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For years, the Sportsmen’s Tavern has been reaping praise as one of the best live music venues in Buffalo. This year, music lovers started talking about the food at the Sportsmen’s (326 Amherst St.), because it’s rare to find a place that does two things so well.

Turns out the chef, Greg Smith, has been turning up the volume on the house-cooked specialties there. “We don’t use frozen,” he said. “When you order chicken fingers, I pound them out, bread them in panko crumbs and fry them up. We make them on the spot when you order them.”

Even the cream of tomato soup is made in-house, starting with fresh Roma tomatoes, not canned. He will put his chicken souvlaki salad up against any in town, starting with the lettuce and tomato, which he doesn’t cut until customers order it. “My menu is the traditional things people eat in a bar, but if I can, I make it fresh,” Smith said.

The problem for casual diners is that the kitchen’s only open when there’s music playing. That’s noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and after 6 p.m. most days.

Before the Sportsmen’s menu really caught on, Smith had lots of slack time in the kitchen during shows. “There was a lot of slow nights, standing around not doing too much,” Smith said, “so I just kind of figured I’d come up with something.”

His experiments included a dry spice-rubbed chicken wing that was fried, grilled and then tossed in sauce. “I took two ideas and came up with my own thing,” Smith said. “They’re pretty successful. People like them.”

He calls them Greg Wings, naturally, and now they’re among the Sportsmen’s most popular wing choices. They cost $9.19 for 10, and come with carrots, celery and a blue cheese sauce that he makes, too.

“I fry them for the first five minutes of cooking time, then they’re grilled for the other 80 percent of the way,” Smith said. He was cagey about his spice blend but allowed that paprika, Cajun spice blend and ground mustard were involved.

“Just a dry rub and a little bit of hot sauce,” he said. “Gives it that nice little kick.”

For more information, visit www.sportsmenstavern.com or call 874-7734.

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com