The Bleacher Bar sits at the center of Boston’s sports universe. Under Fenway Park’s stands, it features a garage door that opens directly into centerfield of the hallowed ballpark.
So, it’s no wonder that some local fans take exception to the more than 100 upstate New York natives who make this bar their home base every Sunday during football season, gathering for Buffalo Bills games.
“It really annoys Patriots fans because it’s kind of the heart of New England,’’ says Daniel Britton, 30, the founder of the Bills Backers of Fenway, one of two officially recognized Bills fan clubs in the city. “But we’re all pretty nice people.’’
Nice, that is, except when they’re judging Boston’s attempts at Buffalo wings. As the Patriots prepare for a New Year’s Day showdown with the Bills, eight of the Bleacher Bar regulars — all western New York natives — embark on a crawl to find Boston’s best wings. It should be a tall order, since several quickly offer their low opinion of the local fare. At the first stop, Sidebar in Downtown Crossing, a survey is distributed to score each restaurant from one to 10. A high ranking indicates “Very Buffalo’’ — wings that best represent their hometown.
“What’s the opposite of ‘very Buffalo?’ ’’ asks Dave Blum, 25.
“Very Boston,’’ Britton quickly responds, as the others howl with laughter.
Through the first few restaurants, no clear standout emerges. After being taken aback by the tiny Buffalo wings at Sidebar, the group walks to nearby Silvertone, which has the opposite issue. “That last place had baby-sized wings, and at this place I feel like I’m eating a baby,’’ says Danielle Miano, 26.
The Back Bay watering hole Whiskey’s scores by far the lowest of any location. Their wings do not even register a full point on the Buffalo scale.
“Did they marinate them in grease and then microwave them?’’ asks Dan Hacker, 28.
“I’ve never had those wings,’’ says Kailey Cartwright, 27. “Now I know I’ll never order them.’’
After middling reviews of Wing It in Allston and Smoken’ Joe’s BBQ & Blues in Brighton (and a few swigs of Pepto-Bismol), they conclude the first night at Buff’s Pub in Newton, rumored to be the Boston area’s closest cousin to authentic Buffalo wings. “Very close to home,’’ says Andrea Perla, 26. “Great size, crisp, nice sauce, perfect amount.’’
On the second night, the Buffalo enthusiasts start at two bars within walking distance of each other, the Pub and Eat at Jumbo’s in Somerville’s Ball Square. The Pub briefly played host to an unofficial strand of the Bills Backers, which perhaps gives its ranking a boost. The waitress asks if they want the wings grilled — after they’re deep-fried, of course. They elect to grill, which splits the vote.
“Great and crispy! Good sauce, love that they grill them,’’ says Cartwright. “These are wings done right.’’
However, Blum deducts points for the maneuver: “Grilling is not traditional.’’
Next door, Eat at Jumbo’s wins over only one taster, Alex Fernandes, 25, who gives it his highest score of the night. The Wing Place in Arlington, known as Whatta Wing! until changing ownership this fall, receives higher marks.
“Instant credit because after three wings, I’m sweating a little,’’ says Mary Pitek, 24.
The night concludes with two low-scoring spots. The Brown Jug in Chelsea loses points for smothering wings in butter and pepper with no Buffalo sauce, despite its menu description, while Sidelines Sports Bar & Grill in Salem commits a greater error. “Did they seriously bread their wings?’’ asks Blum.
The finale promises to be a marathon as the group leaves for two highly recommended spots on the I-495 loop, Wendell’s Pub in Norton and Horseshoe Pub in Hudson. However, traffic forces them to re-route to their next location, the Chicken Bone in Framingham.
The Bone opened an expansion location near Fenway in 2008, which closed within nine months. The group wonders how that happened, since they are immediately raving about the wings. “That’s a doomed location they were in,’’ says Britton. The Framingham restaurant received a face lift this June from Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,’’ and the place — and the wings — get high praise from the tasters.
With optimism growing, the group tries the Fat Cat in Quincy, which Miano says may have the “best-cooked wings,’’ but overlooks a critical element. “The wing is very good, but they forgot to put sauce on it,’’ says Blum. “And the little sauce they did put on wasn’t very good.’’
Perla agrees. “The Buffalo sauce was just butter. This is the only place in Boston to get the crisp perfect, but they blew it with the sauce.’’
Windy City Pizza in Dorchester serves wings swimming in a pool of hot sauce in a large plastic container, which Britton likens to “a murder scene.’’ However, “the sauce is good,’’ says Blum. “If they could donate their sauce to Fat Cat, those would be some excellent wings.’’
As they toast the end of the journey at the Jeanie Johnston Pub in Jamaica Plain, the waitress asks if they’d like blue cheese, which immediately brings groans. The authentic Buffalo experience mandates blue cheese, carrots, and celery with wings. “Come on, lady, get it together,’’ Perla mutters under her breath.
As for the wings, “I was feeling pretty good about them until [Miano] pointed out that the meat was poor-quality — moth-balled cabinet smell,’’ says Blum.
The scores are tallied and the debate begins. The group ultimately ranks the Chicken Bone as its top wings, narrowly edging out the Pub and Buff’s. However, even the accolades for the winning bar are conditional.
The wings “taste like pretty generic, anywhere-in-Buffalo wings that aren’t the best in Buffalo, but better than everywhere else around [Boston],’’ says Perla.
For these tasters, even Boston’s best wings can’t compare to home.