On the pretext of pre-emptive research for National Chicken Wing Day, on Tuesday I decided to treat myself to some wings at the Anchor Bar. In case you’re unaware of National Chicken Wing Day (hard to believe, but anyway …), it is an American holiday that falls on the 29th of July, as proclaimed by the City of Buffalo in 1977.
The Anchor Bar is a newish restaurant located in Jackson Square and I couldn’t help comparing the place with its namesake, and predecessor, in the city of Buffalo. There is some resemblance — the decor with its photo wall, the brick pizza oven, the bar, the chicken/server motif — but somehow I recall a certain sort of fun and funky atmosphere in the Buffalo establishment that isn’t yet present in the Hamilton venue. The downtown restaurant, with its roof top patio, feels a lot more upscale — as befits the owners’ avowed intention to have the Hamilton restaurant as their Canadian flagship location, I suppose. I should admit that I haven’t been to the Buffalo establishment for quite a few years.
Anyway, what matters is the food and while the restaurant serves all sorts of specialties — from pizza to ribs to steaks and burgers — I was there for the wings. My charming and efficient server brought me two different types — the medium and the hot –(only wimps order mild, right?) so that I could test the heat. And yes, I can report that “hot” means hot and even the medium sauce had a nice little kick to it. There was an even spicier choice called “Suicide”, but despite the fact that I do favour a good peppery wing, I decided not to take the chance — it was lunch, after all, and I didn’t want to go back to work with terminal heartburn. The wings themselves were plump and juicy inside and properly fried so that they were nice and crispy on the outside. They were served with a rather meager portion of celery sticks and the housemade blue cheese dip which is not as cheesy as it could be.
The menu is very close to the Buffalo menu, minus the American beer choices, which I’m sure some may find a blessing. The Buffalo restaurant/bar itself has become a historical site as the place where the Buffalo wing was invented. According to writer Calvin Trillin (“An Attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Chicken Wing” first published in The New Yorker) there are two versions of the actual moments of invention. In one version, Frank Bellissimo, the original owner of the restaurant, recounts that chicken wings were mistakenly delivered instead of the backs and necks that were usually used in making spaghetti sauce. Frank asked his wife Teressa to figure out some use for the wings and the Buffalo chicken wing was born.
Dom Bellissimo tells a story that does not include a mistaken delivery. According to Dom, it was late on a Friday night in 1964, a time when Roman Catholics still confined themselves to fish and vegetables on Fridays. Dom asked his mother Teressa to make something special to pass around free at the stroke of midnight — and voilà — history was made. This is the modified account that appears on the current Anchor Bar menu.
Whichever tale you would prefer to believe, it is a universally accepted truth that the wings were an immediate success and became famous throughout Buffalo within weeks. In fact, the Buffalo wing has become so well-known everywhere that it even surpasses Polish jokes and snide references to excessive snowfall as an emblem of that city. If you go to the Visit Buffalo website you will be bemused to find a psychological personality test (http://www.visitbuffaloniagara.com/food-and-dining/chicken/) in which you can ascertain your own personality type in light of your chicken wing preferences. Mine said,”The Indiana Jones of wing eaters, you’re hungry for discovery, excavating meaty middles to unearth the sauce drenched bones underneath.” (Well, I was certainly chuffed by the Indiana Jones reference!)
I do realize that there are many other chicken wing choices that can be made in Hamilton — and I am looking forward to future explorations. I will leave you with a chicken wing recipe that I like to make. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Buffalo wings, but is, nevertheless, delicious.
Oh, and have a happy National Chicken Wing Day!
Honey Lime Chicken Wings
18 whole chicken wings, split
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. grated lime zest
1 minced clove garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
1) Mix together honey, lime juice, lime peel, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
2) Place the flour in a plastic bag and shake the chicken wings in the flour to coat. Put the wings in the refrigerator for at least two hours to help the flour adhere.
3) Fry the wings in hot, 1 inch deep oil until cooked through. Place the cooked wings in the honey/lime mixture and toss to coat well.
4) Serve immediately.
An old, easy recipe that works well if you like lime flavouring. The wings are messy and sticky so have lots of paper napkins ready when serving.