So let’s say you are in eastern Pennsylvania at noon on a Friday and you just got out of your last meeting of a week-long business trip. It’s too late to drive all the way home and too early to do anything interesting in Scranton. What do you do?
Well, you can take a slight detour to Buffalo, N.Y., and visit the birthplace of the original Buffalo wing, The Anchor Bar.
The story goes like this: One night in the ’60s, the owner had some friends over to the bar. Getting hungry, he had his mother cook them something to eat. Instead of using the leftover chicken wings in a soup stock, she decided to fry them up and add hot sauce. The guys loved it — and here we are 50 years later ordering them up in droves at every sports bar from New Jersey to Tokyo.
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So, I found myself checking into the Hilton only two blocks away from The Anchor Bar. I walked down on a cold Buffalo night to a half-empty bar with license plates from every state all over the walls.
As I took my seat, the bartender directed me to the chair next to it as he placed a “reserved” sign in that space. “The owner’s coming in and that’s his seat,” he squawked. I was OK with that. I was thinking he may even be a man-of-the-people and like to engage in some friendly conversation.
More on that later — first, I’ll tell you about the wings.
Before I ordered, the bartender gave me a little info about how the wings came about. He then let me know that the whole city of Buffalo has great wings and these may not be the best wings, but they are the first. As much of a downer as that wing introduction was, they were some pretty dang fine wings.
I got the hot variety, as I thought the “suicidal” may have been too hot for me … but the hot wasn’t that hot; I’d give it a 2 out of 4 on the heat scale. The bartender did give me a small cup of the suicidal to try dipping them in, which was really tasty. It had a strong pepper flavor and just the right amount of heat (3 out of 4).
The texture of the wing was everything you would want it to be. Crisp skin on the outside and juicy meat on the inside. The right amount of sauce was put on it to not make the outside all soggy. The size was about medium; they probably didn’t have jumbo sized wings in the sixties, anyway.
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Price? Well, it’s a tourist destination so you can get a CPW of 140 cents if you get ten wings with the suicidal sauce. If you get a bucket (50) of the hot wings, you can lower that to 82 cents.
As I finished my wings, the owner sat down and scooted his chair a bit away from me to talk to some of his staff and play with his phone. I recognized that this owner may not be as friendly as Bill from the Bulldog, so when he stepped away I ask the bartender if that guy is approachable. He gave me a questionable “yeah” with a long “weeeeellllll…” before it.
I really don’t want to bug anybody, so any answer to that question short of a, “Yes, he loves to come in here and talk to people,” means that I won’t make myself any kind of burden to this guy at his bar.
I ended up ordering couple more beers, as I’m wasn’t driving and had only a short walk back to the hotel. I talked to a couple of people on the other side of me, also out-of-towners, and we shared stories of how we got to this little bar in Buffalo.
During this whole time I noticed the owner getting farther and farther away from me. I went to the bathroom one time, and I swear someone shoved my chair and beer over about a foot while I was gone.
So, by this point I was really getting self-conscious. I tried to make sure I didn’t stink, and wondered if there was some unwritten etiquette rule I was not following here.
After a while, the owner got up, said goodbye to the bartender and left. I’m was thinking this guy must be some kind of warped, fame-ruined elitist…until he came back in a few minutes later with his buddy. Turned out, the owner had been waiting to meet a friend and had almost given up and gone home, but then bumped into him at the door and they came back. That’s why he was getting farther away from me — he wasn’t being rude, he was just trying to politely make space for his friend.
Well, I felt a lot better and even moved over a spot to give that guy a bar stool to sit at. His friend was a lot more social. We talked about wings and when I mentioned I’m from Chicago, and we talked about deep dish pizza and places to eat it.
He even talked me into getting beef on weck. Alarms started going off in my head as I recognized weck as the third “W” in BW3. (It used to be called Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck, hence BW3 or Bdubs, before they stopped serving weck and just changed it to Buffalo Wild Wings.)
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So, before I asked exactly what weck was, I order me up some.
He explained that weck is the bun they serve a very pink roast beef in. The weck is a roll with salt and caraway seeds on top of it,and really really does do a great job at flavoring the beef. It also came with au jus, but the horseradish sauce I spread on it really gave it a kick.
Beef on weck is one of the greatest sandwiches I have ever had. It’s right under the Italian beef I have been eating my whole life and just above the Philly cheese steaks I had been eating in eastern Pennsylvania all that week.
I really enjoyed that night at Anchor Bar. It’s not so much that is is different from any other bar, but the nostalgia of sitting at that place can give you a great feeling.
Eating good wings, talking to some cool people, and discovering new food really made my night, especially after being away from my wife and kids for a week.
What intrigues me is the comment from the bartender about the place having not the best, but the first wings. You mean there is a whole city out there that specializes in wings? I cannot imagine what else that city has to offer.
So, before I start looking online for engineering jobs in Buffalo, maybe someone can just talk Marshall King into taking the next Dining A La King foodie tour bus trip up to Buffalo sometime.