“ Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you,” Simon and Garfunkel sang in their 1960s song Mrs. Robinson. Baseball...
The year was about 1983 when a couple of friends asked me to join them for lunch at Parker’s Lighthouse, a restaurant located at Shoreline Village in Long Beach. We took a table outside overlooking a small channel where the Los Angeles River empties into the Queensway Bay, with a perfect view of the Queen Mary.
My friends insisted that I try the Buffalo wings, “They’re great,” they said. Prior to that time, I had never heard of Buffalo wings. I was certain they were joking so I joked back, “I never knew that Buffalos had wings,” I said, while secretly scanned the menu to see if they were pulling my leg. Sure enough, Buffalo wings was listed as an appetizer.
That was a long time ago and I never imagined for a minute that I’d be writing about it. But recently, while watching television, the subject of discussion was Buffalo wings and how they came about. When they announced that Buffalo wings were the invention of an Italian-American family, they had my full attention and this is what I learned:
It all happened about five decades ago. A young man named Dominic and a few of his friends had been out on the town night-clubbing. After several hours of a good thing, they had decided to end their evening at the Anchor Bar, a restaurant on Main Street in Buffalo, New York, owned by Dominic’s parents, Frank and Theresa Bellissimo.
The boys were a bit inebriated after a night of bar-hopping. They hinted that they could use a little something to eat. The hour was late, well passed dinner-serving time, but when Dominic and his buddies asked for a snack, Theresa and Frank put their creative brains in gear.
It so happens that when the boys had arrived, Theresa was about to make chicken stock with a bunch of wings. Now as a rule, chicken wings were never served to customers since they are considered the part of the chicken usually thrown away or used for soups or stocks. But at that moment, it seemed that the Culinary Gods were smiling down on the Anchor Bar: Theresa was about to experience a stroke of creativity from which an industry was about to be born. Theresa had decided to broil the chicken wings and douse them with a spicy sauce while Frank searched for something to round out the snack: The answer to Frank’s search was in the crisper.
He brought out an abundance of celery stalks, cut them in even lengths and placed them artfully on both sides of a very large platter. In the center of the platter he placed a bowl of blue cheese salad dressing. By this time, Theresa had completed the pièce de rèsistance and the wings were placed around the platter with such care that a stranger unwittingly coming upon the scene might reasonably have inferred that this creation was surely destined to be the subject of a still life painting.
The creation was a hit. The boys loved it and everyone suggested that the wings be placed on the menu, possibly as an appetizer. Frank and Theresa agreed and as the saying goes, “The rest is history.”
If you like this story, don’t get too attached to it. It seems that there are two more versions of what really happened. Like many historical events, it all depends on who is telling the story.
Dominic tells it differently. According to him, it was a Friday night at the bar and since customers were buying lots of drinks, he wanted to do something nice for them at midnight when the mostly Catholic patrons who didn’t eat meat on Friday, would be able to eat meat again. So he served them chicken wings although his mother, Theresa, is still the one who came up with the idea.
Dominic’s dad, Frank, insisted that it didn’t happen that way. There was a wrong delivery of wings instead of backs and necks to be used in flavoring spaghetti sauce. Frank threw up his hand in frustration so he asked Theresa to do something with them and that’s how Buffalo wings were born.
No matter what version you accept, the fact remains that Buffalo wings are a reality. The new addition to the menu was referred to as “hot wings” or “spicy wings,” not “Buffalo wings.” The name “Buffalo wings” is believed to have been brought about by out-of-towners after hearing about the snack served at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. Naturally, people began referring to them as “Buffalo Wings,” and voila, through word of mouth, the product was pinpointed to a geographic location.
But that wasn’t all. In the wake of the Buffalo wings phenomenon, Buffalo wing fans had bestowed upon Theresa a special term of endearment. She had lovingly become known as “Mother Theresa,” the patron saint of anyone craving the hot spicy snack known as Buffalo wings.
How could it not be a hit? There seems to be something appealing about using the fingers to eat, followed by the pleasant chore of licking them clean. The joy in this dining process may very well have contributed to the wings’ popularity, spreading from of Buffalo, New York, across the land to other parts of the country. Although many now refer to them as hot wings, we all know where they came from.
The growing trend of spicy chicken wings have become the staple of casual dining. Ready-to-eat, heat-and-eat and frozen are now sold in supermarkets, grocery stores and delicatessens, amounting to about 4 billion wings per year while 9.5 billion wings are sold through food service channels.
“Who would have thought …” are the words often used when contemplating an unexpected outcome. It’s possible that if Dominic and his buddies had not stopped in at the Bellissimo family’s restaurant that night, this simple spur-of-the-moment product would not have surfaced to become the billion dollar industry it is today.
If you’ve never had Buffalo wings, try them with celery and blue cheese salad dressing and then thank this Italian-American family for coming up with a product that is molto delizioso.