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The Birth of Buffalo Wings

The year is 1964. Wings are an unloved part of the chicken. Butchers sell them for pennies. Restaurants use them, if it all, in soup. One morning a distributor mistakenly delivers a crate of wings to the Anchor Bar, a restaurant in downtown Buffalo owned by Italian immigrants Frank and Teressa Bellissimo. Teressa wants to send the crate back. Frank doesn’t want to disturb the distributor. A fight ensues. What is she going to do with all those wings? Later that night, unable to sleep, Teressa gets up, goes to her kitchen, and begins experimenting. By dawn, the Buffalo wing was born.

Fun Facts:

  • A traditional Buffalo wing is an unbreaded chicken wing, cut in half (with the tip discarded), deep-fried and coated in a mixture of cayenne-pepper sauce and butter
  • There was pepper sauce in Belissimo’s kitchen because she was from Sicily and Sicilian cuisine is spicy
  • Wings were originally given out free at the Anchor Bar, along with peanuts and pretzels. The practice was ended because customers liked wings so much they stopped ordering regular meals
  • Celery and blue cheese were added as a side when wings were later put on the menu
  • 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Buffalo wing (the exact date is believed to be March 4, 1964)
  • WING HUNT contains the only known footage of an eye-witness account of that fateful night
  • The reigning “World’s Best Wing”, as chosen by the Wing Hunters, was largely unknown to wing buffs, and did not, at the time of discovery, appear on the menu of the restaurant where it was invented. Instead, It was in regular rotation on a lunch buffet.

Highlights From The Hunt

During their 16-day journey through America’s Wing Belt, the Wing Hunters made 72 stops. These were the highlights. (Winner not labeled to avoid spoiling the film’s ending.)

#1 - 2 #3 - 6 #7 #8 #9 #10 #11-13 #14-16

#1 Atomic Wings

Everything a chain should be - consistently good to great across an array of heat levels, including three ultra-hots (abusive, nuclear and suicidal). The owner claims (and from what we can tell it’s true) to have introduced Buffalo wings to NYC in the 1980s, having done an apprenticeship while in college at the legendary Duff’s Wings in Buffalo.

#2 Mudville 9

A well-appointed but otherwise not particularly memorable NYC sports bar - except for their top-notch wings, distinguished by an ultra-hot Buffalo sauce made with fresh ingredients. Bonus points for a fine array of novelty wings, including Wing Hunter Ben Beavers’ all-time favorite honey-mustard.

#3 - 5 Albany Triumvirate (Dorato’s, Sutter’s Mill, Across The Street Pub)

Albany is a strong wing town and these three stops (dubbed the the "Albany Triumvirate" by the Hunters) demonstrate how to do a straight-down- the-middle Buffalo wing right: fresh, never frozen wings. Regularly changed oil. Wings fried at correct temperature and for ideal length (omitting numbers because each frier is different) so they’re crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. It’s not rocket science. But it takes care and commitment to nail it every time. The triumvirate has sadly become a duumvirate with the recent closing of Sutter’s.

#6 Bomber’s Burrito Bar

Better known for their Mexican food, Bombers serves a hidden gem of a wing: the Cajun Whiskey, Hunter Ron Wieszczyk’s favorite novelty wing.

#7 Dry Dock Lounge

Tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains, Dry Dock was rated so highly by half the Hunters that other half (the group had split up that day) backtracked 300 miles to try them. A+ for an unusually chunky “suicidal” Buffalo sauce.

#8 Rusted Route

Good but unspectacular in the Buffalo department, Rusted Route shined with an incredible array of novelty flavors, including the one-of-a-kind and out-of-this-world 'Black Betty'. A creamy, bacony, ranch-like sauce, Black Betty was the Hunters’ consensus favorite novelty wing. Rusted Route has been shut down due to an incredible string of chicanery and bad luck. Yet the Black Betty lives on, served at Time Warp Tavern in Watertown.

#9 Abigail’s

Tucked away in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Abigail's is home to chef and wing genius Columbus Marshall Grady, inventor of more than 100 types of wing sauces. Many of Grady’s sauces are good but ultimately forgettable. Not 'Bleu Bayou'. Grady’s take on Buffalo sauce includes admixtures of celery and blue cheese. Such a simple idea. Yet so good. One of the Hunters’ favorites.

#10 Shifty’s

Shifty's boasts Syracuse's hottest Buffalo sauce, the F-bomb. Made completely from scratch (from cider vinegar, an array of hot peppers, horseradish, and a few secret ingredients), it is not for the faint of heart. Not even for the moderately strong of heart. For serious heat freaks only. Packs the punch of a gimmicky, sign-a-contract-before-eating ultra-hot sauce (which are almost always made with artificial extracts), but delivers much more flavor.

#11 - 13 Rochester Triumvirate (Jeremiah’s, Richmond’s, L&M Lanes)

Like Albany, Rochester is an extremely strong wing town, with nearly every bar having it’s own special recipe. As with Albany, we pick three favorites: Jeremiah’s, the perennial champ. Richmond’s, the lovable dive. Both offer excellent Buffalo sauces and array of solid novelty flavors, including (at Richmond’s) a regional favorite, Country Sweet. Lastly, a hidden gem: L&M Lanes, a bowling alley with one of the best ultra-hot sauces in central New York, the JSB, made with an amalgam of fresh hot peppers. The JSB recipe, word has it, was part of the deal when L&M was recently sold.

#14 Anchor Bar

Where it all started in 1964, when owner Teressa Bellissimo mistakenly received a case of chicken wings, in those days considered scraps. As the last living witness to these events recounts in WING HUNT, Teressa wanted to send the case back. Her husband didn’t want to bother the distributor. A fight ensued. Teressa couldn’t sleep. She got up in the middle of the night and went downstairs to the kitchen. What was she going to do with all those wings? Being from Sicily, she had hot sauce on hand. She began experimenting...the world would never be the same.

#15 LaNova Pizzerias

LaNova is largely to thank for the now standard practice in much of the United States of pizzerias carrying - and delivering - buffalo wings. A favorite for decades among Buffalo college students, LaNova made deals in the 1990s to supply precooked wings to national chains such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut. The original versions, as well as a superb BBQ finished over an open flame, are still made fresh at two locations in Buffalo.

#16 Duff’s Wings

Duff’s served its first wings in 1969 and quickly became the second most important and successful wing house in Buffalo. Biting into a Duff’s wing, you can practically close your eyes and relive tasting hundreds of similar wings made by imitators in cities and towns across Upstate New York. Now in nine locations.

Director’s Recipe (as seen in the film)

  • 23 oz bottle of Frank’s Red Hot (don’t use generics)
  • 1-2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 bell pepper
  • 4-8 hot peppers (habaneros, serrano, jalapeno, etc. — grab an assortment of what’s available at your local supermarket)
  • 1/2-2 tablespoon honey-mustard
  • 10-20 cloves of fresh garlic, pressed or chopped
  • Celery salt
  • Assorted hot sauces (Tabasco, Cholula, etc)

SAUTE garlic in one stick of butter for 1-2 minutes on low/medium heat, being careful not to burn it. Add HALF of the peppers, both bell and hot, finely chopped. Saute mixture 1-2 minutes. Pour in Frank’s.

Simmer and stir for 5-10 minutes, adding mustard and dashes of celery salt and assorted hot sauces to taste. If sauce tastes bitter (caused by some peppers) add honey-mustard (or just plain honey) until bitterness disappears.

Keep simmering. For a milder sauce, add more butter; for hotter sauce, add more peppers.

Let simmer for another 5-15 min, until sauce thickens and reduces by 5-10 pct; Adjust ingredients to taste.

FRYING is a world unto itself. Know your deep frier. ALWAYS use fresh wings (never frozen). Always naked (never breaded). Take wings out of refrigerator at least an hour before frying and let sit at room temperature. If using frozen wings, thaw completely before frying. 375 is a good temperature for more friers, but test yours because each frier is different. Frying should take 8-12 minutes. Aim to hit the sweet spot where the wings come out crispy on the outside but still tender and juicy (but not undercooked) on the inside.

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