Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Buffalo chicken wings: Finding the real thing in Kansas City

Posted by on Wed, Aug 14, 2013 at 3:05 PM

This is the place where chicken wing lovers pay homage to Buffalos namesake dish.
  • This is the place where chicken-wing lovers pay homage to Buffalo's namesake dish.

I was in Buffalo, New York, last weekend and finally made it to the legendary Anchor Bar, the downtown saloon - not all that far from that city's waterfront - where the dish now known as Buffalo chicken wings was invented (an almost accidental creation, like many great culinary innovations) in 1964 by Teressa Bellissimo, who operated the bar with her husband, Frank. The place, a major tourist attraction in Buffalo's urban core, serves the deep-fried wings with five kinds of sauces: mild; medium; hot; bar-b-que (spicy); and "suicidal," a remarkably intense fiery sauce.

There are other things to eat on the menu (including the very worst Reuben sandwich I've ever tasted in my life), but it's the wings that draw most of the patrons, including the celebrities who have signed photographs hanging on the walls: Kenny Rogers, the late Tim Russert, Hillary Clinton.

Buffalo wings at the Anchor Bar.
  • Buffalo wings at the Anchor Bar
The chicken wings at the Anchor Bar certainly live up to their reputation: The wings are meaty and moist under a crispy - but not too crispy - exterior, with an almost evanescent glaze of vinegary hot sauce. Since 1964, these wings (prepared late one night, after midnight, for the hungry friends of Teressa Bellissimo's son Dominic) have been considered the ne plus ultra of all chicken wings in the United States.

Are there Buffalo-style chicken wings in the Kansas City metro that live up to the Anchor Bar standard? The most consistent vote seems to go to the Peanut bar and grill (particularly the original location at 5000 Main, which is two years older than the Anchor Bar but hasn't served Buffalo chicken wings for nearly as long).

Wingstop chicken wings
I recently stumbled into one of the two franchisee-owned outlets of the Texas-based Wingstop chain in the Kansas City metro: the 10-year-old Wingstop (which is celebrating its anniversary this month), owned by Dan Ward, at 4313 N.E. Chouteau Trafficway in the Northland. (A second franchise restaurant is in Blue Springs.)

I wouldn't compare Ward's wings with the more iconic Peanut wings, but they're available in a lot more flavors including Cajun, original hot, Louisana rub, mild, hickory-smoked bbq, lemon pepper, garlic parmesan, Hawaiian, and teriyaki. The habanero-based "Atomic" hot sauce is actually searing on the tongue - I couldn't eat it.

Ward will be introducing a new sauce - a sweet-and-hot mango habanero - later this month. (It's coming from the corporate offices, and Ward hasn't even tasted the concoction himself yet.)

On a somewhat different note, Kansas City's community-radio station, KKFI 90.1 will host a chicken-wing-eating competition as part of its Fuster Cluck Blues Festival on Sunday, September 8, from 3 to 8 p.m. at Grinders Out Back, 417 East 18th Street. Call 816-931-3122 for more information.

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