Buffalo Wings: Late Night Concoction
On a Friday night in late October 1964, six friends in Buffalo, New York, got out of a Paul Newman movie and headed over to the Anchor Bar for food and booze. Their buddy, Dominic Bellissimo, was the son of Anchor owners Frank and Teressa.
The problem: It was late and Teressa didnât really have anything going. Surveying the kitchen, she noticed some small chicken wings, which were headed to a stock pot to become part of a soup or stew. But Teressa instead broiled (some say deep-fried) the little wings. She then added some margarine and threw on some Frankâs Original Red Hot Sauce that happened to be in the kitchen. A popular brand in western New York, Frankâs (no connection to Frank Bellissimo) is a combo of âaged cayenne red peppers, vinegar, salt, and garlic.â
Upon seeing the plates of basted wings, one of the buddies, Don Zanghi, asked, âWhat are these?â Another friend replied: âI donât know, but we better eat.â Zanghi wasnât sure how to attack the small-but-meaty morsels. He looked at Anchor owner Frank Bellissimo and said, âFrank, thereâs no silverware.â Maybe Frank was a trailblazerâor more likely he was tired and wanted to end the conversationâbut his terse answer set sail the how-to etiquette for Buffalo wings. He said, âKeep quiet and use your fingers!â
The dish became the toast of Buffalo and beyond. In 1977 the city proclaimed July 29 Chicken Wing Day. Thereâs even a National Buffalo Wing Festival, complete with a Hall of Flame honoring Buffalo Wing greats. Teressa and Frank were inaugural inductees in 2006. Teressa is so revered that the following year one Buffalo man carved an oak statue in her likeness.
Although Frank and Teressa have long since passed on, the Anchor continues to profit from their creation. In 2009 the bar was selling 2,000 pounds of chicken wings a day.
Reprinted with permission from How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun: Accidental Discoveries and Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat and Drink, by Josh Chetwynd. Published by Lyons Press, 2012.
Hot Dog Buns: From New York (or St. Louis?)
While frankfurtersâintroduced to America by Germans in the 1800sâwere very popular on their own, what turned them into American icons was the bun. (Fun fact: Yale students were among the first to use the term âhot dogâ in 1895. Presumably it was because the tube meat reminded them of another German importâthe dachshund.)
Many credit a Coney Island man named Charles Feltman in 1871 for the innovation. According to writer Jeffrey Stanton, Feltmanâs customers wanted hot sandwiches, but the New York butcherâs pie cart was too small to pack a variety of options. So he thought of turning his slim sausages into sandwiches by using an elongated roll. New York was a hub for hot dogs and along with Feltman, a baker by the name of Ignatz Frischmann, who was a Feltman contemporary, has also been floated as the bun inventor by at least one scholar.
That said the New Yorkers arenât the only people to stake a claim to the indispensible bunâs marriage to the hot dog. In 1883, Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger, a German-American vendor in St. Louis, recognized the difficulty of eating the tube meat by hand. His solution: providing his customers with white gloves to wear while enjoying his goods. They keep patronsâ hands clean, help avoid scalding from the sizzling sausage, and add a little class to the affair. But a frustrated Feuchtwanger discovered some buyers were walking off with the gloves and it was expensive to replace them. So the vendor went to a local baker (some say it was his brother-in-law) and the result was an inexpensive soft bun.
No doubt, Feuchtwangerâs story feels a bit too flavorful. After all, reusing gloves doesnât sound too hygienic. If he was doing good business, his laundry bills must have been crushing. Nevertheless, many publications have given Feuchtwanger recognition for the invention.
But even if he wasnât the first and his glove story was more marketing myth than reality, Feuchtwanger positively played a role in making the bun a staple in the Midwest. At the 1904 Worldâs Fair in his hometown of St. Louis, Feuchtwanger was a popular concessionaire who did really well with his hot dog-plus-bun combination.
Cookies ân Cream Ice Cream: Snack for an Edy's Tester
As the official taste tester for Edyâs Grand Ice Cream, John Harrison has checked approximately 200 million gallons of the sweet delicacy. The fourth generation ice-cream man also dabbles in creation, having developed more than seventy new flavors.
His biggest discoveryâCookies ân Creamâcame from a need to snack quickly before getting back on the job. In 1982, while taking a break from the lab, he wanted a simple scoop of his favorite, vanilla. He went to the company ice-cream parlor and alongside his bowl were a few chocolate cookies. Ironically, he didnât have a lot of time to eat his ice cream because he needed to get back to tasting ice cream. To speed up the process, he broke up the cookies and tossed them in with his snack. Harrison, who reportedly has his nine thousand taste buds insured for one million dollars, immediately knew he was savoring something special.
As simple as the cookies-plus-vanilla-ice-cream-combo might seem, nobody had mass-produced the product. At least two others in the 1970sâa South Dakota State University dairy plant manager named Shirley W. Seas and Massachusetts ice-cream parlor owner Steve Herrellâhave claimed to have been first with the idea. But nothing had hit the worldwide market until Harrison threw together the mixture.
When Harrison first went to his bosses with his new flavor, they believed it was too much of a kidsâ flavor and worried it wouldnât have mass appeal. But their plans to roll out a new Perfectly Peach flavor were thwarted by rough weather in the winter of 1982. Huge hail storms decimated the crop, which left Edyâs in a dilemma. They werenât going to have enough fruit to produce Perfectly Peach.
Harrison suggested that the company use his cookie-and-cream ice-cream concoction as a replacement. Executives said theyâd give the flavor ninety days and then reassess. Within no time, Cookies ân Cream was a hit, becoming the fifth-highest selling flavor in the world.
Nachos: Ravenous Army Wives
It all happened in 1943 in Piedras Negras, Mexico. The border town was across the Rio Grande River from Eagle Pass, Texas, which during World War II was home to Eagle Pass Army Airfield. For the married women on this US Army Air Force base, crossing the border to shop was a popular diversion.
One day a gaggle of the ladies moseyed over to a Piedras Negras restaurant called the Victory Club. The establishmentâs maitre dââIgnacio âNachoâ Anayaâcouldnât locate the cook. Not wanting to turn away the patrons, he put on his chefâs hat. He threw together what he had, which according to The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink âconsisted of neat canapes of tortilla chips, cheese, and jalapeno peppers.â In the years that followed Anaya became the restaurantâs head chefâafter all, how could you not give that job to the man who created nachos? The dish took on Anayaâs nickname and was advertised as âNacho Specialsâ on both sides of the border.
The combo of chips and melted cheese spread rapidly. But its place as a global phenomenon owes some tribute to Frank Liberto, who turned nachos into stadium food. In 1977 Liberto unveiled a new nacho concession at Arlington Stadium, home of baseballâs Texas Rangers at the time. Because real cheese didnât have a great shelf life (and melting it would require an oven or broiler), Liberto devised a fast food form of Anayaâs masterpiece that was part cheese and part secret ingredients. The new sauce didnât need to be heated and, when it came to shelf life, it could likely survive a nuclear blast. Its formula was so hush hush that a 29-year-old man was arrested in 1983 for trying to buy trade secrets divulging Libertoâs formula.
As for Anaya, his son tried to help him trademark the nacho name years after it became a phenomenon but had no luck. Anaya would go on to run his own restaurant, but he never made big money off his crowd-pleasing creation.
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Filet-O-Fish: What the Market Wanted
The Filet-O-Fish was the brainchild of one of McDonaldâs early franchisees, Lou Groen. Although Groen would own forty-three McDonaldâs in the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area by the end of his career, the early days were tough going. In particular, those savory all-beef patties were surprisingly unpopular on Fridays. Sadly, they were only bringing in a minuscule seventy-five dollars each Friday. Groen needed to think of something fast.
In the days before market research, Groen had the bright idea to go to the closest restaurant doing excellent Friday business to figure out what he was missing. So he headed over to Frischâs, which was the local Big Boy chain and immediately noticed a trend. Instead of burgers or steak or chicken, patrons were buying fish dishes.
He now understood: His area of Cincinnati was about 87 percent Catholic and many devotees avoided meat on Fridays. Groen decided he needed a fish sandwich. He came up with a special batter and a tartar sauce condiment and went to the companyâs famed owner, Ray Kroc, to get sign-off.
Kroc wasnât sold. He told Groen he had a nonmeat idea of his own: the Hula Burger, which was simply a cold bun with a pineapple in the middle. Groen knew better than to argue with the boss. Still, he was able to get one concession.
âRay said to me, âWell, Lou, Iâm going to put your fish sandwich on [a menu] for a Friday. But Iâm going to put my special sandwich on tooâwhichever sells most, thatâs the one weâll go with,âââ Groen told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2007. âFriday came and the word came out. I won hands down. I sold 350 fish sandwiches that day. Ray never did tell me how his sandwich did.â
âMy fish sandwich was the first addition ever to McDonaldâs original menu,â Groen continued. âIt saved my franchise.â
It also went on to be a popular choice for all types of patrons, including Jews and Muslims who face dietary restrictions of their own. Still, Catholics remain a key reason for its success. One survey found that even today 23 percent of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches are sold during Lent.
Cobb Salad: Celebrity Restaurateur
During the golden age of Hollywood, The Brown Derby restaurants were the movie industryâs unofficial canteens. As famed movie director Cecil B. DeMille put it in a 1943 telegram: The Derby was âthe most famous restaurant in the world.â
At the center of this starry constellation of celebrities was Bob Cobb. Originally hired in 1926 to run the first Derby, Cobb would go on to own the restaurantâs four star-studded locations throughout L.A. Cobb was more than just a restaurateurâhe was also a close friend to practically every mover and shaker in town.
In the late 1920s, Cobb wearily entered the kitchen in the wee hours one night, famished but not thrilled with his choices. He pulled out whatever leftovers he could find to avoid the same-old, same-old menu choices. He chopped up some lettuce, chicken, and a few other ingredients and started munching when four Hollywood bigwigs, including studio mogul Jack Warner (of Warner Bros. fame) and Sid Grauman (founder of Hollywoodâs Chinese Theatre), checked in on their buddy after seeing a film preview. The men liked the look of Cobbâs meal and asked for their own plates of what was intended to be a one-off concoction. Those in the know began ordering the off-menu salad almost immediately.
But Cobb waited to add it to the menu until heâd perfected his unplanned masterpiece. The final dish featured finely chopped chicken breast, iceberg lettuce, romaine, watercress, chicory, chives, tomatoes, avocados, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, Roquefort cheese, and french dressing.
Although The Brown Derby restaurants no longer exist in L.A., the Cobb Salad remains a worldwide star.
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