I must have passed by Sal’s Pizza & Sports Pub in Lyndon 100 times without ever being motivated to stop in. This was a mistake. In retrospect, I really miss all the good meals that I might have enjoyed there.
Don’t be like me. Go, soon. You’ll like it.
Here’s why: If the iconic ‘80s sitcom “Cheers” had been set in a sports bar, the chances are it would look a lot like Sal’s. Comfortable and sparkling clean, it’s a place where everyone is welcome, even if nobody knows your name… yet. Wall-to-wall screens offer a variety of sports channels, and you can sit back in sturdy chairs or comfortable leather-look booths to enjoy them.
But we came for the food, and that was a pleasant surprise. It’s bar fare, sure, with plenty of salty, crunchy, cheesy snacks for noshing during a game. Sal’s middle name is Pizza, of course, and the thin-crusted, cheesy pies, if not the artisanal style that makes pizza snobs swoon, are well-made.
But wait! There’s more!
Sal’s middle name is not Fish, but perhaps it should be. Hidden near the bottom of the last column on Sal’s glossy menu is a delicious surprise: beautiful, fried Icelandic cod that’s as good as any in this fried fish-loving town.
The menu begins with appetizers. They’re generously portioned and fairly priced from $7.99 (for fried jalapeño cheese balls or fried mozzarella cheese sticks) to $9.99 (for cheesy breadsticks). Regular or boneless wings are $8.99 for an order of 10.
Pizzas come in three sizes: a 10-inch model that serves one or two, a 13-inch pie that serves three or four and a 17-incher that could make a meal for four or five. They range from $9.99 for a small cheese pie to $25.99 for a meat deluxe, BBQ chicken or hot brown pizza. Calzones are $8.99. “They’re shaped like a football,” a friendly server explained to folks at a neighboring table. She demonstrated by making football shapes with her hands, creating the impression that they are also the size of a football.
Panini, subs, a burger and hot sandwiches on big hoagie rolls are $7.99 to $9.99, and a short list of Italian-style entrées (with breadsticks on the side) are $8.99 (for spaghetti marinara) and $9.99 (for spaghetti and meatballs or chicken parmigiana).
And there at the end, isolated in a brown-bordered box, lurks the fish, including a fried fish sandwich ($8.99), fried fish platter ($14.99) and a pair of fish tacos ($9.99).
A starter order of fried jalapeño cheese balls ($7.99) offered the first hint that this is more than just the same, old bar food. At least two dozen sizzling, bite-size orbs came out in an oval bowl lined with green-and-white checked wax paper. They were fried crisp and grease free, and each bore a molten payload of spicy, but not painful, jalapeño-studded white cheese. A tub of gently sinus-clearing, creamy horseradish sauce made a fine complement.
A 10-inch margherita pizza ($13.99) reminded me of a New York City or New Jersey neighborhood pizzeria pie; not the iconic, giant, foldable slice of street-corner pizzerias, but the thin, crisp-crust style that comes on a plate. The crust was almost crackery, and the tangy-sweet tomato sauce was applied with proper discretion, a coating rather than a flood. And, then, there was the cheese. If you like stringy, stretchy mozzarella on your pizza — not the fancy fresh stuff but grocery-store style — Sal’s is your place. They pile it on, in a good way.
Then, the fish platter ($14.99) came out, and we gasped, and the server laughed. “I told you it was a big serving,” she said.
And so it was. One of the most remarkable fried fish dishes I’ve ever enjoyed, it was a contender for best in town on the basis of size alone — three fat fillets of excellent-quality, hand-sliced cod. These were not prepackaged, frozen fillets, but slabs cut off and prepared fresh to order in the kitchen. The cod was properly fried dark golden-brown in thick, crisp bound breading. It was firm, fresh and delicious, coming apart in large flakes as we ate it. I’m trying to recall whether I’ve ever had better fried fish in Louisville, and I’m coming up empty.
It was served with thick slices of quality, unseeded dark rye (white bread is also an option), well-prepared if ho-hum crinkle fries and exceptionally tasty hush puppies that were improved by fresh corn niblets joining the hot cornmeal within. The dill-scented, creamy tartar sauce was fine, too, although this excellent fish needed little accompaniment.
A hearty lunch for two, with a diet cola ($1.90) and water, came to $41.20, plus a $10 tip.