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.

https://salsbirdland.com/

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

See ya later, Big Jim

I began working at Eastman Kodak’s giant Elmgrove manufacturing plant in Rochester, N.Y. in 1976 at the age of nineteen. One of the first jobs I had was in Bldg. 3 Stock Control (parts warehouse) assisting a big, burly guy named Jim Moon. Jim was a “line reader,” meaning he walked one of the many camera production lines in Bldg. 2 every day and re-ordered parts as needed. My job was to deliver the parts to the line.

Big Jim was different from the other guys in the warehouse. He had a Bible on his desk, which he read during lunch break. Above his desk were a few decorative print-outs praising Jesus. It was noticeable that Jim didn’t join in the ribald banter with the other warehouse guys. Uh-oh. Jim was one of those born-again Bible-bangers I’d heard about! I had better watch out! However, Jim and I eventually had several conversations about spiritual things. I specifically remember him enthusiastically talking about Bob Dylan and his alleged conversion to Gospel Christianity (see the related post here). I also remember discussing the Baptist Temple Building in downtown Rochester, the topic of a future post. Jim would slip God into a conversation every now and then. It wasn’t unnatural or forced. That’s just the way Big Jim rolled.

After several months, I moved on to another position at Kodak. In 1983, I actually became one of those “Bible-bangers” myself when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Jim’s witness wasn’t a “direct” influence on my conversion to Christ, but it was an influence.

I’ve thought about Jim every once in a while over the years and wondered what happened to him. A few weeks ago, I was reading the death notices in the local newspaper and noticed his obituary. Jim had retired from Kodak many years ago and moved down to Mt. Juliet, Tennessee (20 miles from Nashville) with his wife. He died at the age of 89, which means he was only around 45 when we worked together. I would have guessed he was much older at the time, but everybody is “old” when you’re 19-20. I remember Jim had sold his house and moved into an apartment in the late 70s to finance his son Jeffrey’s education at Oral Roberts University. Oral Roberts? Well, Jim and I definitely would not have worshiped at the same church, but we were brothers in Christ just the same.

I’m looking forward to seeing Jim in Heaven and thanking him for his witness.

The lesson: Christians, the unsaved are watching and listening. Give them something to think about. They may not react right away. We’re just to keep sowing the seed.

Heluva Good New England Clam Dip Recipe

It’s June 1st and while Summer is officially still a few weeks away, we’ve already had some summer-like temps here in Rochester. Up here in the Rust Belt, we’re cooped-up inside from November to April, so it’s great to be outside once again in shorts and a t-shirt. One of the pleasures of Summer is grilling and dining outside. Clam dip and chips is a real crowd pleaser when we have family or friends over for a patio dinner. The post below was first published on July 10, 2017 and continues as this blog’s second most-viewed post of all time with 8081 hits to date.

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An accoutrement staple of Summer backyard picnic dining is potato chips and dip. One of my family’s favorite chip dips used to be a New England clam dip manufactured by a local cheese company named “Heluva Good” of all things (see photo). For some reason, Heluva Good stopped making its clam dip in the early aughts (2000s). Some said it was in response to tightening FDA regulations.

Unable to purchase clam dip, my hankering grew and grew until I finally started searching online for a clam dip recipe that was similar to Heluva Good’s. I found the one below several years ago. It’s a pretty close facsimile and very easy to make. Any time we serve it to guests they always rave about it. I could eat a whole bowl of clam dip with wavy chips in a single sitting all by myself, but my arteries clog up at just the thought of it.

p.s. Heluva Good was headquartered in nearby Sodus N.Y. but was bought out by food conglomerate HP Hood in 2004 and like most things in New York, production was eventually moved out of state. It’s also interesting that the slang term, “one hell of a…” is used to connote something that’s either very good or very bad. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms says the phrase has its roots in the second half of the 1700s.


Heluva Good New England Clam Dip Recipe

  • 6.5 oz. can chopped clams
  • 6.5 oz. can minced clams
  • 8 oz. package Philadelphia brand cream cheese – allow to reach room temperature
  • ½ tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 and ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Red Hot or Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  1. Drain clams, reserving ¼ cup clam broth. Put drained clams aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese with hand-held electric mixer until smooth while adding clam broth, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, paprika, salt, and black pepper.
  3. Add clams and mix together with a spoon or spatula.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for three hours
  5. Sprinkle the top with some additional paprika before serving.

Serve with Lay’s Wavy Potato Chips. Enjoy!

Review: Pittsford Hots’ “Plate”

A couple of Thursdays ago, I was looking for something quick and easy for lunch and dinner prior to my work-weekend marathon, and it popped into my head that I’ve been meaning to try a “plate” from Pittsford Hots for several months. A plate? What’s that? A little background. Greater Rochester, New York doesn’t have much to brag about these days with the demise of Kodak, Xerox, and most other local manufacturing companies, resulting in a downward-spiraling economy, but we are the home of that culinary masterpiece, the Garbage Plate.

Above: Nick Tahou Hots, West Main Street, Rochester

The plate originated at Nick Tahou Hots, starting out as “hots and potats.” I experienced my first plate of “hots and potats” back in 1976, but the delicacy goes back farther than that. Late-night college-student customers subsequently kept asking for “the plate with all of the garbage on it,” so Nick recoined it as the “Garbage Plate” and even trademarked the name. A basic plate (i.e., my favorite version) is two hot dogs or two hamburgers or one of each (the combo) over macaroni salad and home fries and the whole thing smothered with Rochester-style meat hot sauce and raw onions. Other burger/hot dog joints picked up on the popular plate, but they must call their version something else besides a “Garbage Plate” because of Nick’s trademark. See my 2017 post about the plate here.

Anyway, our little village of Pittsford is about 8 miles from downtown Rochester. Main Street Pittsford is lined with quaint, picturesque brick buildings from the 19th-century, but the street-parking is almost non-existent (although there is parking in the rear), so the trendy boutique shops come and go like a revolving door. Former MCC women’s basketball coach, Tim Parrinello, and his wife took a shot and opened Pittsford Hots at 5 South Main Street last December. I’ve been meaning to try their version of the plate and finally got around to it on April 21. So without any further ado, let’s review Pittsford Hots’ version of the famous Rochester Garbage Plate.

Pittsford Hots’ Cheeseburger and Hot Dog Combo “Plate,” $11.99

5 Stars

I ordered a standard plate with a white hot and a cheeseburger over mac salad and home fries, all topped with Rochester-style meat hot sauce and raw onions (photo below). The hot dog and burger were good. I checked and, yes, Pittsford Hots uses Rochester’s very own Zweigles’ hots, the best dogs in the nation (see here). The mac salad was a little different with a touch of mustard added to the mix. Unorthodox, but still very tasty, and moist. The mac salad is key for me and some establishments’ mac salad is dried out from fridge burn. The home fries were okay, but I would have opted that they had been fried a bit longer for a crispier exterior. Not a deal breaker. The meat hot sauce anchors every plate and Pittsford Hots’ version is the standard meat sauce that Rochesterians love.* Not greasy and not too much heat. My one small gripe is the meat hot sauce portion size was a little skimpy. So, overall, this was a very good plate. Nicely done. No bad surprises or disappointments. Five stars. Recommended.

It will be interesting to see if Pittsford Hots can survive at a location with less-than-optimal parking.

*While Nick Tahou Hots may be the originator of the Garbage Plate, its meat hot sauce pales in comparison to the Rochester-style meat hot sauces of most of its competitors. Nick’s hot sauce is greasy and bland. The first is not always the best.

Above: Pittsford Hots’ combo plate: A cheeseburger and a Zweigle’s white hot dog over home fries and macaroni salad and topped with Rochester-style meat hot sauce and raw onions
Above: South Main Street, Pittsford, NY. Pittsford Hots is located in the second building (yellow) from the right

Pittsford Hots Website:
https://pittsfordhots.com/