It's known with certainty that Jules Alciatore created Oysters Rockefeller in 1899, at Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans, after running short on snails.
Similarly well-known is that Oscar Tschirky debuted the Waldorf salad in the mid-1890s at New York City's Waldorf Hotel.
The buffalo wing, by contrast, has a history that dates back no more than 50 years. And yet its history is rife with ambiguity; four stories have endured, involving two Buffalo, N.Y., restaurants.
One version goes like this: In 1964, Frank and Teressa Bellissimo, owners of the Anchor Bar, mistakenly received delivery of chicken wings, as opposed to the chicken backs and necks they typically used to make spaghetti sauce. Frank convinced Teressa to turn them into something edible, and voilà: appetizer heaven.
The Bellissimos' son Dom tells two stories, the main one appearing in Calvin Trillin's 1980 New Yorker piece:
"It was late on a Friday night in 1964, a time when Roman Catholics still confined themselves to fish and vegetables on Fridays. ... Some regulars had been spending a lot of money, and Dom asked his mother to make something special to pass around gratis at the stroke of midnight."
The final version involves fellow Buffalonian John Young, his restaurant Wings 'n Things and a "mambo sauce." Trillen wrote about meeting Young in 1980: "Young, who is black, reminded me that black people have always eaten chicken wings. What he invented, he said, was the sauce that created Buffalo chicken wings."
Whatever the origins, Americans love wings, maybe more than they love covering things in salad dressing. The National Chicken Council says that in 2008, roughly 12 billion chicken wings were sold (and that only includes those marketed specifically as wings), but since those wings are then cut up, it's more like 20 billion plus. (Using the 2008 U.S. population estimate of 304,059,724, that means that every man, woman and child in the country ate an average of 66 wings that year.)
And many of them got fat, sloppy and happy while watching finely chiseled athletes sweat on TV. More than 1 billion wing portions of the aforementioned 20 billion vanished during the 2008 Super Bowl weekend. While estimates on wings eaten during the annual NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament (or "March Madness" to non-robots) were unavailable, in its annual report, consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., did state that $1.8 billion dollars in productivity will be lost this year due to tournament attention.
In honor of said lost productivity, we present our own Final Four of Fowl, to help guide you when this week's family dinners happen to take you to more ... untraditional locales. Four wing appetizers were reviewed in four categories —sauce, sides, meat and value — with an overall winner crowned at the end.
We know there are fine wings everywhere, so post your thoughts on the best ones we missed below.
Enlarge the image for the results.
- photos by Bryce Crawford