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“BUFFALO-STYLE.” The flavor gracing the menus of nearly every pub in North America takes on a whole new meaning in the city that created it. It was Buffalo’s Anchor Bar that changed the course of American food history in 1964 by inventing the Buffalo-style chicken wing. In the decades since, Buffalo’s corner taverns have perfected variations on the wing, each with its own secret recipe, and always complemented by ample helpings of blue cheese.
But Buffalo-style goes beyond the unique sauces and preparation techniques found in the birthplace of the wing. The history, character and atmosphere found in each of the 12 pubs along the new Buffalo Wing Trail are as unique and flavorful as the wings. Here’s an eater’s guide to the delicious dozen on America’s tastiest drive. Your wet naps are waiting.Watch the video
2349 Millersport Hwy
Getzville, NY, 14068
Elmo’s Bar & Restaurant is a no-frills bar located in a strip mall off a four-lane highway that serves up some of the most unique – and tasty – wings in Buffalo. Elmo’s has been honing its wing game since owner Adrian Meredith took over in the early 1990s, developing a from-scratch Cajun sauce that was unprecedented in Buffalo and heavily incorporating grilling into its process. Now, most wing orders are grilled, and nearly half are “double-dipped:” fried, tossed in sauce, grilled, doused in a different sauce, and served.
The result is a wing bursting with a combination of flavors unlike anywhere else on the trail. Over a half-dozen double-dip options are available; the “BBQ hot” is a fusion of tang and heat, while the “Cajun honey mustard” is both sweet and spicy, with the char-grilled smokiness rounding out the flavor profile. The simple interior of the bar features late 1990s Sabres jerseys, a tribute to the days when the team used to chow down here after practice.
3651 Sheridan Drive
Amherst, NY, 14226
Very, Very Hot Wings
The warning signs at Duff’s are everywhere – on the walls, the menus, the large white buckets served for discarded wings and even on apparel. “MEDIUM is HOT. MEDIUM HOT is VERY HOT. HOT is VERY, VERY HOT.” The adjusted flavor scale for Duff’s sauces even inspired a group of Saturday Night Live writers, who created an early 1990s sketch based on their Duff’s experience. You’ll appreciate SNL’s “Super Fire Hot Wings” online even more after dining at Duff’s.
Open since 1946, Duff’s added “Famous Wings” to its title after a glowing Buffalo News review in the 1980s. It has grown to include several area locations, including one President Obama visited in 2010. But the original Sheridan Drive location remains the star. Duff’s fries their wings once to seal in the juice, then again to make them crispy. It results in a wing high on the crispy, saucy and juicy spectrum.
Pro tip: Eat like a local and order a side of fries to dunk in your blue cheese and gravy.
5507 Main Street
Williamsville, NY, 14221
Originally a stagecoach stop on the road between Buffalo and Rochester, the Glen Park Tavern has been an institution in the village of Williamsville since 1887. Some 130 years later, the tavern – under the ownership of the Grenauer family since the late 1990s – remains a beloved local landmark. The original wooden bar, wood-hewn ceiling and photos of 19th-century Williamsville on the walls remind customers of the tavern’s rich history.
The tavern prides itself on quality ingredients, including jumbo wings that are some of the largest on the trail, and an especially creamy blue cheese dressing made from scratch. Nearly two-thirds of the staff at the tavern have worked there for over 20 years and meet regularly to review the menu and food, which recently spurred the development of a secret ingredient that helps their sauce stick to the wing. Locals swear by the Glen Park’s Sicilian wing, which is covered in Parmesan cheese, garlic, basil and oregano.
1104 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY, 14222
If only the walls at Cole’s Restaurant & Bar could talk. Memorabilia collected through the years covers nearly every square inch of this 84-year-old staple of the Elmwood Village. There’s a rowboat that had its moment in the 1960 Olympics hanging from the rafters, a series of carousel horses and dozens of college pennants.
Cole’s honors its rich past while also keeping up on current trends. The bar has nearly three dozen microbrews on tap and the wing options are doubling this year. Chef Nick Rada spent two years living in Asia and brought back new flavors like sticky sweet soy sauce and sweet chili gochujang to add to the ranks of the classic versions the Shatzel family has served since taking over the pub in 1972. And Cole’s is one of the only spots on the trail where you can pair five wings with a beef on weck sandwich, an only-in-Buffalo combo that should be experienced at least once.
1047 Main Street
Buffalo, NY, 14209
Making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the chicken wing? Do yourself a favor: Instead of entering the Anchor Bar from the parking lot, walk around the corner to the Main Street entrance, stop at the original wooden bar, and pause.
This very spot changed the course of American food history in 1964, when the hungry friends of Dominic Bellissimo, who was tending bar at the time, arrived looking for a late-night snack. Dominic’s mother – owner Teressa Bellissimo – took the chicken wings originally intended for a soup, fried them, tossed them in hot sauce and served them.
The Anchor Bar subsequently became a mecca for wing lovers, evidenced by over 500 license plates hanging on the barroom walls from every state, Canadian provinces and most of Western Europe.
With roots dating back to 1935, the Anchor Bar has grown to a dozen locations and sells its signature sauce in almost 3,000 supermarkets and as far away as Kyoto, Japan. While the Main Street location serves several varieties of wings, it’s the medium that are the closest interpretation to Teressa’s
original recipe from all those years ago.
140 North Street
Buffalo, NY, 14201
Korean BBQ Wings
Upon entering the Lenox Grill, you might expect to see Ted Danson tending bar. The pub, set several feet below ground and clad in dark wood – bears a striking resemblance to the set of Cheers, the kind of place “where everybody knows your name” or will soon enough.
The Lenox Grill is set within Buffalo’s oldest continuously operating hotel, which dates to the turn of the 20th century and has housed an impressive roster of guests including Duke Ellington, Henry Fonda, Harry Belafonte and a young F. Scott Fitzgerald. The pub, opened more recently, has distinguished itself with an eye-popping beer list of over 550 bottled varieties and a kitchen open later than anywhere else on the trail (3 a.m. on weekends, with a 4 a.m. bar closing time). Its wings have gained local acclaim thanks to enterprising chef Michael Strom, who introduces a new weekly wing special to the bar, from peanut butter-and-jelly to s’mores. Other noteworthy flavor options include the BBQ honey Sriracha and Korean BBQ.
145 Allen Street
Buffalo, NY, 14201
Old School Wings
The old saying of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” would certainly apply at Gabriel’s Gate. This staple of Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood for the last half-century has kept its wings consistent throughout the years – a touch crispy, with a splash of Frank’s Red Hot. Gabriel’s Gate is the standard for a classic wing done right.
Gabriel’s Gate – formerly a brick row house constructed in 1864 that once served as an antique shop – is teeming with character, from the tin ceilings and saloon-style chandelier to the hardwood floors, wooden booths and two wood-burning fireplaces. A series of mounted animal heads stare down customers from the high ceiling bar. Its long and narrow interior opens to a back patio that has a running fountain in the summer.
Gabriel’s is the kind of pub you could only find in Allentown – one of Buffalo’s oldest neighborhoods and the city’s creative quarter filled with historic architecture, public art and a host of galleries, bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
73 Hamburg Street
Buffalo, NY, 14204
Blue Cheese Wings
In the shadow of Buffalo’s towering grain silos sits Gene McCarthy’s pub, an icon of the city’s Old First
Ward since 1964. Grain scoopers who lived in the neighborhood and worked in the silos whet their whistles at Gene’s after a long day’s work. The pub’s interior décor – shamrocks painted on the ceiling, a Fighting Irish banner and a portrait of John F. Kennedy hang from the walls and reflect the Ward’s rich Irish heritage. As rock climbers, kayakers and artists reinvigorate the nearby grain silos, Gene’s has added to its traditional appeal with a recently installed brewery next door that serves a dozen craft beers.
Gene’s also delivers a delicious twist on the Buffalo wing by taking its partnership with blue cheese to a whole new level. The McCarthy’s-style wing features a sauce that combines blue cheese with hot and BBQ flavors. It’s topped with crumbly blue cheese and served with a side of blue cheese. At Gene’s, when they say #NeverRanch, they mean it.
2134 Seneca Street
Buffalo, NY, 14210
South Buffalo Wings
The Gaelic sign greeting customers walking into the Blackthorn Restaurant & Pub says it all – “Cead Mile Failte” or “a hundred thousand welcomes.” Irish heritage, warmth, wit and hospitality abound in this Seneca Street establishment, from the Celtic music to portions of the bar imported from the Old Sod.
The Blackthorn has a menu filled with Irish fare, comfort foods and the “South Buffalo Wing,”
a delicious interpretation of a standard wing with some extra spices and flavor served with housemade blue cheese. But the best-kept secret of the Blackthorn lies upstairs, in the backroom home of the storied Blackthorn Club, which has been around for over 100 years. The late Tim Russert – proud son of Buffalo and moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press – loved the pub and was slated to join the club’s ranks until his unexpected death in 2008. His presence looms large in a series of photos in the clubroom, along with pictures of St. Patrick’s Day parades and other events from the club’s storied history.
474 Abbott Road
Buffalo, NY, 14220
Along Abbott Road in South Buffalo, the “Smitty wing” rules the roost. Doc Sullivan’s Pub serves this born-in-the-neighborhood take on the wing, which mixes a half-dozen spices into a traditional hot sauce. “Smitty” is a nod to the pub’s previous name and the Smith family who ran it; the secret recipe has been passed down through generations of ownership for the last 40 years. “Smitty” hot, medium and mild replace the typical flavor scale found at most restaurants. The result is a perfectly crispy, saucy wing with a full-bodied flavor.
Another recent addition to Doc Sullivan’s menu is the beef on weck wing, a fusion of two of Buffalo’s most popular foods. Covered in horseradish aioli, salt and caraway seeds, these wings are a delicious new take on a Buffalo classic. Lots of natural light, a central wooden bar and photos of historic Buffalo on the walls make Doc Sullivan’s a comfortable neighborhood pub to stop in – and keep returning to.
185 Main Street
East Aurora, NY, 14052
Bar-Bill Tavern’s founder, Joe Giafaglione, used the precision he honed during a career in engineering to perfect the wings of this East Aurora institution. Staff methodically hand-paint each wing with housemade sauces using a paint brush, and every order of wings comes with exactly five drums and five flats. Bar-Bill’s limited menu also includes Buffalo’s renowned beef on weck sandwiches, hand carved on the spot.
Patrons pack the covered front patio and narrow bar, which features a wall filled with hundreds of glass mugs for members of “The Mug Club.” For $50, customers can purchase a mug with their name on it that stays at the tavern and allows an indefinite supply of $1 domestic draft beers; over 3,000 are now members. The most frequent customers earn a space for their mug behind the bar. A poster of Johnny Cash near the back of the tavern reminds patrons of another important fact: Bar-Bill is cash only.
16 South Buffalo Street
Hamburg, NY, 14075
Special Sauce Wings
Some 12 years after the Buffalo-style wing’s inception, Phyllis Mammoser decided to try her own variation at Mammoser’s Tavern in Hamburg. The result was a wing unlike anywhere else in town. Phyllis loved spicy food, so she devised a homemade sauce that was a marked departure from the Frank’s Red Hot-based sauces Buffalonians were used to. She created Mammoser’s Original Wing Sauce, which is sold by the bottle at the restaurant and in local supermarkets. The sauce, which lists four different varieties of pepper in its top 10 ingredients, provides a slow burn and an extra kick of spiciness.
Mammoser’s has a distinctive interior, with many of the original wooden features of the former 19th century stable still visible at the bar. Phyllis’ son Pete now runs the tavern, which has been in the Dimpfl family since 1948. Another noted distinction is that Mammoser’s uses no butter or margarine in its wing-making process, resulting in a drier wing that’s incredibly flavorful and juicy on the inside.
11 Bloomfield Avenue
Buffalo, NY, 14220
At the Nine-Eleven Tavern, owner Mark Gress has a motto: “Simple is good and it works for us.” There are only four options for wings – hot, medium, mild and plain – yet this workingman’s tavern tucked away on a quiet street in South Buffalo has carved out a reputation as one of the city’s best options for its signature food.
That may be because Gress has literally been behind every plate of wings served at the tavern. He mans a small, two-fryer kitchen nightly and personally cooks and assembles every wing order, just as he has since he first opened the watering hole in 1981. The homemade sauce – prepared by him daily– remains a closely guarded secret that he hasn’t divulged to even close family members.
Gress’ presentation – carefully placed wings and celery revolve like clockwork around a bowl of blue cheese adorned with celery leaves – is without precedent locally. And the wings themselves are large, crispy, and saucy. Order the hot wings to try Gress’ sauce – one of the most flavorful in town – in its purest form. It starts sweet and tangy, then builds towards a robust, fiery finish.
Wait times at Nine-Eleven during peak hours can be lengthy, and Gress understandably needs an occasional day off from cooking over the course of the year, which closes the tavern. But the Nine-Eleven’s mystique transcends these quirks. This may be the last opportunity to sample wings directly made from one of the forefathers of the Buffalo wing, a first-generation pioneer of the city’s culinary classic whose contribution to the scene is finally getting its due.