WHEATFIELD -- The three things I like best about Salisa's All American Diner?
1. It's cheap.
2. It's largely homemade.
3. It's virtually within walking distance of my house.
The reasons those are important?
1. I'm cheap, so it's a good match.
2. The cheaper and better the food is, the more you can eat.
3. If you live anywhere around me, you can wear off some of those extra calories by walking home. If not, you're on your own . . . but at least you got to eat lots of good, cheap food.
Located in a nondescript, shacklike building across from the former Bell Aerospace on Niagara Falls Boulevard, for years the place was an underused little diner, most recently known as Betty's Place.
It apparently didn't make much of an impression, either aesthetically or gastronomically. Most folks just drove right on by, it seemed.
Lately, upon driving by, I'd noticed the place was attracting a much more substantial following. We're talking full parking lots in many instances, at varying times of day. I stopped in and found out firsthand the reasons why, the most cogent of which are conveniently presented above.
I've stopped back since to confirm my initial findings, like any good clinician should. My conclusion: The place is good.
The three things I like best at Salisa's?
1. Best homemade soups in town.
2. Not afraid to be creative (not to be redundant, but see the stuffed sweet pepper soup).
3. Did I mention the price list?
Let's start with the stuffed sweet pepper soup. Excellent. Like a pureed stuffed green pepper. In fact, I wonder if that's not how they make it. Regardless, I've never seen anything quite like it on any other menu in this area, and that's too bad because it was an inspired idea.
At $2.10 for a cup and $2.50 for a bowl, it can make a lunch on its own, or it makes a great accompaniment to any kind of sandwich. Tasty and filling.
I tried the pasta fagiole (their spelling) on my most recent trip, and it was equally good -- not too thick, chock full of beans and pasta, and excellent when topped with a dash or two of grated Parmesan.
We've sampled several of the sandwiches and dinners. A few of our favorites: the fried bologna and onions on a kaiser ($3.85), the liver and onions ($7.50), the Polish sausage on a roll ($4.65), the roast beef dinner ($7.50).
First, the sandwiches. The Polish sausage consisted of mild, juicy sliced links, grilled to a crisp and piled atop a toasted, buttered roll that created a melt-in-your-mouth experience. A little kraut on the side would have achieved absolute perfection, but even without, it still rated a 9.0 on my "Good Stuff" meter.
Teresa, my wife, ordered the fried bologna on our first visit and was equally impressed at the veritable bulk of the meat. The kaiser handled it all well, and the sauteed onions gave it all a nice edge. Terrific.
The roast beef dinner came with fresh mashed potatoes, some of the tastiest dark brown dressing this side of Ma's Thanksgiving table, some thinly sliced beef and your choice of veggie. The potatoes and gravy went together like Rogers and Astaire: smooth all the way. Tastefully done. The beef was tender and good.
The liver and onions I had on my most recent visit was very good. Thinly sliced strips made the liver very tender; the flavor wasn't too strong. Best part: very few stringy spots. The onions, again, were well done and complimented the dish. Even the carrots were great. Sweet and buttery, they maintained a bit of firmness while still being easy to chew.
The folks behind the counter are friendly and appear to personally know many of the patrons who come through the doors. This is a homey kind of place where you're sure to feel comfortable.
The decor isn't much to look at -- a tribute to the past, it appears, with lots of nods to the Bell plant and the air base across the street.
It isn't a very big place, either, so try to get there early before the lot fills up. As such, handicapped accessibility might be a bit of an issue, as well.
Haven't sampled their breakfasts, yet, but they have all the usual offerings. With daily specials and homemade desserts waiting to top things off, you're certain to find something to your liking.
Salisa's All American Diner
2214 Niagara Falls Blvd., Wheatfield, (731-5616)
3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
Favorite dish: Stuffed sweet pepper soup
Needs work: Roast beef sandwich
Healthy choice: Chicken salad with fruit cocktail
Price range: Inexpensive; nothing over $10Service: Very good, friendly
Noise level: Low
Wheelchair access: Yes, but tight
Parking: Connecting lot, ample
Kid appeal: Casual, limited choices
Hours: Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days, except for Fridays (8 p.m.), Saturdays and Mondays (2 p.m.)