Saturday, December 26, 2009

Duff's Famous Wings, Buffalo, NY

Is there something about eating food in the city after which it was named which makes it taste better? I've never had a hamburger in Hamburg, or a cheesesteak in Philly, but since moving to the US, I've had several opportunities to enjoy Buffalo wings on their home turf in Buffalo, NY. I don't know if they are actually the best wings I've tasted, but something about digging into a plate of them in northwest New York makes them seem impossible to beat.

Buffalo is located along the most direct route between my current residence in Pittsburgh and both Toronto and Montreal, and on one road trip, a quick internet cellphone search pointed our group toward Duff's Famous Wings, conveniently located only five minutes from I-90. Craving an alternative to the McDonalds-infested rest stops along the New York State Thruway, we decided a short detour was in order.

From the outside, Duff's seems to meet the requirements one would expect from a solid wing establishment. Neon lights? Check. Giant marquee advertising both how hot their wings are and the upcoming football game? Check and check. Inside there are more promising signs: televisions everywhere (including in the men's room), a bubble hockey table, and very large patrons wedged into cushy leather booths.

On all of my visits, ordering has been simple: wings and beer, and plenty of both. The wings come exactly how I like them. Wing flats and drumettes are deep-fried until crispy on the outside while staying juicy and tender on the inside. Then, from the fryer, they get tossed in lots and lots of sauce. Look at them glisten!

Before elaborating, let me digress by listing my six rules for a great order of buffalo wings. Duff's adheres to these rules pretty closely.

Rule #1. Wings shouldn't be obtained from undersized birds. I don't want wing flats that are so small that I need tweezers to pick out the meat from between the two bones. I want to be able to tear off most of it with my first bite so that I can wedge a finger in there to pry the rest of the meat loose.

Rule #2. Wings shouldn't be obtained from oversize birds. On the other hand, I don't want anything that looks like it came from a turkey. There should be a couple good mouthfuls of meat on a drumette, and that's it. Anything bigger, and I'm going to have too much meat in the interior that's under-seasoned and not in contact with any sauce.

Rule #3. The wings shouldn't be overcooked. I don't want wings that are dry, tough, or leathery. Too long in the deep fryer or too long sitting under a heat lamp and the wings are ruined.

Rule #4. Wings should be accompanied by fresh, crisp, chilled celery and blue cheese dressing. Buffalo wings are warm, the celery shouldn't be too! And is there anything less refreshing than limp celery? The creamy blue cheese dressing is great not only for dipping the celery, but for offsetting the heat with an occasional dip of a wing.

Rule #5
. Sauce quality: I want them spicy, and I want some decent acid content. I don't want teriyaki wings, I don't want honey-glazed wings, I don't anything mesquite or dry-rubbed. Just emulsify a vinegary cayenne pepper-based sauce with some fat and go nuts. Keep it simple!

Rule #6
. Sauce quantity: the sauce should be plentiful. I can't stress this last point enough. I hate it when an order of Buffalo wings comes with just a few tablespoons of sauce dripped over it. I want every square inch of wing surface area drenched in sauce. I want enough sauce on the bottom of the serving plate to swish my wing in both before and after taking that first bite. I want enough sauce to dip my celery in too. And if the sauce is good, I'm likely going to want to dip my fingers into it and lick them clean. I once had a roommate who used to keep the leftover liquid at the bottom of the bucket from our local wing take-out joint and incorporate it into his homemade pasta sauce. While I don't go that far, I do appreciate the sentiment and similarly treat a good sauce like the valuable commodity that it is.

So, how do Duff's Famous Wings fare? Perfectly sized and perfectly cooked, positively drowned in a quality sauce and accompanied by cool, crunchy celery and creamy blue cheese dressing. 6/6! I've had the medium, the medium-hot, and hot wings. I'd recommend the medium wings for people who like a bit of heat but have relatively sensitive palates. I didn't notice much difference between medium-hot and hot wings. Both caused a healthy amount of mouth and lip tingling without bordering on being unpleasant (for me), but I have a pretty high heat threshold. Some of my dining companions have struggled with anything hotter than medium. The folks over at the Hot Sauce Blog have tested the Armageddon Wings and their advertised 850,000 Scoville Heat Units, but I haven't been that brave yet. Maybe next time?

Duff's draft selection is relatively uninteresting, but I don't think you can go wrong with pitcher of Sam's Adam Boston Lager. Straightforward American beer for a straightforward American food in a straightforward American city. Since that first visit, a drive to or from Toronto or Montreal isn't complete without a quick pit stop in Buffalo.

Duff's is located at 3090 Orchard Park Road in Buffalo, NY. It's a 5 minute detour from I-90 and worth the side trip. Call (716) 674-7212 for more information.