My hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., is home to “America’s Tastiest Drive,” the Buffalo Wing Trail. In the name of research and because I know my readers are curious, I tackled the trail but failed. One day was not enough to visit and nosh in a dozen wing pubs. But, I gave it a good ole’ try and scratched the surface. Which means, I’m almost guaranteed to taste more wings on a future trip back to Buffalo.
History of Buffalo Wings
Research in 2014 estimates Americans consume about 25 billion chicken wings a year. Created in 1964 at Frank and Teressa Bellissimo’s Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., the now famous wings exist, as one legend states, because a crate of raw wings were mistakenly shipped to the Italian restaurant. Unsure what to do with so many wings (typically, wings were used in soup) Mrs. Bellissimo fried them up and tossed them in hot sauce. The mistake turned out to be a hit and is one of America’s most beloved finger food.
The Great Chicken Wing Hunt
Filmmaker Matt Reynolds set out to find the world’s greatest Buffalo wing. The humorous 16-day journey is encapsulated in the 2013 comedic documentary “The Great Chicken Wing Hunt.” An American journalist based in Eastern Europe and a native of Central New York, Reynolds gave up his job with Reuters to find the world’s greatest wing. He and a group of misfits, as he calls them, visited 70 wing houses, tasted 284 types of wings, and traveled more than 2,600 miles across the Wing Belt, which includes New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada.
Did they find the world’s greatest Buffalo wing in Buffalo? Nope. The best, according to the documentary, was about 110 miles east of Buffalo at a restaurant called Abigail’s in Waterloo, N.Y. After 34 years in business, it closed in 2018. A traditional wing is cut in half (creating a drum and flat), not breaded, deep-fried, and coated in a mixture of butter and cayenne-pepper sauce. The degree of heat is measured by Mild, Medium, and Hot. The top wing was not a traditional wing. Called the Blue Bayou, the chef placed hot sauce, blue cheese, and celery in a blender and tossed deep-fried wings in the creamy sauce.
Being fair to Buffalo, only three wing houses were tasted in the documentary, Anchor Bar, Duff’s, and La Nova. The Queen City is home to several top wing spots and a dozen are mapped out in the Buffalo Wing Trail, which I attempted to conquer during a summer visit to my hometown. In the name of research, I consumed a year’s worth of wings in one day so I could find the best Buffalo wing.
Warm Up at the National Buffalo Wing Festival
My spicy adventure kicked off at the two-day National Buffalo Wing Festival. Annually, wing lovers from across the country make a pilgrimage to Buffalo to celebrate the delicious wing in its birthplace. Some wear hats in the shape of drums, socks with orange wings, and T-shirts stating, “Winging in in Buffalo.” The festival includes sauce-offs, wing-eating, bobbing for wings in bleu cheese sauce, entertainment, a lot of wings to taste, and many wet naps to wipe sauce away from messy fingers.
More than two dozen restaurants from across the country participated, including a Buffalo vegan eatery. I tried five different wings and a flavor I am having a hard time forgetting is Fluffernutter. The wing was tossed in a peanut butter-based sauce served with a side of marshmallow crème and chopped peanuts.
A Surprising Wing Winner
For the first time in the festival’s history, one entrant won three awards plus the Rookie of the Year award. It was Double Dub’s food truck from Laramie, Wyoming. Trent Weitzel, owner of Double Dubs, has tried entering the competition for years. Because he does not have a brick and mortar restaurant, a requirement, he did not qualify to participate until this year. Josh Allen, quarterback with the Buffalo Bills and former University of Wyoming player, vouched for him with festival organizers. I tried their Spicy Bleu, a saucy traditional wing topped with blue cheese dressing and crumbles, and agree, it’s an award-winner.
A Little Background of the Buffalo Wing Trail
After the festival, it was off on the Buffalo Wing Trail. Visit Buffalo Niagara tourism created the trail and call it “America’s Tastiest Drive.” The “Wing King of Buffalo,” Drew Cerza, and founder of the Buffalo National Wing Festival, helped narrow the list to a dozen.
The entire trail is not walkable, unless you enjoy walking for a couple of days because about 30 miles separate the two furthest wing eateries. The entire trail is a nice journey for those wishing to tour Buffalo and visit some of the smaller communities tourists typically do not venture into.
Painted Wings at Bar-Bill Tavern
The Village of East Aurora is one of those communities. It is the home of the Roycroft Campus, founded by American writer, artist, and philosopher Elbert G. Hubbard in the 1890s. The Bar-Bill Tavern in East Aurora and on the wing trail, creates one-of-a-kind wings. Using paint brushes, staff individually paint each wing with house-made sauces and each order has five flats and five drums.
Walking for Wings
Downtown Buffalo has a collection of four wing restaurants within walking distance, for those who do not mind walking about three miles. Think of it as a way of walking off the calories while enjoying the sights. The wing trail in downtown Buffalo weaves into the city’s trendy Elmwood Avenue, through historic neighborhoods, and past eateries, shops, and street art.
The four wing restaurants downtown are the Anchor Bar, Cole’s Restaurant & Bar, Gabriel’s Gate, and Lenox Grill. Each eatery has its own personality and wing specialty. The Anchor Bar is the birthplace of the wing and sets the bar.
Sicilian Wings at Cole’s Restaurant & Bar
Cole’s Restaurant & Bar serves a classic wing but give the Sicilian Wings a try. They are tossed in Italian and Caesar dressing with lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. Memorabilia inside dates to 1934 and includes a rowboat in the rafters from the 1960 Olympics. Sit out on the patio and watch the Buffalo world pass by.
Traditional Wings at Gabriel’s Gate
Gabriel’s Gate is housed in a building constructed in 1864 and full of character from the tin ceilings to the wood floors. If you do not mind taxidermy animal heads staring while you eat, find a place in the bar. Otherwise, try grabbing a spot in one of the wooden booths. The wings are perfection. Crispy outside, hot and tender inside, and the sauce has the perfect amount of heat and tang which is probably from the splash of Frank’s Red Hot sauce, a Buffalo kitchen staple.
Throwback Vibe and Innovative Wings at Lenox Grill
Lenox Grill is a fun throwback to the 1980s and may remind some of a certain TV sitcom. It is located steps below the ground, the bar area is dimly lit, and décor is in hues of brown except the gray mounted shark in the dining area. It is in the Lenox Hotel which opened at the turn of the 20th century and is Buffalo’s oldest operating hotel. Guests included Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington, and Henry Fonda. The Lenox Grill opened more recently and serves classic wings but for a flavorful kick, try the Korean BBQ Wings for a sweet, sour, smoky, and spicy combination.
And the Best Buffalo Wing Is…
As for finding the best Buffalo wing, I made my choice but will keep it to myself. Tastes are subjective and each eatery on the trail has its own flavor making it shine. But I am confident the world’s best wing is somewhere in Buffalo. The trail is more than enjoying the world’s greatest food, it is about adventure and being open to new experiences and flavors.
My advice before embarking on the Buffalo Wing Trail, go hungry, plan your route, and call them “wings” and not “chicken wings.” Importantly, never, ever order ranch dressing for your wings. Blue cheese is the preferred sauce of Buffalonians and dipping wings in ranch dressing is a waste of a good wing.
Nuts & Bolts About the Buffalo Wing Trail
Visit Buffalo Niagara Tourism
Lodging, dining, and things to do.
Buffalo Wing Trail
National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival
275 Washington St.
Buffalo, NY 14203
Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 5 & 6, 2020
Find it on Amazon!
Solo Travel Girl’s Fave Buffalo Wing Spots
1047 Main St.
Buffalo, N.Y. 14209
Tel: (716) 886-8920
185 Main St.
East Aurora, N.Y. 14052
Tel: (716) 652-7959
Cole’s Restaurant & Bar
1104 Elmwood Ave.
Buffalo, N.Y. 14222
Tel: (716) 886-1449
145 Allen St.
Tel: (716) 886-0602
140 North St.
Buffalo, N.Y. 14201
Tel: (716) 884-1700
Live in Southwest Florida? Get Your Wing Fix at These Spots
Can’t make it to Buffalo? Try these Southwest Florida eateries for Buffalo wings and other flavors from the Queen City.
4658 E State Road 64
Bradenton, Fla. 34208
Tel: (941) 748-0700
Buffalo Wings & Rings
North Port Location
1081 W Price Blvd.
North Port, Fla. 34288
Port Charlotte Location
1020 El Jobean Rd.
Port Charlotte, Fla. 33948
Buffalo Wild Wings
18379 Tamiami Trail
North Port, Fla. 34287
Save the Date
Fourth Annual Everything Buffalo Party
3000 Ringling Blvd.
Sarasota, Fla. 34243
Buffalo comes to Sarasota during this growing event. Enjoy Buffalo favorite foods which may include as beef on weck, sponge candy, Sahlen’s Hot Dogs, Chiavetta’s chicken, Bison Dip, and authentic Buffalo pizza and wings. Entertainment hails from Buffalo, too.
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