1047 Main St., Buffalo, NY 14209
Web: Anchor Bar
Rating: [learn more]
The famed originator of Buffalo's chicken wings is back to serving pretty good though not especially spicy versions, with a respectable menu of other American and Italian dishes, including a competent Beef on Weck sandwich, plus a fine variety of beers and other drinks. Friendly service.
Feels almost like a tourist trap: prices are just too high relative to numerous other competitors, and famed wings aren't anything special in flavor or size, either. Most recent visit was big improvement from prior, seriously not good one, but cannoli dessert was well below par.
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Beef on Weck Buffalo Chicken Wings Italian
"Tourists will love that the Anchor Bar's a clean place to have a memorable meal, but if we're going to wait in a line for wings, it's going to be at Duff's with the locals instead."
One thing you'll note about virtually every Buffalo Chow review is our strong focus on food relative to other aspects of the dining experience: we're glad to eat in any sort of venue, as long as the meals are great. But at the Anchor Bar, the famous originator of Buffalo's chicken wings, the draw today is more the place and its backstory than the food. Tourists pay a premium just to sit here and mark it off someone else's list of things they should do in Western New York. Yet, if you're sitting near locals, as we did on our most recent visit, you'll probably hear the name Duff's mentioned in a comparatively positive light. Below, we'll explain why.
As noted in an earlier article on chicken wings ("Buffalo wings" to those from outside the area), the Anchor Bar's Teressa Bellissimo is universally acknowledged as the creator of the chicken wing, having been asked in 1964 by her bartending son Dominic to make a snack for a group of his friends. She responded by deep frying some wings - at that point considered a marginal part of the chicken - and flavoring them with Frank's Hot Sauce. The response was highly positive, leading the Anchor Bar to add the new dish to its permanent menu. Other restaurants later picked up the recipe, adding their own twists, but Bellissimo was unquestionably the first, and for a time, the best. Teressa and her husband Frank - no relation to the hot sauce company - watched as wings took off in popularity, and the Anchor Bar became Dominic's in 1984 after Teressa passed away. Dominic owned it until his death in 1991, and today, his widow Edith co-owns the bar with manager Ivano Toscani, who has worked at the place since the later Frank and Teressa days. Together with partners, they've bottled the restaurant's sauce for sale in supermarkets, drawn up plans for as-yet-unopened franchises, and collectively enjoyed more national and international media attention than any of the past owners. Ivano's name now appears on numerous celebrity photos found all over the restaurant's main dining room.
As a consequence, the Anchor Bar is one of Buffalo's more noteworthy tourist destinations; on our visit today, its parking lot was - unlike most other local restaurants - actively managing incoming cars. We had no problem finding a parking spot and getting seated instantly 20 minutes after it opened at noon, but by 1:00 on a snowy day, there was a waiting line out the door. This was despite the expansion of the restaurant's table space into several rooms around a traditional drinking counter bar in the center, plus a decor upgrade that has made the venue look cleaner and franchise-ready. Clearly, the owners have succeeded in making the Anchor Bar a landmark, and it entirely deserves its clientele.
But what about the famous chicken wings? Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that if you're not a connoisseur of the spicy treats, you'll surely be satisfied with the wings the Anchor Bar is currently serving. They were markedly better than the ones we ate there a year or so ago, which were so light on meat, greasy, and weak on flavor that we seriously doubted that we'd ever come back. This time, we cautiously ordered 10 each of the Medium and the Suicide Wings, the latter for our spice fanatic, the former for our more spice-sensitive wing fan. Both of us agreed that the wings had been appropriately deep fried to achieve the right level of crispiness, and though they were by no means as meaty as the jumbo-sized wings served elsewhere, they weren't nearly as bony - with one or two exceptions - as the ones from the last visit.
Less impressive was the actual sauce. Our more sensitive-tongued diner pronounced the Mediums not hot enough, and proceeded to eat two Suicide Wings without batting an eyelash. "That's Suicide?," she asked. "Maybe my tolerance has changed." Probably not; despite their conspicuously darker color and visible chili peppers, the Suicides mightn't have rated "hot" at Duff's, or quite possibly at a number of other places. And neither of the wings was as good overall as the ones we'd had the night before from Palladino's just to establish a base level for reference.
Though virtually everyone visits for the chicken wings, it's worth noting that the menu isn't by any means limited to those items: there are a number of appetizers ranging from $4 to $15 in price, including Mozzarella Toast ($7.50), Fried Coconut Shrimp ($12), Crab Cakes ($12), and a new Chicken Wing Soup ($5), plus plenty of other comfort foods: $8 Sandwiches and Subs, $8 to $17 Pastas, Italian-style entrees from $16 to $23, and specials ranging from $11 Pizza Logs and Chicken Fingers to a $24 rack of Baby Back Ribs. Twenty-five beers and a limited selection of wines, champagne, and cordials are also available.
On this visit, we stuck to Buffalo fare and ordered a Roast Beef on Weck Sandwich ($9), served here with the traditional side pickle and a half plate full of french fries. The meat was hot, thin-sliced, and plentiful, and the bun was decently representative of the Kummelweck norm, but neither as salty nor as fresh as some of our favorites. We'd call it an average version of the sandwich overall, but like the wings, we'd be surprised if any first-time visitor to the area walked away disappointed by it.
For a finale, we glossed over the menu and picked a dessert: the Cannoli ($3.50), which our nice, attentive waitress told us was very good. Unfortunately, it wasn't; we split in opinion only on whether it was "awful" or just "way below average." It came out quickly, obviously having sat in a fridge: the sweet cheese filling was a little chewy, and the outer shell was broken and soggy from having absorbed most of the moisture from the filling after their earlier assembly. The outer cream was unusually garnished with thin pieces of coconut and only modestly accented inside with miniature chocolate chips, neither adding to the flavor. We wouldn't order it again.
But would we go back to the Anchor Bar? We were split on that, too. One of us initially offered an unqualified "no," based as much on the location as anything else, while the other paused for one major reason - the prices - but noted that the food was, other than the cannoli, fine. It was hard to ignore the high prices, as the 10 Medium Wings sold for $10, and the 10 Suicide ones cost an outrageous $12, with our relatively small two-person meal coming to around $45 after beverages. As Western New Yorkers, and serious fans of this sort of food, we know well that we could go to plenty of other places, pay less, and get both wings and weck that were at least as good, perhaps better. We were already thinking of Duff's when an older gentleman sitting at the table next to us favorably mentioned its name towards the end of the meal; it's hard, if not impossible, for people familiar with both places to avoid making the same comparison and drawing the same conclusions. So yes, tourists will love that the Anchor Bar's a clean place to have a memorable meal, but if we're going to wait in a line for wings, it's going to be at Duff's with the locals instead.