Elmo's, Another Bar With Wings, Little Known in a Plaza

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Elmo's Bar & Restaurant
2349 Millersport Hwy., Getzville, NY 14068
Web: elmosonline.com
Phone: 716.688.7237

"The other half were double-dipped 'cajun/hot,' an Elmo's specialty that sees the wings covered in a mesquite rub-like coating as well as traditional Buffalo-style hot wing sauce."

As anonymous as the plaza on Millersport Highway in Getzville may seem to those in neighboring areas, it sure packs a lot of restaurants into a single parking lot: in addition to Elmo's, the place we came to visit, there's a Subway, a coffee shop, and separate Mexican, Chinese, and pizza restaurants. In fact, thanks to its proximity to both schools and offices, this single plaza has the sort of enviable culinary variety we saw in California strip malls but almost never find in Western New York. So given all of these options, why would we stop at Elmo's? According to a great local web site - Bill Rapaport's Buffalo Restaurant Guide - the culinary draw here is the chicken wings, though we got the sense that the dimly lit place's conspicuous bar and TVs with sporting events accounted for as much of its longevity as anything else. Our server seemed to confirm as much when we asked what from the short menu of soups, salads, wraps, and sandwiches was worth trying before ordering our meal; wings and beer were the only items she listed. So we went with the wings, and though our group of four tried some other items as well, we all left basically scratching our heads. What was so special about these things? Are the elements of a great chicken wing seriously that difficult to agree upon?

Unusually, Elmo's menu lists its wings by the pound rather than by a guaranteed number, but they arrived exactly as we expected: the "approx. 2 1/2 lb" double plate ($14.25) had exactly 20 wings on it, divided into two piles of 10. We ordered half hot, the other half double-dipped "cajun/hot," an Elmo's specialty that sees the wings covered in a mesquite rub-like coating as well as traditional Buffalo-style hot wing sauce. At some places, a single dip is enough to leave the wings wet, so surely a double dip should be dripping with sauce, right?

Not here. Both types of wings came out dry and crispy, the cajun/hot ones with some evidence of grilled charring, and the standard hot ones obviously entirely fried, with only small traces of moist wing sauce left on their bodies. Rather than arriving huge and plump, the wings were medium-sized by comparison with others we've tried, and varied in crispiness mostly based on how much meat they had on their bones.

While the members of our group all agreed that the cajun/hot wings were nice enough, none of us would have rushed back for them; the Buffalo-style hot ones were even less special, with little depth of flavor and way too little sauce. Both were more noteworthy for the discussion they inspired at our table regarding the relative merits of different wings: what really distinguishes certain wings from others, makes some special, and others common? It's a topic we've discussed at length before, but in short, our belief is that a truly great Buffalo wing sauce has both spice and a richness of flavor and body, comes in a quantity that doesn't leave the wings dry on arrival, and accompanies wings that are large, bursting with meat, and deep-fried to a level that's crispy but not too crispy. By comparison, Elmo's wings were only OK on size and meatiness, underwhelming on sauce, and most noteworthy on frying. Even by crispy wing standards, we've had better in the past three months; we wouldn't consider putting this place even near the same category as Duff's.

Other items we tried varied a bit in quality; some were better than others. A cup of Chicken Noodle Soup ($2.50) was described by its recipient as very good, loaded with noodle and vegetable chunks, but derided by his wife as "too salty." "That's why it's good," he replied. His entree, a Veggie Wrap ($6.50), was generously sized and delivered with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pepper, onion and olives inside, plus a pickle outside, but - as requested - no ranch dressing. It was probably the freshest single item at the table, and tasty, though the vegetables tended to fall out too easily because they'd been cut into chunks rather than thin slices. Rather than french fries, which are normally served on the plate, a mix of carrot and celery sticks were requested; like the celery sticks on the plate of wings, the ones here were notably soggy, like they'd been left sitting in water for a while.

An $8 Roast Beef on Weck sandwich was one of the most overpriced we've ever had in the area, seemingly basing its price more on its generous complement of bland, overcooked french fries than its miserly portion of mediocre beef. While the kummelweck bun was just as it should have been, fresh and topped with the right mix of coarse salt and caraway seeds, the meat was dry, and had the slightly sour taste of a roast that had been out for too long. One of us called it the worst Beef on Weck she'd ever had, and though our table's connoisseur wouldn't go quite that far, he'd never order it again, either.

Finally, there was a Greek Salad ($9.25), served with a choice of steak or chicken - we went with the steak. While the bowl arrived at the right size, with the expected lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, Feta cheese, and sliced pita, the thin, dry slices of "steak" were even worse than the meat in the Roast Beef sandwich - cut and crisped to a bacon-like texture, with too little flavor - and actually detracted from the salad by making bites unpleasant rather than rewarding.

Putting differences in personal taste aside, we've eaten enough wings inside and outside of Western New York to be able to say with some certainty what makes some really special, others common, and still others bad. Though the double-dipped cajun/hot version was more interesting than the standard hot, we'd put Elmo's wings strictly in the "common" category - there are dozens of places that serve wings the same size, the same way, with similarly fine but nothing special sauce. Critically, however, there are any number of places we'd visit first for wings, or for any of the other items we had here. With little ambience and only so-so food, this strikes us as the very definition of a two-star place: it's okay, not better, not worse.

Elmo's on Urbanspoon

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This Buffalo Chow entry was posted on April 12, 2009.

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