BUFFALO, NY – The lanky guy serving food and drink at Anchor Bar in western New York has a telephone just for calls to the kitchen.
While pizza, soups and salads are on the menu, the server in need of a personality mostly uses it to bark orders for Buffalo chicken wings at this blue-collar restaurant, where the recipe was born, they say.
The eclectic décor includes license plates from all points in the United States tacked to the walls beside photographs of celebrities who have come here for red hot wings. Above my seat at the aging bar, an old child’s sled and some dusty tennis rackets hang from the ceiling.
The tale about these particular wings is famous, having been told enough times to draw steady crowds through the doors of this redbrick building that faces Main Street. For anyone who hasn’t heard it, here goes:
On a Friday night in 1964, Dominic Bellissimo was tending bar when a group of his friends with ravenous appetites came calling. He asked his mother, Teressa, to prepare something to eat for them.
Out she brought chicken wings, something that had usually gone into the stockpot for soup.
Teressa, though, deep fried those wings and flavored them with a secret sauce. They were an instant hit and it didn't take long for people to hear about them and flock to the bar to experience that new taste sensation. From then on, Buffalo wings became a regular part of the menu.
Although many cooks have tried to duplicate the sauce, the closely guarded secret recipe has helped to put this place on the map, the bar claims.
While the origin of this dish has since been questioned, maybe unfairly, there is no doubt that Buffalo wings have found homes in restaurants from Hot Springs, Ark., to possibly even Death Valley, Calif.
Anchor Bar claims to have sold a whopping 246.8 million pounds of them to its adoring fans.
Its sauce is now imported to Japan, where it became a hit with youngsters while mature people have deemed it to be awful, The Associated Press has reported.
Once inside the bar in late July, I order 10 medium hot wings for $10 after driving around the block in search of a parking spot in this run-down section of the city on the eastern bank of Lake Erie. Windows down, a not-so-pleasant and strong aroma of chicken cooking in hot oil nearly turns my stomach, but it does nothing to force me back.
Later, my wings arrive sticky and steaming beside a few sticks of celery and blue cheese salad dressing, the same way they are always prepared. To my slight surprise, they are delicious, better than any of the many hot wings I have tried back home in Pittsburgh.
And there actually is a recipe behind this sauce, which is nothing akin to the Pittsburgh version of Tabasco stirred with melted butter. I'm suddenly and forever bored by Pittsburgh's Buffalo wings. The Anchor bar variety contains select amounts of vinegar, garlic and cayenne and chili pepper, a gourmet blend that puts it over the top.
Bottles of sauce are sold on the Internet, as well as from the bar’s gift shop. On my approach to this store, a young and rather bored woman appears behind the counter surrounded by T-shirts and large blobs of wrinkly orange rubber that she identifies as hats for wearing at professional home football games starring the Buffalo Bills. (The hats are ugly yet not quite as funny those cheeseheads that crown people in Wisconsin).
I'm disappointed to find the clerk to be clueless about the almost-holy sauce that helps to guarantee her a job.
“I have no idea. I wasn’t born then,” she said, responding to my query about the sauce’s arrival on this planet. That was enough to send me out the door after paying my tab, only to free up a parking space for someone else in the line of cars turning into the joint.
Before leaving, though, I buy a few bottles of the sauce and eventually give one to my neighbor, who never seems to get enough Buffalo wings, the hotter, the better. Later, he said, “That’s good stuff.”
He is undoubtedly scouring the Web as we speak to purchase more Anchor Bar sauce to feed his better-refined habit.