3651 Sheridan Dr, Amherst, NY 14226
Web: Duff's Famous Wings
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Amherst Beef on Weck Chicken Wings Sandwiches
You wouldn't guess from the exterior of this Sheridan Drive, Amherst restaurant that it is and has for years been Buffalo's very best place to get authentic chicken wings. Walking inside won't change that impression: Duff's looks like a greasy sports bar minus the sports, with well-worn chairs, and tables that occasionally betray the oils of those who ate before you. But when your wings are delivered, bright red, and quite possibly soaking in a rich sauce unlike any you have experienced, you will without question understand what a true Buffalo chicken wing is supposed to taste like, and why virtually all of the world's other restaurants struggle to either come close or vaguely approximate this experience. It's not about the ambience. Duff's is all about delivering flavor, and spice, in drumstick doses. Order right, and you'll eat the best Buffalo-style chicken wings anywhere. But order wrong, and these wings will eat you. Seriously.
The Story: The history of the Buffalo chicken wing dates back to 1964, when Teressa Bellissimo invented the now famous snack at metropolitan Buffalo's Anchor Bar. Five years later, a geographically distant tavern called Duff's began to sell its own version of the chicken wing, eventually becoming more famous for its wings than its drinks. While the Anchor Bar has changed ownership and, apparently, recipes, Duff's has remained consistent over the years, offering wings in a wide variety of spice levels that are predictable up until their peaks: "suicide" and "death" sauces. Ten years ago, Duff's franchised its first location to Toronto, Canada-based entrepreneurs, a second Toronto location is now open as well. The brief menu consists of wings, french fries, onion rings, Beef on Weck and chicken sandwiches, soft drinks and beer. This is one of very few places in Buffalo where you can get textbook-quality wings, Beef on Weck, and loganberry in the same place, though many other places offer two or three at lower levels of quality.
Highs: All of Duff's items are close to perfectly executed; unless you're thinking of ordering the very hottest wings, you're safe picking anything on this menu. Wings, particularly the hot ones, arrive quickly in brown bowls that are roughly a third or half filled with sauce, enabling the large, meaty pieces of chicken to stay moist rather than drying out or tasting predominantly greasy. Virtually no other place is this generous with sauce, and certainly no one else makes it as well; for spicy food, this is surprisingly rich in flavor.
Duff's offers one of the most graduated spiciness scales of any restaurant we've visited, including places in global spice capitals such as Thailand, China, and Mexico. By way of disclaimer, the restaurants advertise that "Medium is hot, Medium Hot is very hot, and Hot is very, very hot," but the waitresses elucidate additional gradations, such as Mild, Mild Medium, and Medium Mild, the latter a very good starting point for wing novices who appreciate spicy foods.
It's worth only a brief note that the classic Beef on Weck sandwich is executed here with understated accuracy, its top bun salty enough to make you consider a quick scrape. Similarly, we always order drinks here by the small or large pitcher, and the loganberry is a particularly nice accompaniment to the strong salty or spicy offerings; french fries and rings are also delicious spice-stoppers, though their added grease can be a put-off after eating a bunch of wings.
Lows: We come at the following sentence from the perspective of serious spice enthusiasts - long-time fans of Duff's hot wings, and even hotter suicide wings: there is something wrong with Duff's newest "death" wings. When we say "wrong," let's be clear - we aren't criticizing Duff's for offering a super-hot level of spice, but rather for its inconsistency, which on one occasion was slightly hotter than suicide, yet on another was the culinary equivalent of battery acid. If death wings were predictably hot, they could be ordered or ignored with confidence, but served with such varying levels of spice, they are downright dangerous; ten wings from the latter batch wreaked such havoc on this writer's upper digestive system that it was uncomfortable to eat anything spicy for a month. We've capped our subsequent orders at "hot" or "suicide," and would strongly advise readers to do the same.
Duff's only other low is its ambience: the 1946-vintage Sheridan location makes little attempt to look like a modern, clean establishment, almost reveling in its black electrical-taped chairs and the grease spots that dot its tables. If memory serves, there's been next to no significant renovation inside in decades, and these or similar pieces of furniture have been around for at least 20 years. The focus is most definitely on the food, particularly the wings, and in all honesty, the continued reasonable pricing - as well as the fact that just enough parking always seems to be available - almost justifies the lack of aesthetic appeal.
The Verdict: Duff's is, at least for now, the very best place to get chicken wings in Western New York, and probably the only restaurant we'd recommend locally as a one-stop tourist destination for accurate wings, Beef on Weck, and loganberry. We loved it when we grew up here, made it the first place we visited when we lived out of town, and today, it's high on our list of "must-try's" when friends come to visit. In our view, Duff's is now far better than the Anchor Bar from which it learned its signature dish, and for residents and visitors alike, it's highly recommended.