I cannot turn down an opportunity to sleuth the origin of a famous food.
Such sleuthing has taken me to foreign lands – Bakewell Tart in the U.K.’s Peak District, puddin’ ‘n’ souse on the windy side of Barbados and the Waldorf Salad at Manhattan’s hotel by the same name being three examples. On home turf, I’ve cruised the highways and byways in my search for the best butter tart. And, most recently, I shuffled off to Buffalo for chicken wings at the Anchor Bar where this hugely popular bar snack, says the lore, originated.
First, a bit of history. The Anchor Bar wings were born, as with many culinary coups (Caesar Salad leaps to mind) when a cook was forced to improvise.
It was a regular Friday night in 1964 when the son of owners Frank and Teressa Bellissimo arrived late at the busy downtown pub with a group of friends. In fact, it was after hours when the hungry lads requested food. Necessity being the mother of invention, mama Teressa grabbed some chicken wings usually used for stock, deep-fried them and then doused them in hot sauce. Voila, the birth of the Anchor Wings and a dish that now graces the menu of many a bar and restaurant around the world.
This certainly is a big, impressive spot with a huge parking lot emblazoned with signage touting the fame of its popular poultry part. Arriving here after a smooth crossing into the U.S. via the Peace Bridge, Ross and I tried to take in the Anchor Bar’s lively, kitsch and cluttered wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling decor. Motor bikes have been hoisted on to several walls (a current co-owner with the Bellissimo family is a fan), there are statues of Theressa bearing wings, license plates from near and far-flung places and signed photos of celebrities who’ve been here including Frank Sinatra and the Everly Brothers.
On a holiday Monday, the place was close to full. A large dining room was packed with families. The large, polished wooden bar would have been a great place to sit if not for the lack of space to put your legs.
Naturally, the menu features wings – in varying portion sizes and degrees of heat. We chose medium and they soon arrived with their flavourless blue-cheese dip. They were hot and crunchy but here’s the disappointing thing: They had one-dimensional taste. I was hoping for a slight acidic tang and less salt. My memory harked back to the amazing wings I used to eat at Crooks on Front St. East in Toronto during the 1980s when I was food editor at the Toronto Sun. No comparison.
Oh well, I’ve done my sleuthing, saw Niagara Falls for the first time from the peace and quiet of my car and savoured a delicious frozen custard cone at a nearby fast food joint as the perfect post-wing antidote.
Of course, my chicken wing sleuthing doesn’t stop here. I’ll be eating them around Toronto for weeks to come and will report back.