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Sidebars: When in Buffalo, eat wings

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It being summer vacation season, I’m going to take a respite from the normal routine of this column and share with you some tidbits from our family vacation in July. It starts back in the spring of this year when Amy and I discussed over dinner one night with the kids where they would like to go for summer vacation. Niagara Falls became the consensus destination.

While mildly excited to witness one of the Seven Wonders of Canada, I was silently but wildly excited about its proximity to Buffalo, N.Y. Wearing my best poker face, I agreed that the kids’ idea was a great one and we would go. I promptly excused myself and locked myself in the bathroom while my heart jumped for joy. Niagara Falls is only about a 30-minute drive from Anchor Bar in Buffalo, birthplace of the ubiquitous Buffalo wings, a reigning American staple.

Visiting this place was on my bucket list, as it should be for any self-respecting wing fan, and I couldn’t believe I was going to be so close to it. I thought I had to play it cool for a while and devise and hatch my plan with Amy at the opportune time. This is not because she wouldn’t want to go if I flat out asked her, but because I didn’t want her to think I was any crazier than she already thinks I am. I buckled and brought it up right away.

After consulting a few friends who had visited the falls, we learned that the drive there is a relatively easy one – about nine hours. We also learned there really isn’t much to do of cultural substance other than viewing the falls, unless we wanted to take the kids to a bunch of tourist traps and casinos and spend a fair amount of our already deflated American dollars in Canada. So, on the front end of our trip we built in four nights in Toronto, a cultural and culinary gem. (I must give kudos to Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Glickman here. He recommended The Sultan’s Tent in Toronto for Moroccan food, a fine choice complete with a belly dancer who was actually skinny. The look on my 9-year-old son’s face was priceless as she came by our table.)

sidebars Anthony Vaiana wears Buffalo’s answer to the “Wisconsin cheesehead.” (Photo submitted)

On our first afternoon in Niagara Falls the topic of dinner came up, and we naturally (or unnaturally) drove to Buffalo. The bar was a relatively easy find and was bursting at the seams with nostalgia. Amy shared with the host how our romantic destination really turned out as my quest for wings. He chuckled and told her she was not the first spouse to make that comment and promptly seated us.

The Buffalo wing story begins in 1964 when some buddies of Dominic Bellissimo came to his bar shortly before midnight one evening with hearty appetites. He asked his mother, Teressa, to whip up something special for them. She had a mountain of wings in the kitchen that she commonly used for soup stock. She threw them in the fryer, made up a secret sauce (that tastes like mixed Louisiana hot sauce and butter), then tossed the wings in her concoction and served them to the hungry boys. The word spread around town like wildfire about those wings and the rest is history. For obvious reasons, she is now referred to as Mother Teressa.

The bar and restaurant have an expansive menu, mainly Italian influenced. Apart from the usual pub fare, they offer a variety of pastas, pizzas, pies, and, of course, cannoli for dessert. The wings, deep-fried, are flavorful and meaty but really pretty standard. Amy and the kids enjoyed a medium batch while I went for the hot ones. The hot variety was essentially medium wings with a hint of Tabasco sauce. Not very creative, I know, but not at all disappointing. This visit was more about the destination than the food anyway.

One particularly enjoyable aspect of the evening was sharing it with my family. My son, Anthony, has already developed a respectable palate for spicy wings. My 12-year-old daughter, Angelica, has sampled a few spicy wings in the past, but she’s never really made a meal on them prior to this night. Aurelia, my 14-year-old daughter, never even tried a Buffalo wing in her life prior to this visit. She liked them and ate her fill. It was pretty cool to share her first wing experience with her, especially at the place where it all began.

I give Anchor Bar four gavels. Not because of the quality of these wings (more like a 3 or even a 2½ rating), but because of the contribution to American cuisine that one idle night in 1964 produced at this very location. So plan that romantic trip to Niagara Falls with your spouse, significant other, or family members. The falls are stunning. So is the detour. Anchor Bar, 1047 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14209. 716-883-1134. www.anchorbar.com.

Fred Vaiana and Jennifer M. Lukemeyer practice at Voyles Zahn Paul Hogan & Merriman in Indianapolis. Vaiana is a 1992 graduate of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Lukemeyer earned her J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 1994. The opinions expressed in this column are the authors’.

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