Andrew Galarneau: Here is how Alton Brown went about reconsidering Buffalo wings | Restaurants

“My name’s Joe Todaro,” the La Nova Pizzeria owner told Alton Brown. “First time here?”

Brown was in the hot seat at 371 W. Ferry St. on Monday. In 2018, the television star said, “If you really want great Buffalo chicken wings, you don’t go to frickin’ Buffalo.”

But before his Wednesday show at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Brown asked for help finding the best wings in Buffalo from WGR 550’s Nate Geary and me.

The pit wings at La Nova’s West Ferry headquarters – fried, dunked in barbecue sauce and finished to caramel crustiness on the char-griller, were the reason our posse was there. Todaro said Brown had to try his medium, too, and presented an order.

That, as it turned out, was the chicken wing that made Brown eat crow.

“I officially recant saying that there were better wings outside of Buffalo, because of that wing right there,” Brown announced to his tablemates, brandishing the remnants of a medium flat while protecting the rest from other hungry eyes. “And all you back away.”

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Alton Brown had a memorable stop at La Nova on West Ferry Street.

Sharon Cantillon

Later, gone native, Brown topped a slice of stuffed pepper pizza with La Nova’s housemade blue cheese dressing and a bruleed chunk torn from a pit wing. Smeared with sauce like so many before him, he scrubbed up in the handy dining room sink.

We were halfway done. “Miles to go before we sleep,” Brown said to the limo driver as we climbed back in. “Elmo’s, please.”

Professional opinion-having is like baseball. The job is getting balls into play. Even a slugger like Brown, going on a quarter-century of offering food concept, won’t beat a thousand. Also, after interviewing him twice over the years, I knew he wasn’t a complete knucklehead.

In 2018, while others raged, I shrugged.

Defenders of Buffalo’s wing crown reacted to Brown’s dismissal with scoffing, principled arguments, and a few messages informing Brown he would be hunted down if he returned to Buffalo.

Brown is on his third stage tour, of about 140 dates apiece. He tries to get the specialty wherever his tour bus takes him. Often, Brown said, he finds the birthplace a tourist trap that no longer presents the finest examples of the dish.

When you have the nerve to say that in public, people push back on social media, Brown said, but only two cities told him he’d catch a beating for his heresy. Philadelphia, where Brown said was not the place to find the finest cheesesteaks in all the land.

And in Buffalo, where with a spare day and plenty of seats remaining for his performance, Brown decided to explore whether he was wrong. Dismayed with Anchor Bar and my declared classic wing favorite Duff’s Sheridan Patio during his first go-round, he asked for help making it to the right places.

Geary, a WGR on-air personality, had already started a Buffalo wing conversation with Brown last month through the Cameo site, while discussing having Brown record a promotional video for Geary’s sports-and-food podcast, Food for Thought.

Then late last week, an associate emailed to ask if I had time to help Brown figure out where he could find the best Buffalo had to offer. I sure would, I replied.

Which is how Brown and wife, Elizabeth Ingram, got into an SUV with a stranger Monday and pointed it to Bar-Bill in East Aurora. The furthest from Buffalo and toughest table to get, Bar-Bill was Geary’s suggestion, and the winner of a recent online poll.

Alton Brown

Alton Brown was impressed with the blue cheese from East Aurora’s Bar-Bill.

Sharon Cantillon

By the time our orders of Cajun honey butter BBQ and medium wings were ready, the line of people waiting for tables was out the door. Only a couple of bites, and Bar-Bill’s wings characteristic impeccably crisp skin, brushed-on sauce and artful arrangement had Brown’s complete attention.

There were more exhibits in our case, though. We headed north.

Elmo’s was where Geary and I agreed. Inside the dim neighborhood sports bar lined with goathead-and-butterknife-era Sabers jerseys, our server informed us Cajun sauce was out, nixing my usual Cajun double dip medium order.

Undeterred, we pressed on with double-dip wings in medium and honey mustard, accompanied by a traditional pitcher of Labatt’s. When the wings arrived, their smoky essence added welcome dimensions, and the refiring a jerky-like aspect to the exterior.

Since Duff’s Sheridan Patio was right down Millersport Highway, Brown offered to see if a revisit with a fan like me would raise his impression of its wings.

Reader, it did not. That’s fine with me. It’s hard enough to get in the doors already.

As long as one of the nation’s most popular food figures is willing to give Buffalo’s pride and joy its due, I’m satisfied Geary and I did our duty.

In the end, here’s Brown’s ranking of the wings he tried: La Nova medium, Elmo’s double-dipped medium, Bar-Bill medium. (Now there’s a whole different set of reasons for Buffalo wing lovers to get mad at him.)

Alton Brown La Nova medium wing

Alton Brown with a medium wing from La Nova, which was the one that caught his attention.

Sharon Cantillon

All that matters is that by the time Brown was sated, he’d joined the Buffalo wing brigade. “I’ll put the crown back on Buffalo wings,” he said.

“Now what would be perfect,” Brown said, gazing off into the distance, “would be a La Nova wing with that Bar-Bill blue cheese.”

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