World-famous landmarks can be disappointing, but when I saw this one with my own eyes, I knew the 19-hour journey from London had been worth it, changing planes at Chicago and finally landing at Buffalo Niagara airport.
It was bigger and ore touristy than I’d expected but the queue was surprisingly short. I am, of course, talking about the Anchor Bar – a big red barn of a building on Main Street, Buffalo, the birthplace of Buffalo wings.
I also took a boat ride around Niagara Falls, just 20 miles (32km) from the Anchor Bar – but my main reason for visiting the second-largest city in New York state was to eat.
Buffalo wings are perhaps the only globally known and widely consumed food items that you can still try in the place of their invention. Good luck finding a consensus on where the first hamburger, hot dog or pizza was served, but there is no dispute that in 1964 the Anchor Bar (now complete with a merchandise stall selling foam hats in the shape of chicken wings, a collection of car licence plates from around the world and motorbikes hanging from the ceiling), is where Teressa Bellissimo, the owner at the time, first deep-fried chicken wings, tossed them in a hot sauce and served them with blue cheese dip and celery.
Despite the theme-bar styling, the Anchor Bar (one of 13 included on the official Buffalo wings trail) remains at heart a neighbourhood joint. On a Thursday lunchtime, the main horseshoe bar was filled with locals drinking beer and watching sports.
We took a seat in one of the three satellite dining rooms and did our best to do justice to two platters (totalling 100 wings) between six of us. The chipotle barbecue wings, cool habanero rub and spicy garlic parmesan were delicious, but it was the original medium hot wings that really hit the spot; large, plump, crisp and addictively flavoursome.
Even as a professional foodie I’d have to concede that flying across the Atlantic for lunch in a dive bar is taking my obsession to the brink (not to say abusing the planet) but in fact I would be in Buffalo for a while, helping to judge its annual Wing Fest.
Held at Sahlen Field baseball park in downtown Buffalo, it attracted 57,000 people from 48 states and 37 countries over two days, there to eat chicken from 26 stalls, drink beer and go face down in a paddling pool full of blue cheese dip in an attempt to win the bobbing for wings contest.
I couldn’t match professional wing eater Geoffrey Esper, who set a new world record of 281 wings in 12 minutes – but after judging 20 types of wing in the “creative” category, I felt I’d certainly had my fill.
At 716 Food and Sport, a local bar, the “grilled chicken on weck” wing was a sublime recreation of the flavours a “beef on weck” sandwich – another Buffalo speciality that I’d sampled at Schwabl’s. Opened in 1837, the tavern is as well known locally as the Anchor Bar and does what many say is the best beef on weck in the city – roast beef sliced to order, served in a German-style white kümmelweck roll topped with caraway seeds and sea salt and slathered in horseradish.
Less appealing to my British palette was the “Pump Up the Jam” wing from Boneheads in Rhode Island, featuring a peanut butter and jelly sauce and a marshmallow topping. However, it was fellow Britons from Orange Buffalo restaurant in Tooting, London, who collected the Festival Spirit award. Their Korean influenced K-Town wings lured huge crowds.
But Buffalo has more to offer than wings. The architecture is stunning, not least Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House after its $50 million (£39 million) makeover, Louis Sullivan’s proto-skyscraper: the Guaranty building, and the Silo City scheme, which repurposes historic grain silos as music venues with a restaurant and bar.
A new wave of bars and restaurants are putting Buffalo on the contemporary food map, including the Resurgence craft brewery and Marble and Rye. But it’s those wings that would make me fly back to the city.