Review: Sal’s Birdland Chicken Dinner

Like many people, I gained “a few” pounds over the course of the pandemic. My new job that I began in January 2021 was/is also a big strain, physically, and I regularly turned to “comfort food” to get me through the work weekend. Ice cream every night! Enough finally became ENOUGH in mid-May when I tipped the scale at my all-time-highest weight. It was time to pull out the “big guns” and once again go on my 100% fail-safe Sal’s Birdland Diet!

Well, I reached the half-way point of my weight-loss goal a couple of weeks ago, so I rewarded myself by driving the eleven miles to Sal’s Birdland at 400 Air Park Drive off of Scottsville Road across from the Rochester airport. Salvatore “Sal” Nalbone (1939-2021) opened the original Sal’s Birdland in 1974, a few blocks south of the current site.* I feasted on my first Sal’s half-chicken dinner in 1977 and have been a fan for 45 years.

While I’ve mentioned my Sal’s Birdland Diet several times over the course of the seven years that I’ve been blogging, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually reviewed Sal’s delicious half-chicken dinner. Time to rectify that oversight.

Sal’s Birdland Half-Chicken Dinner

5 Stars

Sal’s has a number of entrées on the menu (check the website below), but the half-chicken dinner is the go-to, flagship entrée.

Sal’s coats a small half-chicken in a light, seasoned batter and deep fries it until it’s golden crispy on the outside. The searing deep-fry locks in the meat’s tenderness. The bird is served on two slices of white bread and coated with Sal’s signature “sassy” sauce. My mouth is watering as I type this. Sal’s sauce is a mustard-based, sweet and hot sauce. There are several similar competing versions that are popular here in the Rochester area, including Snuffy’s** (aka Smitty’s), Boss Sauce, and Country Sweet. I always ask for the mild Sal’s sassy sauce. Sure, I like spicy food, but the hot sassy sauce is inedible. Sides? It’s your choice of potato wedges, macaroni salad, baked beans, collard greens, or mac & cheese. I always choose the mac salad and collard greens. Both are delicious, although the greens are a bit on the salty side. Sal’s vinegary blue cheese dipping sauce is a nice complement, although not mandatory.

The half-chicken dinner isn’t cheap at $14.70, but it’s well worth it.

There’s no better meal in this world than a Sal’s Birdland Half-Chicken Dinner. What about a $70 surf-and-turf, lobster tail and filet mignon dinner at a swanky restaurant? Keep it. Give me Sal’s.

Above: A Sal’s Birdland half-chicken coated with sassy sauce, and served with macaroni salad and collard greens on the side. Delish!
Above: Sal’s Birdland exterior, 400 Airpark Dr. (off Scottsville Rd), Rochester NY
Above: Sal’s Birdland’s unpretentious interior

Sal’s Birdland has a second location at 309 East Ridge Rd., Rochester, N.Y.

Yup, I’ll be going back to Sal’s again for another celebratory half-chicken dinner when I hit my final weight-loss goal in about 12-weeks. That’s the “can’t-fail” secret of the Sal’s Birdland Diet.

*Sal’s Birdland’s first location was in a round, glass-paned, 1960s-style building in front of the Olympic Park Roller Skating Center at 1300 Scottsville Rd. The building, which no longer exists, was originally home to a burgers and fries joint that I can’t recall the name of. After enjoying skating parties with my grammar school classmates at Olympic in the late 1960s, we would enjoy a cold Coke at the burgers and fries joint as we waited for our parents to pick us up.

**There’s zero doubt that Sal Nalbone patterned his Sal’s Birdland after Smitty’s/Snuffy’s Birdland. Former professional boxer, Harry “Snuffy” Smith, hung up his boxing gloves in the mid-1950s and shortly thereafter opened his first restaurant, Smitty’s Birdland, on Ormond Street in the city. Smith concocted a ketchup and mustard-based, sweet-hot sauce for his fried chicken that became legendary throughout Rochester. The restaurant relocated to several sites over the years, but eventually ended up at 575 Brooks Avenue in 1997, where it was renamed Snuffy’s Birdland. Smith closed the joint in 2002, retired down to Phoenix, and died in 2008 at the age of 86. Snuffy’s ketchup and mustard-based “Original Gourmet B.B.Q Sauce” is still being produced and bottles are available at several Rochester groceries, right next to bottles of Sal’s Sassy Sauce (a future post). While Rochester is known throughout the world for its Garbage Plate served at Nick Tahou’s (see here), its other contribution to international haute cuisine is the fried half-chicken coated in sweet-hot sauce dinner introduced by Harry Smith and perpetuated by Sal Nalbone at their respective “Birdlands.” Although it’s probably never been put into print before, it can rightly be said that Nalbone brought Smith’s inner-city “soul food” to the Rochester suburbs.

Whatever happened to Snuffy’s Birdland? – Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Nov. 15, 2021

16 thoughts on “Review: Sal’s Birdland Chicken Dinner

  1. Sound great, Tom. Great review. I hope the operators of Sal’s see this review as it not only covers a wonderful meal but the history behind what made them the business they are today. By the way, I have never had issues with my weight until a few years ago. I see that you have posts on your weight loss experiences. I will definitely keep them in mind!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Chris! It was fun writing this review of my favorite dinner.

      RE: weight loss
      From what my doctor tells me along with other information I’ve seen, many people put on weight during the pandemic. I have used the “Sal’s Birdland Diet” successfully in the past, losing 30 lbs. both times with much self-congratulatory back-slapping and blog ballyhooing on my part, only to gain it back again. I need to keep it off after this, the third time.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I hope you are successful keeping it off, Tom. I could easily lose 20 and maybe even 30 pounds, so maybe it’s time to read a few of your blog posts.
        I tried to blame my doctor for my weight gain because it seemed to coincide with her putting me on something for cholesterol. She would have nothing of it (I don’t blame her) and said that I need to push myself away from the table. My meals are very healthy but I snack too much.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I reached 30 lbs. overweight, again. Yup, I like my snacks, also, and need to control that going forward. My encouragement in starting your plan. The hardest thing for me is starting. My wife gained 30 lbs. over the pandemic as well and my “campaign” is motivating her to lose weight.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good review! Love the photos. Yummy! So hungry right now but I best go to sleep! This looks like a place I would love to go order food from! I know you talked about Sal’s chicken though I’m surprised this is your first actual review of it! Good stuff. Also amazing your knowledge of local history and owner history

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, brother! I was definitely jonesing for another Sal’s chicken dinner while writing this post.
      RE: local history
      Thanks! Give a history nerd a laptop and Google and there will be more details than necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

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