Hot wings & beer. Just the mention of chicken wings evokes great memories of storytelling, laughter, reunions, fun brainstorming sessions and sports games watched. No snack better exemplifies spending time with good friends.
My buddy Paul and I meet up for wings three or four times per year, to catch up and vent about life. We refer to it as cheap therapy. We’ve traveled all over our home state of Connecticut, sampling wings, based on various “Best of…” guides. During one of these outings, we decided to take things up a notch, and began planning a chicken wing pilgrimage to Buffalo, NY — where Buffalo Wings originated and continue to be celebrated.
Our six-hour road trip (each way!) began on Friday, June 10th, and wrapped up on Sunday the 12th. Our plan was to eat three plates of wings per day, sampling at least a half dozen varieties. To avoid comparing apples to oranges we limited our orders to the Buffalo Hot flavor; no Oriental Sesame or Lemon Pepper.
As a service to wing aficionados everywhere, we are sharing a brief review of each place, along with our selected winner of “Best Wing in Buffalo.”
Friday, June 10. 1PM.
This was our lunch stop on the way to Buffalo. It received good online ratings.
Jeremiah’s is a dimly lit sports bar/tavern with a welcoming atmosphere.
JJ was very personable, good-natured, and was interested to hear about our wing adventure.
They had a decent selection. Paul ordered Big Ditch Hayburner IPA, describing it as “refreshing, with a typical hoppy flavor.” Earl ordered the “Young Lion Salted Caramel Porter” and thought it was “heavy, sweet, and over-the-top superfluous.”
The presentation was sloppy with a pool of excess sauce at the bottom of the basket. The sauce’s base was clearly the Frank’s RedHot. In size, they were average, medium-sized wings, reminiscent of “The Court Jester” bar in Toronto.
Cups of N.E. clam chowder. Very poor. (3/10)
Friday, June 10. 6:45PM.
In recent years, the Anchor Bar hasn’t received great reviews, but this is where Buffalo chicken wings originated, back in 1964. So, for the wing-lover, this pilgrimage to wing mecca is a necessary rite of passage. I had eaten there once before, but Paul hadn’t. My previous trip was 20+ years earlier, while touring with Maynard Ferguson. I may have been served the original wing, because I was inflicted with a terrible case of food poisoning. I remember playing the gig with a puke bucket to the side of the stage, and only touching the piano when I had an exposed solo. Otherwise, I clung to the piano bench while trembling.
We sat in the old, original section of the bar where we soaked up the remarkable ambiance of a place which dates back to 1935. Paul said, “We’re not just sitting in a tavern; we’re sitting in history!”
Julia — a journalism major who took interest in our story. She recommended several other good wing joints — many of which matched our online research. One or two places she suggester were unfamiliar to us, which was helpful.
Paul drank a Four Mile Raspberry Wheat, while Earl indulged in a Rohrbach Scotch Ale.
We ordered the original recipe. They had a unique flavor, unlike any other, which we would characterize as buttery and rich. (They definitely don’t use Frank’s RedHot sauce!) The heat was unnoticeable at first, but after eating 5 or so wings it crept up on us and we could feel it on our lips. The skin was crispy. The wings were quite dry and bordered on being over-cooked. In size, they were quite small – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
5/10 (based on the wings alone, disregarding the ambiance, history and Julia’s charm)
Friday, June 10. 8:30 PM.
Gabriel’s Gate received several enthusiastic recommendations from friends & locals.
The bar’s vibe is exceedingly eclectic, with recycled church pews, random statues and taxidermal animal heads.
Taylor was very friendly and shared several tips about other restaurants to visit.
The choices were extremely limited. Paul had a Great Lakes Lemon Wheat Ale, while Earl paid tribute to his home and native land by ordering a Labatt Blue.
Well-cooked, yet moist. Perfect skin texture. The wings were excellent, but lacked any semblance of uniqueness. The sauce had the typical Franks RedHot base you might experience at 90% of bars and diners across North America. That said, they were done right. Although Gabriel’s Gate basically sets the standard by which traditional Buffalo wings should be measured, we wished their recipe had a distinctive variance to set them apart.
By our fifteenth wing of the day, we were done and our lips were tingling.
Saturday, June 11. 12:30 PM.
Apparently, Elmo’s was frequented by many of the Buffalo Sabres during the late 90s. Their signed jerseys and hockey sticks adorn the walls.
Due to a plumbing issue, the bar was closed — except for take-out. We placed our order and ate at a picnic table at a nearby park. The bar looks like it could benefit from a complete makeover. Someone should contact Jon Taffer from the television program, “Bar Rescue.”
the bar staff were grumpy and generally unhelpful. They didn’t suggest their signature double-dipped wings, which we learned about afterwards.
No beer was served. For that matter, they didn’t even sell soda. We walked to a nearby Dollar General store to purchase Cokes while we waited for the wings. They wouldn’t even allow us to wait inside while the wings were cooked.
The wings looked OK, but lacked flavor. They were under-cooked. Nothing stood out about the wings to make them memorable. If we were locals, we wouldn’t return.
Saturday, June 11. 6 PM.
This bar received many solid recommendations and we needed a positive experience following our lunch fiasco.
The parking lot was full which is generally a good indicator. They offered us two seats at the bar which we gladly took to avoid an hour-long wait.
Jessie was our bartender. She was exceptional and we received the VIP wing-connoisseur treatment! After we finished our plate of hot wings, she brought us a free sampling of their house specialty: Cajun-honey butter BBQ wings. They were out of this world and are perhaps the perfect combination of a dry rub magically mixed with sauce.
We both enjoyed the House Lager.
Bar-Bill is in a category of its own. At Jessie’s recommendation we ordered “medium hot,” which had ample heat. The flavor was unique and could be characterized as peppery with a butter flavor. Apparently, the chef paints the sauce on to each individual wing before carefully arranging them on the plate. The sauce had some consistency to it; it wasn’t watery but wasn’t overly thick either.
We had an enjoyable chat with a local couple, James and Sarah, who recommended Nine-Eleven as our next stop. They and another couple dissuaded us from trying Duffs, saying their wings were sloppy and overly saturated with sauce.
Saturday, June 11. 8:30 PM.
We learned the owner recently passed away. For forty years he prepared every plate of wings. He also kept his sauce recipe top-secret. Now, his daughter comes in once per week to pre-make the sauce, using her father’s recipe. None of the staff know the recipe.
This is a total dive bar. We sat outside on the patio, as the locals were drunk and singing loudly. The men’s room was tiny and disgusting. Had we visited it prior to ordering we likely wouldn’t have stayed.
Kelly was knowledgeable and showed genuine interest in our wing quest. She was supportive of the other restaurants we mentioned.
We both drank a Hayburner IPA. The selection was limited; we could choose between the Hayburner or a Blueberry wheat beer.
The plating presentation was lovely. The flavorful wings were well-cooked with a crispy exterior. Although they hinted at a traditional wing recipe, they weren’t standard fare. Upon our inquiry, Kelly revealed to us that there were large bottles of Frank’s RedHot in the kitchen, which surprised us to a degree. If Frank’s is the base, clearly many other ingredients were added to provide interest. We both guessed that Parmesan was incorporated.
Sunday, June 12. Noon.
This was our last stop, on our drive home. At this point we were “winged-out” but a friend insisted that we try Country Sweet while in Rochester.
This is a tiny little dive restaurant in a strip mall. You order at the counter and bring it back to your table, in the manner of fast-food restaurants.
Only soda was available
Frankly, these were awful. Thankfully we ordered a very small plate of six — 3 each. Vinegar and duck sauce were the dominant tastes.
So, there you have it. The clear winner of the Best Wings in Buffalo goes to… Bar-Bill Tavern. Gabriel’s Gate and Nine-Eleven also had a strong showings, albeit less unique.
It was a fun weekend, but Paul and I are in agreement that our next cheap therapy session might take place at a local salad bar, rather than over wings, for the sake of our health and waistlines.