Build a better chicken wing, and the world will beat a path to your door. Or it would, if there was any justice.
The door I’m thinking of is 4247 N. Buffalo Road, which belongs to OP Social Tap & Grille, a place in Orchard Park that was David’s Grille until last year. The reboot is less fancy, aiming at sports-bar-with-surprisingly-good-food.
Surprised by the Social wings ($14), I have to say: mission accomplished. These beguilingly spiced chicken digits are oven-roasted to a crisp, not fried, then perched in a cloud of enough peppery arugula to make the whole operation feel almost healthy. There’s chunks of marinated feta in place of blue cheese, and a piquant vinaigrette that moistens wings as it dresses greens. Behold the chicken wing salad.
The builder is Mike Morgan, the OP Social chef, who came to the gig after building a steady following with his wife Becky at Williamsville’s Applewood Café, where a char-grilled version ($10) is available.
In Orchard Park, OP Social owners David Hart and Peter Krog have given locals a sharp new place to gather, especially if the game is on the Jumbotron Jr.-sized multiplex of screens installed over the new semicircular bar.
Taking its role as game-day host seriously, regular old deep-fried Buffalo wings are on the menu ($14) along with hot pepper dip ($12) and a chicken quesadilla in a bubbly brown flour tortilla that lights a fuse with its stuffing of habanero cheese ($12).
Crab cakes ($13) were another impressive appetizer, patties of backfin crabmeat held together with barely any assistance and pan-fried to a crackling bronze crumb coat. Two cakes arrived in sweet-spicy Thai mayonnaise, topped with dressed field greens.
Tomatoes are my can’t-stop-won’t-stop item of the moment, assuaged momentarily by an heirloom tomato salad featuring big rip slabs interspersed with fresh mozzarella, cucumber, red onion rings ($11). Pesto and its running buddy balsamic reduction circled the plate but never quite seemed to land, more accent than ingredient.
A terrine of roasted vegetables and goat cheese ($13) packed a pretty, fresh assortment of vegetables (roasted red peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, Portobello mushrooms, eggplant, asparagus), but their delicate flavor was spackled over by too much goat cheese.
Shrimp tacos ($12) were a trio of flour tortillas with plenty of seared pinky-sized shrimp and fresh-cut salsa. Its delicacy was overwhelmed by quarter-inch slices of fresh jalapeno. A sausage pizza ($16) with roasted peppers, caramelized onion and dried chile with an add-on of spinach was a solid brick-oven effort with tasty toppings, albeit floppy in the middle and a noticeably chewy crust.
Standout entrees were fried chicken on a hash of apple, sweet potato, dried cherry and bacon ($19), and beef brisket with carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy ($21). Boneless moist breast in a crackly crust was augmented with maple syrup sauce that made forkfuls of chicken and vegetables akin to a healthier chicken-and-waffles. The beef was fork-tender and demolished my pot roast craving. I wished it was warmer.
Service started on a high note with a server memorizing our long, complicated order, then emitted a record-scratch noise when she forgot an item. The omitted dish, a turkey-chicken burger ($13) with duck bacon and Gruyere cheese, was rushed to our side, where it was dispatched swiftly. The all-poultry patty’s savory moistness makes it a good option for fat-avoiders, if they ask for it bare.
Desserts ($8) included a rich little peanut butter and chocolate cake, which came off as overly sweet and slightly dry. Creme brulee’s custard was fine, but incomplete torching of sugar crystals left the surface lumpy instead of turning it into the ideal glassy crust of caramel magma.
When we were done and filled out the bill, we waited 15 minutes for it to be collected, then got up to hand it to the hostess.
The revamped OP Social has made a strong bid as Orchard Park’s new upscale casual meeting spot. Its high-ceilinged room made conversation easy, though who knows if that would hold if the Bills make customers want to shout. Until then, it’s those Social wings that are making the most noise.
OP Social Tap & Grille - 7 plates (out of 10)
Crab cakes, innovative wing salad, highlight upscale sports bar menu.
WHERE: 4247 N. Buffalo Road, Orchard Park (662-4247)
HOURS: 4 to 10 p.m. daily.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $6-$18; pizzas, $14-$18; sandwiches, $12-$13; entrees, $16-$37.
PARKING: Street, lot behind building.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.