The story of the buffalo wing is a story of triumph. Someone in Buffalo, New York, in the middle of the last century—accounts of the creator's identity vary—discovered a use for a chicken part that had traditionally been trashed or humbly reserved for stock or industrial food purposes. And the use they found for the ugly old wings that everyone else tossed out? Slather them in butter and hot sauce, and serve them with blue cheese and an entire roll of paper towels, preferably in the middle of a large and raucous sporting event. From garbage to beloved snack in a matter of decades? That's American ingenuity at its finest!
I'm not a sports fan at all—at all—but Super Bowl season always instills in me a deep-seated craving for a good, sloppy plate of buffalo wings. A table full of people eating wings is never pretty: faces and hands smeared with a hyperactive orange sauce, trays of small, slick bones everywhere, plugs of juicy meat dipped into a cheese sauce that dribbles, inevitably, everywhere, and mountains of crumpled paper towels growing higher by the second, punctuated by thirsty gulps from greasy glasses of beer. Aesthetically, it's a nightmare. But the symphony of clashing flavors that somehow build to a perfectly balanced experience is a very specific itch that can only be scratched in one very specific way.
If you're thinking about eating buffalo wings in Seattle, one name dominates the conversation: Wing Dome. The local chain—despite the corporate feel, Wing Dome's only branches are in Kirkland, Kent, and Greenwood—has branded itself as virtually the only buffalo-wing expert in the region. A lunchtime visit to the Greenwood location affirmed that they've certainly got the trappings of a wing place down: Every steel-topped table in the garage-looking space had a roll of paper towels on it. TVs are everywhere—for sports, you see—and the food is served in red plastic baskets on top of red-and-white-checked wax paper.
And the wings? Yeah, they're all right. I got the one-and-a-half-pound lunch special ($12.99) with the four-alarm sauce. The peppery sauce was good, and there was a lot of it, but the wings were a little on the slender side, and the meat was in danger of being too juicy—it fell off the bone, with no give at all. You don't want your wings to behave like barbecue; there should be a little fried-chicken firmness mixed into the DNA, too. It didn't help that the side made the whole plate feel uninspiring: The crinkle-cut fries may as well have been extravagant origami, bearing no resemblance to a potato at all.
Wing Dome ranks their traditional sauces on a one-to-seven alarm scale. Four is "On the Hot Side." If you're into public pain, you can take a hot-wing challenge: If you eat seven seven-alarm wings in seven minutes with no beverages, you get the meal for free and a T-shirt. Photographs of the "winners" of the challenge, their faces neon-orange-slick and their eyes glistening with tears, line the hallway to the restrooms, representing a club that I have no interest in joining. This whole food-as-punishment thing is off-putting and, frankly, unappetizing; I realized halfway through my meal that the wall next to my table was screaming at me in giant letters: "STOP CRYING YOU ASKED FOR IT." Meals should not have to come with trigger warnings.
The Seattle restaurant world in the year 2014 is full of nervous energy, shifting in its seat whenever anyone mentions a traditional menu item. Everything needs to be adjusted, made better, infused with something or somewhere else. So when Ba Bar announced that their new Tuesday special was 50-cent chicken wings served 10 at a time, I was prepared to confront a new twist on an American original. What I got, instead, was a great plate of comfort food: With their fish sauce and their syrupy consistency, Ba Bar's chicken wings are more like the sweet, spicy side dish that's been served at American Chinese restaurants for decades. They're crispier than Wing Dome's wings, and the flavors are much more complex, with undertones of heat lurking beneath the clash of sweet and salty. The sticky sauce causes less of a dining disaster, too—I needed only a single napkin to ferry me through the meal. Combined with a glass of bright-red wu wei iced tea ($3) and a plate or two of Ba Bar's excellent street food (the Huê dumplings and the crispy imperial rolls are favorites), and followed by one of their brilliant macarons ($1.65, go for the passion fruit if it's available), and you've got yourself a filling meal of small delights.
But sports are everywhere right now, and so some tradition is called for. It's time for an old-fashioned plate of goddamn buffalo wings, and the best way to enjoy buffalo wings is to make them yourself. The best and simplest recipe for wings I've found is Alton Brown's, though I've made some modifications over the years.
Paul Constant's Alton Brown's Buffalo Wings
12 fresh (not frozen, what the fuck is wrong with you?) chicken wings
1 stick butter
1/3 cup hot sauce
Assorted spices, to taste
Cut and separate the whole wings until they look like wings. Steam them over medium heat for 10 minutes until they're ghastly old-person-skin white. Put the wings on a bed of paper towels in the fridge for about an hour. Move them to a parchment-paper-lined baking tray and put them in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes, turning them over at the 20-minute mark. They should look like roasted chicken when you're through.
Finally, toss those fuckers in a bowl full of the mixture of hot sauce and melted butter. If you're not interested in making your own hot sauce, Frank's works well: It's cheap, it miraculously never causes digestive problems the way other hot sauces do, and it's got just about the right amount of heat. To that basic mix, add spices as you like: I prefer a lot of pepper, but garlic salt, minced garlic, lemon pepper, or basically anything else would work, too. Serve with celery sticks, beer, a 12-pack of paper towels, and the biggest tub of blue-cheese dressing you can find.
Eat until it looks like you slaughtered a mythical creature with your bare hands and teeth. Go Hawks.