Fifty Years From Buffalo


As the legend goes, one late night in Buffalo, New York fifty years ago this year, Teressa Bellissimo was working hard in the establishment she owned with her husband Frank, still known today as Anchor Bar, when her son and a few of his college buddies came in. Teressa was tasked with feeding the hungry fellows, and instead of using up the supplies she had for food off of the regular menu, she grabbed the leftover wings of the chickens she was using which, normally, were reserved for making stock or simply thrown out.

Tonight though, Teressa was blessed with inspiration, and she fried and sauced them up for the hungry young men who were more than satisfied by her creation, and soon other patrons started asking about the snack she had just created too. The rest, as they say, is history.

From Anchor Bar, the dish spread quickly. Every bar and restaurant in the Upstate New York area started creating their own take on the wing.

Some would bake the wings, others would fry them. Some used Frank’s RedHot as a base for their sauce–the traditional approach–while others would use barbecue sauce, soy sauce or even a dry rub, and whatever the style of preparation, people were downing wings like never before.

Perhaps the biggest spread in popularity for the chicken wing started in 1982 with the creation of the first Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Kent, Ohio. The chain has grown so big that there are now almost 1,000 locations in the United States and Canada.

The wing culture in Upstate New York is still strong, despite the proliferation of wings to other areas of the country, and every bar, it seems, possesses the superior wings to all other establishments, with fierce wing competitions to boot.

Customers treat their favored wings like a badge of honor, proudly declaring where their loyalties lie (and let’s be honest here, Merchant’s Bar in Rochester has the best wings).

It wasn’t long before the style started spreading to other foods. “Buffalo Style” started getting applied to everything from chicken breasts and nuggets to potato chips and shrimp. Even the concept of the wing changed. In came the rise of the “Boneless Wing,” basically a chicken nugget or chicken finger that has been coated in sauce, and while the purists are still out there, many have fallen into favor with these abominations of chicken.

Boneless vs Bone-In has proved to be a fairly divisive argument, with huge amounts of support for both sides, and an eternal war for #TeamBoneless and #TeamBone raging on social media sites.

Now synonymous with football games and pizza, it’s strange to think that just fifty years ago, the chicken wing was looked at as waste. Now stores will carry bags of just wings, exclusively to use in appetizers. Even the word “Buffalo” has evolved to take on multiple meanings. In conversations with people from outside New York, it isn’t rare to find a person who mistakenly thinks that “Buffalo” is actually derived from the animal somehow and not the city.

So what goes into making the perfect wing, according to this humble writer? First off, the wing must be fried, and not baked, grilled, roasted, broiled or any other preparation method. The wings are then tossed into a simple sauce composed of melted butter and Frank’s. That’s it! The wings should be nice and saucy, but not be drenched to the point where you need to wipe down after having just one. The spice level should also be where they are hot and will cause me to sweat, but not hot enough where I cannot stand having more than one between breaks, and there you have it.

Bob Fekete

Bob Fekete

Bob Fekete

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