WHERE DO YOU GET THE BEST CHICKEN WINGS IN BUFFALO?
It’s one the most common and hotly contested questions you’ll get if you live in Buffalo, NY. Chicken wings have been the subject of cookbooks, TV shows, festivals, and so much more. But if it’s one thing for sure, it’s that Buffalo is the chicken wing capital of the world.
As a tour operator working in Buffalo, it only made sense to design a tour based around wings. So in 2019, I started leading people to local hot spots to sample Buffalo’s best wings. Along the way, we shared Buffalo history, alongside chicken songs I performed on the ukulele. From eggplant wings at Duende to spicy miso wings at Sato Brewpub to classic Buffalo wings at La Nova, the tour was our most popular that year.
CHICKEN WING HISTORY: A CONTESTED STORY
Pretty much everyone in Buffalo knows that chicken wings date back to the Anchor Bar. It’s made evident by their large exterior murals laying claim to their invention. Late on a May night in 1964, Teressa Bellissimo’s son Dominic was tending bar when a group of his friends came looking for some late night food. 20 minutes later, Teressa came out with some wings. Not a very good story but that’s the official party line.
But it was impossible to overlook a different origin story: John Young. Young was proprietor of Wings N’ Things, and he also claimed to have invented the wing. Dating back to 1961, Young’s Wing N’ Things, was known for its “mumbo sauce”, applied to wings, french fries, bread, and anything Young could find. The shop closed shortly after race riots in 1967 and Young lost his place in our history books and collective memory.
While 2020 has been awful, the simple idea of bringing back mambo wings kept our spirits high, knowing what it meant to the City of Buffalo.
This is all summarized in Rachel Wharton’s essay in “American Food: A Not-So-Serious-History,” where she connects soul food, the Great Migration, and chicken wings. Whatever the truth may be, it’s clear: the Anchor Bar story is more urban myth than fact. It turns out this whole thing is deeply entangled with race, history, and social movements.
I tried to reach out to the Young family. I visited research libraries. I talked to community historians. I wrote everybody in the phonebook with the last name “Young”. All roads led nowhere.
By happenstance, just then, a librarian alerted me to a piece Madison Carter had just produced for WKBW on the Young family. When Madison connected me with Lina, John Young’s daughter, I felt like I solved a cold case and I couldn’t wait to learn more!
AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY THROUGH BUFFALO FOOD TOURS
When I finally met the Young family, I had many questions. More than anything else, I wanted to figure out how I could best incorporate the John Young story into my wing tour. In the process, I made a short video – and much to my surprise, it racked up 1,000 views in its first week. Maybe we were on to something.
We talked John Young, Buffalo history, and I got to ask my one, burning question: what did mambo wings taste like? Lina still had her dad’s recipe…could she bring back mambo wings? Could we serve these long lost wings after a 20-year absence?
Suddenly, something happened: COVID-19. All plans were off. We couldn’t meet up let alone conduct tours. Still we continued texting and remained hopeful. While 2020 has been awful, the simple idea of bringing back mambo wings kept our spirits high, knowing what it meant to the City of Buffalo.
JOHN YOUNG, BUFFALO’S CHICKEN WING KING
As New York began to reopen, so did our conversations and soon an idea was born: an event to honor John Young. We called it John Young Day and the idea was simple. We’d serve up his famous mumbo wings and celebrate Buffalo’s original Wing King. We called a few commercial kitchens and soon secured a permit.
Low and behold, not only did people show up, the news did too! With features on WKBW and Spectrum News, it looked like mumbo wings would reclaim their rightful place in history. And the wings? Well the public are the best judges – check out the reviews in the recap below (caution – it may make you want to try mambo wings!).
But how could we make the mambo wings available to the public on and ongoing basis? We’re excited to say that through the Broadway Market, we’ve been able to find a home for our tours. Through our Wing Ride, you’ll be able to taste mumbo wings and hear Lina’s story, through family photos and memorabilia.
TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME, LEARN ABOUT THE CONTESTED STORY OF OUR CITY’S MOST FAMOUS DISH, AND SAMPLE THE ORIGINAL WINGS THAT MADE HISTORY.
This experience will be of interest to anyone who loves wings, history, Buffalo, or all of the above. Buffalo Bike Tours are great for parties, corporate outings, and team building activities. Need more reason? Check out our blog article 7 Reasons To Try A Buffalo Food Tour.
So what are you waiting for? Check out the Real Buffalo with Buffalo Bike Tours.