Make over-the-top Salvatore's your first stop on a holiday excursion across the border to western New York
Published in Hamilton Spectator in December 2014
I'm all for peace, joy and goodwill this time of year, but am also fond of the holiday directive to eat, drink and be merry.
For almost 50 years those in search of yuletide excess have been making the annual December trek to Salvatore's Italian Gardens in Buffalo to indulge in classic fare such as osso bucco, puttanesca, lobster bisque, rack of lamb, and filet mignon - pairing these delectable dishes with one of the 550 vintages from an 18-page wine menu.
But Salvatore's award-winning food isn't the main feature that attracts patrons this time of year. It's the over-the-top Christmas décor, flamboyant as Liberace's boudoir, that's the main attraction.
A team of 20 spends two weeks decking every inch of the 300-seat restaurant and banquet centre with several truckloads of tinsel, sparkling lights, gold garlands and shiny red globes It's about as subtle as a Vegas showgirl, but you can't help admire the glamour.
Judging by the number of north-of-the border license plates in the packed parking lot, Canadians are drawn to the place like wise men to Bethlehem. Paula Salvatore, the matriarch of the clan, chooses a different holiday theme each season and this year it's based on the movie "Frozen."
Life-size animated mechanical figures of sisters Anna and Elsa, as well as the peasant Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, greet us in the grand lobby. The snowman Olaf is part of the scene too, basking under a bright umbrella next to a Christmas tree festooned with sand buckets.
Nutcrackers stand at attention throughout the restaurant, sparkly penguins are arranged in a grouping of silver trees, Santa hats hang from expansive chandeliers, and a bearded St. Nick seems to peek around every corner. Dozens of Christmas trees, heavy laden with whimsical oversize ornaments, blaze bright as paparazzi flashbulbs on the red carpet.