1/2 Due to its personal timeliness, I decided to kick off my impossible 1,049 words in three weeks task with Calvin Trillin’s “An Attempt to Compile the Short History of the Buffalo Wing.” It was insightful to get a 1980 perspective on a then relatively recent invention, kind of the equivalent of researching foodstuffs from ’91 today.
Hmm, how about pesto-sauced pizza with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes? I sure thought that was the ultimate edible at the time. I’m guessing the popularization of “gourmet” pizzas can be credited to Wolfgang Puck…in 1982. Ok, culinary trends took their time meandering up to the Northwest.
Oddly, around 1991 a college friend’s boyfriend came to visit from Rochester during the Super Bowl and insisted we eat buffalo wings to celebrate. I didn’t even know what they were (and had never watched a football game in my life). And he couldn’t find the ready-chopped drumettes in the grocery store. We made do with poultry parts of some sort. What I recall most is drinking so much that I had to call in sick to my movie theater job that evening. Wings didn’t wow me.
However, I’d forgotten that I’d already read this chicken wing essay a few years ago. And to compound my fears of age-onset dementia, if it weren’t for these two sentences I would’ve also forgotten just about everything about ever being at the Anchor Bar in 2000. Wings still didn’t wow me a decade later.
My first meal of 2008 proved more memorable but unfortunately brief. A snowstorm hit Toronto on January 1, which made the drive to Buffalo slow going. But being a fanatical planner, we made it to town just on schedule with an hour to wing it up before needing to head to the airport (the nice thing about small cities is that you can cut it close; returning and rental car, checking in and getting through security can all practically be done in 20 minutes). I was nervous that they wouldn’t be open on the pseudo-holiday because no one answered when I called. But as I was reminded upon entering, the phone number is a pay phone that seems to get answered on whim.
I never thought of Buffalo as much of a tourist destination but it seemed obvious that a majority of the diners were not locals. Everyone, including us, were getting the friendly “where are you from” interrogation from our waitress.
There was no time for small talk. Time was ticking away. I started sweating it when our Sam Adams (no Genesee for us) arrived and twenty minutes later we were still wingless.
I eat slower than a snail (ok, they move slowly—who knows how they eat) so I did my best to get as many wings down as possible when they eventually arrived. We must’ve eaten like maniacs because we surprised our waitress with one remaining wing when checked on to see if we needed a to go container. We ended up with an 8/12 split, I with the lesser number since my wing fanaticism isn’t as strong. I get bogged down by the acidic vinegariness of the neon orange sauce.
In fact, earlier this week I posited the unthinkable.
“What if we made different kinds of wings for Super Bowl?” (ducks)
“What?! Let me guess, some Asian style?”
James knows too well my desire to sneak fish sauce, shrimp paste or sambal into all items possible. And in fact my inaugural issue of Food & Wine, which I’d forgotten I’d subscribed to (see, the memory again) has a recipe Spicy Sriracha Chicken Wings courtesy of Michael Symon.
Hot isn’t that hot but suicidal, the next and last notch up, seemed too macabre. I’m not the wing-maker in my household so I can’t say what makes ours so kicky. A few extra shakes of cayenne, I imagine.
The thing that makes a superior wing is the crispiness of the skin. That’s kind of the point, right? The tiny pieces ensure a good skin to meat ratio and if the outside doesn’t contrast with the meaty interior then it’s a waste of calories. Anchor Bar has the texture down pat. These wings could stand to be left sauced on the plate for some time before giving in to sogginess.
One thing to note is the absence of carrots at Anchor Bar. It’s a celery-only joint, and I kind of like that despite normally being depressed by celery. You need a palate cleanser and something bland to benefit from the fattiness of the blue cheese dressing. Oh, the dressing should be thick and chunky, almost like spackle so that a celery stick could stand upright if stuck into the plastic container, if you felt like doing such a thing.
We finished just in time for Toronto’s southward-moving snow to descend on Buffalo. Flurries were swirling as we left the restaurant, though not enough to disrupt our take off time by much. And thankfully, we were fortified with enough Tabasco sauce and fried chicken to make it through the bumpy 50-minute journey back to the city. A few sick bags were employed on the short ride and not by me.
Anchor Bar * 1047 Main St., Buffalo, NY