Weekly Wing Wreview #14: Buffalo, The Pilgrimage

  • Anchor Bar
  • (716)
  • Duff's Famous
  • Bar-Bill Tavern

OK, so last week I did a really terrible teaser for this week, in that I said there were two questions I was asked all the time, and I only mentioned the first one. It’s really because the second one deserved a post entirely of its own. See, the second question is “Have you ever had real Buffalo wings, from Buffalo?” It’s a question that I hate, as much as I hate the insistence of any regional foods that you “can’t really get” anywhere else. While there is some small truth to a lot of these, in all reality duplicating a regional dish is all about ingredients and not location, and given that the recipe for the original Buffalo wing was pretty well known for a long time, I had a hard time believing that I wasn’t getting an authentic product elsewhere.

Maybe I also get a little miffed because, until recently, the answer was no.

Also, as you may have noticed, I’m not putting the normal rating display on this one, because it’s really not a typical wreview in any way.

However, I am nothing if not thorough, and I recently found myself only about forty minutes from Buffalo, with several hours to burn, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to put the mystery to bed. Which is why this week, instead of wreviewing any on specific place, I’m doing an as-many-places-as-I-could-possibly-manage wreview of…


Buffalo, NY

Though I know that many Buffalo residents might complain that I didn’t try their specific place, so I still haven’t had the best ones, I did my best to search reviews, ratings, and sourced a couple of people familiar with the area to send me to the Must-Try venues. I was flying alone on this trip, but I do have to single out Scott Alexander and Drew Brock for their input, their advice, and their guidance for this outing.

I decided that I would get the same thing at each venue, and after my bizarre meltdown last week over the medium wings, I figured I would go for the “hot” option at each place, as it’s still a classic sauce that most places take seriously. I’m not going to break down the scores here separately, but each place will get one, consider them all to be their own individual “Hot Take.”

Anchor Bar

First on the list is the home of the Buffalo wing, and if they are to be believed the home of the chicken wing itself. The first thing you’ll notice about Anchor Bar is their copious signage. I think I counted about seven different “Anchor Bar, home of the original Buffalo chicken wing” signs both on and around the building. Like this one for example:

Out of the gate, I was a little shocked at the starting price here, having a $1.30 PPW for an order of 10. While not comparatively high for places I’ve visited in NYC, it seemed a touch too expensive for my taste. The wings themselves looked really good, but were cooked a little crunchier than I like (I would come to discover that it seems to be the norm in Buffalo for the wings to come a little bit on the crunchy side.) The thing that shocked me most however, was how little they tasted like the “Buffalo” flavor I’ve come to know and love. The heat was closer to a medium than a hot wing, and the flavor was teetering on the wrong side of good, with none of the Frank’s flavor I’d hoped and expected. I did eat a few, and then boxed up the rest to make my way to the next stop, but left a little disheartened. If this is what the home of the Buffalo wing had to offer, what else would I find here? 2/5.

(716) Bar and Sport

The next stop is, if my information is correct, thanks to the Pegula family. The Pegula’s have spent quite a bit of money to revitalize Buffalo, and the Harbor Center where (716) is located is a big part of that. In a city that looks the same as the rest of the upstate New York, Harbor Center is very fresh and new, and (716) is no exception. Inside, the venue is huge, with two floors, a couple different bars, tons of huge TVs everywhere, and a really clean and modern layout. The bar top itself is lit from underneath, leading to the weird colors in the picture above. These wings came out looking amazing. I appreciated especially the abundance of veg on the plate AND the super fancy wetnaps (not pictured) that came alongside. They had a lot of other sauces that looked incredible, including the “Chicken on Weck” wings that I wish I had gotten an order of, but we’re here to talk about the Hot wings. Which were great. They had the exact Buffalo flavor with enough heat that I couldn’t get through more than two without taking a break to cool off. Honestly the only problem I had was with the price of the wings, the smaller order having a $1.50 PPW. The wings were good (and again, on the crunchy side) and the sauce was as full of heat as it was flavor. It was not a place that I would have considered a 5, but if not for the sauce alone it definitely earns a slightly expensive 4/5. But I dare not tarry too long, as time was working against me and I had places to be.

Bar-Bill Tavern

So, to part the kimono a bit, this was the day after Christmas, and in this Buffalo suburb, Bar-Bill Tavern was one of the only open venues around, and the place was packed. It was going to be probably an hour before I could even get a seat at the bar. No time for that, so on I moved, to…

Duff’s Famous Wings

To be fair, this place starts with a $1.39 PPW, but their smallest order is five wings, which was good for me because I was getting both full and impatient. Duff’s is a local chain of wing-joint/dive-bar hybrid that occupies a weird part in the middle of being both a chain and a place with very specific personality. The bartender was kind yet abrasive, foul-mouthed and friendly. The wings were, again, pretty crispy. I guess it bears explaining at this point that when I say crispy, I mean the wing itself is cooked a little longer so that it’s not just crunchy on the outside, but also the tips of the wings and any place where the meat is thinner, the interior is a little tougher and sometimes cooked to an internal crunchiness. This is not my general preference for a wing, but it seemed to be a theme, I won’t really knock any place for doing this as it seemed to be the local preference. Duff’s claim, and not only is it literally on the menu, but I heard the bartender repeat it every time somebody ordered wings (except for me, interestingly enough) that their medium is hot, and their medium-hot is very hot, and their hot is very, very hot. I would say that relative to the other places I had been this night so far, this rule was true. The hot was spicy as hell, and I actually appreciated that my order of five was served in a bowl drenched in it. Overall the wings and the sauce here are super delicious, and the prices if you order more than five are very accommodating (they will literally let you order 1000 wings.) I thought this might be the last stop of the night, and I was fighting to give this wing a 5, but my heart wouldn’t let me. They are great, and cheap, and very spicy, though I wouldn’t say that their (very very) Hot wings were painful, they come with exactly zero pretense. They fall a little short of a 5, but I have no problem calling them a 4/5. My time was running out. I texted the people I was picking up later that night to see if I could buy myself an extra half hour or so, and I was successful. So I made my way…

Bar-Bill Tavern

…back here. It was still busy, but the crowd had died down considerably, and I was able to muscle my way to a spot at the bar to get some wings to go while I sipped on a beer. The first thing I saw is that while being famous, this place is a severely local joint. For $25 you can get a custom mug with your name (or nickname, more commonly) etched on it that they keep, and will give you every time you come in. They aren’t a restaurant or a bar, but somewhere in between. But… y’all, these wings. If I had to guess, I would say these wings are started in a fryer but finished with an air-fryer. The skin on the outside was crunchy and delicate, like a skin-cracker made out of heaven bits, and the interior was super juicy and flavorful. The heat was OUT OF THIS WORLD, by far the hottest of the Hot wings I tried in Buffalo. Flash forward to me dunking my tongue into the cup of blue cheese they included. On that note, the blue cheese was about 50% huge chunks and 50% sauce, which, if you’re going to serve blue cheese dressing is honestly the best way to do it. I had been searching all night for the Buffalo wing that was truly transcendent, the one wing you can get in Buffalo that you couldn’t get anywhere else, and here I found my Holy Grail. Bar-Bill is doing something truly amazing here, and while I don’t know how soon it will be before I’m in the Buffalo area, but I need these wings in my life again. For the second time ever, the Wing Wreview issues a perfect 5/5.

The Hot Take

All-in-all, I wouldn’t call Buffalo the Mecca of wings. There are tasty wings to be had here, but at this point it seems more gimmick than reality. While there are some places that are still knocking it so far out of the park that it breaks windshields in the parking lot, for the most part any place you find that claims to have “traditional” Buffalo wings will probably come indistinguishably close. They are damn tasty though, and there’s nothing that can take that away from them. But, like… you probably wanna skip Anchor Bar. Overall Buffalo gets a 4/5 on their various chicken wings. 

Additional Info

I don’t know what’s weirder honestly, the fact that I judged an entire city of wings based on four and a half hours or the fact that people read this nonsense and trust my opinion. But for real, if you’re in or near Buffalo, hit Bar-Bill. You won’t be disappointed. We are officially into the new year, and there is going to be some cool stuff coming soon, including the multi part wreview of a Brooklyn stronghold serving like a billion types of wings, and perhaps some cameos of some minor celebrities forthcoming!

As always, the Weekly Wing Wreview and MaxFun.nyc are not affiliated with Maximum Fun or its associated products or brands. But we’re pretty big fans.

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