Buffalo in the 1890s: Queen Victoria and her Buffalo-like way to eat wings

By Steve Cichon

Although “the Buffalo chicken wing” didn’t appear until the 1960s, Britain’s Queen Victoria was offering Buffalonians lessons on how to properly eat the delicacies 70 years earlier on the pages of The Buffalo Evening News.

With the help of Photoshop, an image of Queen Victoria and a plate of chicken wings. (Buffalo Stories illustration)
With the help of Photoshop, an image of Queen Victoria and a plate of chicken wings. (Buffalo Stories illustration)

With the help of Photoshop, an image of Queen Victoria and a plate of chicken wings. (Buffalo Stories illustration)

Here’s a spoiler alert— it sounds like the monarch whose name has become synonymous with prudishness and priggishness wouldn’t feel out of place with a table of Buffalonians devouring a bucket at Duff’s or Gabriel’s Gate.

Buffalo Stories archives
Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The story was told in The News that, in 1892, a plain country woman was with her 3-year-old having lunch with the Queen and Princess Beatrice.

“The queen, in the course of the lunch, took up a chicken wing with her fingers. While she was enjoying the sweetness of the meat next to the bone the little child looked up and quickly said:

“’Pig-ee! Pig-ee!’

“Every one was horrified. The mother felt as if she would like to sink out of existence. The queen went on for an instant with the morsel which she was holding in her fingers and then said:

“’You are right my dear. An English lady would not take a chicken wing in her fingers, but you must bear in mind that I am a German woman.’

“And she calmly finished the wing. The rest breathed a low sigh of relief and the mother and the child were, on taking their leave, invited to come again.”

Could Queen Victoria have been anymore Buffalonian?

With almost complete certitude, Queen Victoria’s wings were different than the one’s we munch on in Buffalo today. Our wings are split at the wing joint into flats and clubs. (Even if you call them something different, you know what I mean.) Her Royal Highness was likely gnawing on a still-intact wing, since serving split wings was the unquestionable culinary contribution of the Anchor Bar, starting around 1964.

That connected wing was almost certainly roasted with little additional seasoning, unlike our fried wings of today. While Teressa Bellissimo and the Anchor Bar certainly get the kudos for Buffalo’s first split wing, they might have to share the title of Buffalo’s first spicy wing with John Young, who served unsplit wings covered in his spicy Mambo sauce at his “Wings & Things” restaurant on Jefferson Avenue starting in the mid-’60s.

While credit for who first served a Buffalo-style chicken wing might be up for debate, these instructions on how to eat them seem indisputable.

The next time one of the more Victorian of your friends questions the manners of slamming down some wings, you can point to Queen Victoria’s notion that while proper English ladies might not use their fingers, Germans and Buffalonians do so with relish and the kind of grace becoming the Queen of England.

As the chicken wing turns 50, a look at its first appearance in The Buffalo News

By Steve Cichon

We’re searching out the history of the chicken wing in this, the 50th anniversary year of Buffalo’s most famous eponymous bar food.

Looking under “Pizza” in the yellow pages of Buffalo’s 1969 Telephone Directory, only one restaurant — the Anchor Bar — lists “chicken wings” as a menu option in its ad. That isn’t to say that others weren’t selling wings — in fact, several listings do mention “chicken” — but the Anchor Bar was alone in hawking “chicken wings” as such.

Ten years later, in the 1979 phone book, 54 different pizza restaurants list wings as a menu option.

Though there are other versions of where wings came from, the legend goes that the modern “Buffalo chicken wing” was invented at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar in 1964. The fact that the Anchor Bar is the sole promoter of the chicken wing on the pages of the phone book four years later may bolster that claim. But not so fast, might a chicken wing conspiracy theorist say.

With that same 1969 phone book in hand, one could point out that in the “Restaurant” section, while the Anchor Bar’s ad makes mention of music and Italian specialties, there is no mention of chicken wings.  When you flip a few pages forward, you find the only mention of wings in the restaurant section: a small listing for “Wings & Things,” John Young’s Jefferson Avenue restaurant, which also claims a role in creating the icon of gastro-pop culture.

Add another four years, and by 1972, the wing world has exploded in popularity to the point where News Food Editor Janice Okun offered up a discussion of wing history, preparation and recipes for homemade wings and blue cheese dressing.

This 1972 shot is the first of many photos showing The Anchor Bar’s Dominic Bellissimo and chicken wings appearing in The Buffalo News through the years. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Through the years, dozens of reporters have written hundreds of stories about chicken wings: summarizing the history of the wing, eating wings during Super Bowls, mailing wings to ex-pats, organizing festivals dedicated to wings.

What follows is the first in-depth Buffalo newspaper story on the chicken wing, written eight years after that night in 1964 when Teressa Bellissimo made culinary history.

“Not much to eat on chicken wing but what there is, is ‘choice’ ”

“Elegant, they’re not.

“Neat, they are certainly not.

“But delicious, they are. We’re talking about chicken wings, a popular Western New York snack food served in generous portions. Halved, cooked, spiced, heaped and dipped into tasty dressing.

“If the fad keeps growing, the little morsels may surpass King Pizza Pie in popularity. Several local pizzerias, in fact, now include chicken wings in their menus.”