185 Main St., East Aurora, NY 14052
Web: Bar Bill Tavern
Rating: [learn more]
A friendly, cozy local tavern with spicy, crispy wings, a succulent version of Beef on Weck, and a number of other fried and non-fried sandwich-style options. All items we tried were at least good, sometimes better.
Weck was lacking a bit in characteristic saltiness; wings are derived from Duff's recipe but not quite as rich in flavor and sauce. Little seating, no credit cards are accepted.
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Beef on Weck Chicken Wings East Aurora
"Regardless of whether the items here are the best we've ever had, it's obvious that the proprietors take pride in their recipes and preparation, and cater to a loyal local crowd."
As we stuff ourselves into stools and countertop seating next to the kitchen at East Aurora's Bar Bill, a tavern that touts itself as a wings-and-weck alternative to Amherst's long-time favorite Duff's, it's obvious that we're in a local hangout: with roughly 25 total seats between the small bar and several tables, almost all occupied on a random Monday night, we notice that chairs are filling at the rate they empty, and the staff is actively making sure we're properly attended to. By tavern standards, Bar Bill is clean - rows of glasses and mugs glimmer behind the bar - and there always seems to be someone coming over to make sure our drinks are topped off and we're happy with the food. Cramped it may be, but who could complain?
We're here mostly for the chicken wings, one of two standout items on both the restaurant's menu and the sign out in front: Bar Bill's "Buffalo style jumbo sized" wings are sold 10 for $7.50 and 20 for $13, with a 50 cent upcharge for a Cajun-style medium or hot sauce, and a $1 charge for "Suicidal," the place's spiciest sauce; other flavors and spice levels are available. Wings aside, there are 22 other items to choose from, including five sandwiches, seven fried choices - onion rings ($3.35), fries ($3.25), coconut shrimp ($7.75), and fish and chips ($7), amongst them - and a single dessert, a bowl of ice cream with Oreos on top ($3.50). The other item featured on Bar Bill's sign is the Buffalo-originated Beef on Weck, which unlike the other $5.25 to $7 sandwiches comes in three versions: a $3.75 mini, a $5.75 small, and a $6.75 large.
To be clear up front, there may be some similarities in menu and bar-like ambience, but Bar Bill isn't Duff's - and not for apparent lack of trying. Our server asked us how hot we like our wings, suggesting a comparative local scale, and when one of us suggested "Duff's Hot," there was a scoff and a comment about how Duff's makes T-shirts and Bar Bill makes hot wings. Oh. We were told that Bar Bill is using Duff's sauce recipe, only hotter. Oh? A tiny sampler cup of the "hot" sauce was produced with two wooden skewers inside - this restaurant's version of The Man's test, only the sauce in this cup isn't soul destroying; it's a little spicy, not crazy, and not enough to judge the wings by. Taking up the challenge, we ordered 30 wings: 10 medium hot, 10 extra hot, and 10 suicidal, curious as to just how close Bar Bill is really going to come to the Duff's experience after the trash talk. A large Roast Beef on Weck and a side order of breaded Jalapeno Peppers ($4.50) are also part of the order.
The nugget-sized Peppers emerge first in a basket, and they're good - battered and golden fried jalapenos stuffed with liquid cheddar, served oddly with a cup of thick, almost hard sour cream; they frankly didn't need accompaniment, but ranch would have been better. Like everything else we ordered, they came quickly from the kitchen, but then, we were seated only two or three steps away.
Next up was the Beef on Weck, which had been touted by one of our readers as special, in part because of its supposedly "authentic" kummelweck roll. While it wasn't a standout, it was good. Both of us were impressed by the quantity and quality of the beef, which was thin-sliced but packed into the roll, a mix of medium and rare parts that together were as juicy, lean, and obviously fresh as any we've had locally. In succulence, the meat was just plain impressive. But as contrasted with the texture and freshness, the flavor of the sandwich was a little underwhelming. Neither the meat nor the kummelweck bun had enough of the classic sandwich's salty flavor, a mandatory part of any "authentic" Beef on Weck sandwich. Tiny grains in the table's salt shaker weren't a proper substitute for the coarse stuff that's supposed to be on a kummelweck roll, but we polished off the sandwich and some of the included potato chips and pickle anyway.
Since the wings were what brought us to Bar Bill, we over-ordered and planned to bring home whatever we didn't finish. The less spice-obsessed of us picked the 10 "medium hot" wings, concerned after the sampling that the "hot" might be too much for her palate. At first, these wings seemed too mild - she found them pleasantly crispy but too light on sauce - but after eating five, it became obvious that the fried wings had soaked in their spice and were a little hotter than they'd initially been given credit for.
Serious spice fans will want to start with Bar Bill's "extra hots," which are a little under Duff's "Suicide" level; they might also attempt Bar Bill's Suicidal wings, which are probably a little spicier than the Duff's Suicide wings, but not tastier. The extra hots will be plenty hot for most people, and the suicidals are more of a challenge - fiery but not as flavorful. One of us ate all 10 of the suicidals, as well as 5 of the extra hots, but gladly finished a beer and the included celery sticks doing so.
True wing fans know that there are many ways to make wings, and that even their inventor, the Anchor Bar, has changed its recipe over the years, preserving a certain crispiness while modifying the sauce. As it turns out, Bar Bill's wings are closer to the Anchor Bar version than the richer and saucier Duff's variant, emerging from the kitchen unquestionably crispy, but evenly coated with just enough red sauce to leave small marks on the plate. Yet despite possessing the same base recipe as Duff's, Bar Bill's aren't quite as rich in flavor - most likely due to the far lower quantity of sauce - and the wings generally were a little less meaty, both reasons we'd pick Duff's wings first. But fans of super-crispy wings will like Bar Bill's version; they're definitely very good.
How good? Well, Bar Bill is a half-hour drive from Buffalo and a 40-minute drive for us, and we can't tell you that we'd make the trip again just for the wings or the weck. This is compounded by the restaurant's inconvenient cash only policy, which may necessitate a visit to the ATM if you're only carrying credit or looking to enjoy a couple of drinks with your meal, as we did. But if you live in the neighborhood, or are just passing through, this place is worth stopping in. Regardless of whether the items here are the best we've ever had, it's obvious that the proprietors take pride in their recipes and preparation, and cater to a loyal local crowd. By wing and weck standards, as well as the friendly service, Bar Bill comes close enough to a 3-star rating to round up the difference, just as we did with our tip.