In a 1980 New Yorker article, Calvin Trillin attempted to get to the bottom of exactly who invented buffalo chicken wings, and when. There is no doubt that the snacks were born in Buffalo, New York, and the generally accepted story goes that the Bellissimo family concocted them at Anchor Bar, although members of the family could not agree on how it happened. But John Young, of Buffalo’s John Young’s Wings ‘n Things, also claims to have invented the wings in the 1960s; he served them in something he called “mambo sauce.”
“Was the Buffalo chicken wing invented when Teressa Bellissimo thought of splitting it in half and deep-frying it and serving it with celery and blue-cheese dressing?” wonders Trillin. “Was it invented when John Young started using mambo sauce and thought of elevating wings into a specialty?”
Either way, those Buffalo specialties are now available all over the country, though Buffalonians will tell you that no wing is better than one fried in their fair city. A proper buffalo wing must be deep-fried; tossed in a vinegary cayenne sauce (such as Frank’s RedHot) and melted butter or margarine; and served with carrot and celery sticks with blue-cheese dressing for dipping.
We often hear that the wings at Bonnie’s Grill are the best in the city and those at Old Town Bar have plenty of fans as well. We decided to pit them against each other in a taste test to see which was superior.
Wings should be mouth-puckeringly hot and vinegary, but balanced with the richness of butter (or margarine), and most of all, they ought to be crisp. A rubbery wing is not worth the mess.
Wings at both establishments were ordered “hot.” When the pile arrived at Old Town Bar, the vinegar fumes went straight up our sinuses. The wings here are small, very crisp, and saucy. They’re hot enough to make you want a sip of beer, but not so spicy as to be painful, and mouthwateringly tart. They also have a distinct buttery aroma and velvety coating that indicates a whole lot of dairy fat in the mix. In short, they’re delicious.
Bonnie’s wings are much larger and juicier than those at Old Town Bar, and they are equally, wonderfully crisp. But Bonnie’s sauce is austere and a bit oily rather than luscious — totally incendiary and so tart it practically leaves chemical burns on your tongue. Eating these wings is a macho endeavor that leaves you panting for breath, your mouth raw. We mean this in the best possible sense. You can imagine becoming addicted to them.
Really, these establishments offer wings for two different kinds of wing lovers: Bonnie’s is for one who wants to have to keep a steady nosh going so as not to feel that alarming, growing burn; Old Town Bar’s are for those who want wings to provide crunch, hot, tart, and buttery in equal measures. Both are very quality examples of the form, wings that (maybe) even a Buffalonian could love.
Old Town Bar
45 East 18 Street
278 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn