Sunday, February 1, 2004

Calm down, folks: It's just about what tasted best

Click here to e-mail John B.
Every time I get involved with chicken wings and the Enquirer, I get in trouble. I wrote a story for our Food section in October 1991, with my favorite sauce recipe. Somebody mailed it to a TV newsman in Buffalo, who held it up on the 11 p.m. news and ridiculed it. Turns out he hadn't actually read the article (he would have learned the recipe was from western New York) or tasted the sauce (it's delicious). My brother Mike, who gave me the recipe, has never forgiven me for not publicly giving him credit. Are you happy now, Mike?

On this topic, I never surrender, though my arteries will someday have their say. I grew up in the Buffalo area, and I ate my first wing in 1972. I've been to the mountaintop - the Anchor Bar on Main Street in Buffalo, where the modern wing was invented - but those weren't even my favorite. I always preferred Duff's in Amherst, and La Nova's neo-classic grilled wings are killer.

I've lived in Greater Cincinnati since 1984, and have eaten wings all over town - scrawny ones at Buffalo Wild Wings, raw ones (yes, raw) at Salem Gardens, and wings priced like lobster at Willie's. I've had too much brown celery, runny blue cheese dressing, and not-hot sauce. I once complained to a counter clerk at Mount Lookout Tavern that the wings were too dry, too weak. "This ain't Buffalo," she told me.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 11 is Duff's, the best I've had here would rate 7. When I want good wings, I'll trek to the Back Porch Saloon near Tri-County, Sporty's in Florence, or Anderson Pub and Salem Gardens in Anderson, though I order them well done.

Enquirer Food writer Chuck Martin always asks me to take part in these tastings. The point has never been to find the best wing in Cincinnati. That would take months, and we're not doing restaurant reviews. Last week's review was simply to answer the question: Which wings would you serve at a Super Bowl party? That made all wings eligible. We tasted 11 wings, in a blind test.

There was not a good classic Buffalo wing in the bunch, and deep-frying had nothing to do with it. Some wings had sauce you could see but not taste. Some were too dry, some too greasy. Some of the sauces just plain tasted funny.

Pre-cooked, frozen, reheated wings are anathema to purists. Regardless, the wings from Domino's - which I rated highest of the 11 - were the most honest I tasted: good size, well-cooked, coated with a barbecue sauce that had a kick without being too sweet. What I saw was what I got. They didn't thrill, but they didn't disappoint. I stand by that choice.

One ex-Buffalonian (that's what we're called) wanted to revoke my Buffalo-native status. We decided to settle it over wings and beer.


John Byczkowski is an Enquirer business reporter.

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