
Scene: Not too serious
Music: Bring quarters and find out from Sal's modest wall jukebox
Dress Code: Come as you are