The casual restaurant from Andrew Garbarino fancies up straightforward fare
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo chicken wing, the bar food invented by Teressa Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1964.
It was awhile before the spicy wings took off. In 1974, Quaker Steak & Lube opened in Sharon, Pa., in a former gas station, at first specializing in cook-your-own-steaks and eventually transitioning to a wing joint.
The popularity remained within the Rust Belt until 1980 when Calvin Trillin wrote about them for The New Yorker, and New York Times dining critic Craig Claiborne provided a recipe for Buffalo chicken wings inspired by the "raffish but delightful" Anchor Bar.
Then the now-giant chain Buffalo Wild Wings opened its first location in Columbus, Ohio, in 1981. And by 1983, Hooters started in Clearwater, Fla., spreading its hot, medium and mild mantra across the country, served with an eyeful on the side.
Decades later, as Buffalo wings remain a year-round favorite Pittsburgh snack, the sauce is so addictive the flavor has spread its wings.
Buffalo fried chicken balls are already a popular item at Emporio: A Meatball Joint! which just opened at 942 Penn Ave., Downtown. This sibling to Sienna Sulla Piazza in Market Square serves quarter-sized fried chicken balls ($8) dressed in homemade Buffalo sauce, garnished with celery tendrils and blue cheese.
Emporio is the first floor of the three-story Sienna Mercato, which will include Mezzo, a small plates wine bar, and the rooftop beer garden Il Tetto, scheduled to open in the spring. Emporio is geared toward the after-work crowd as well as families dining Downtown before an event.
Buffalo-sauced dishes especially appeal to kids. Just ask Rita Jones, owner of Pizzarita in Shaler. "When I was getting ready to open, I was told by people in the neighborhood I had to offer a Buffalo wing pizza," she said.
Ms. Jones is no stranger to the pizza business -- her brothers run Angelo's Pizzeria in Bloomfield and Graziano's Pizzeria in Lawrenceville.
To make a Buffalo chicken pizza, Ms. Jones first sautes chicken breast then adds a sauce in a concoction that includes Frank's Red Hot, the cayenne-based condiment that used to be the basis for the Anchor Bar's Buffalo chicken wings. (The bar now makes its own sauce.)
She readies dough with chicken and a cheese blend then bakes it. Each pizza is served with blue cheese or ranch.
D's Six Pax & Dogz in Regent Square offers a list of Buffalo-flavored items, from pizza to wings to fries. The restaurant also sells Buffalo pizza ($8.95 to $18.95), Buffalo chicken salad ($9.95) and a riff on wings, the red-alert hot dog.
"We are a hot dog shop, but we sell a lot of wings," said bartender Zach Persichetti. "It seems like everyone who comes in here orders both." Hot dogs run from $4.99 to $5.99 and wings are 10 for $7.95 or $5 on Mondays.
Although the restaurant sells hot and mild Buffalo wings, the sweet-hot BBQ sauce has become more popular. In addition, "people are starting to order dry rubs over traditional wings," he said, such as Jamaican jerk, ranch, seasoned salt and garlic butter.
At Spak Brothers Pizza and More in Garfield, the Buffalo vegetarian sandwich ($5 to $9) is more popular than wings or the Buffalo fried chicken sandwich with provolone, lettuce, tomato and onions.
"We probably sell more Buffalo seitan compared to wings or chicken sandwiches by a ratio of 2 to 1," said co-owner Ryan Spak. Seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat.
Buffalo sauced foods aren't just bar food and takeout, as Emporio reinforces. It has also made an appearance at Six Penn Kitchen, Downtown, where former executive chef Keith Fuller, now the chef and owner of Root 174 in Regent Square, created Buffalo chicken mac and cheese for $18.
It has been on the menu for more than four years, confirmed Six Penn executive chef Kevin Klingensmith, who had been the sous-chef under Mr. Fuller. Now it's made with six cheeses, rotisserie chicken off the bone, ranch pasta from Fede in North Huntingdon, heavy cream, crumbled blue cheese, scallions and flash-fried carrot curls.
"We make the Buffalo-style sauce and add it to the cheese," said Mr. Klingensmith. "It ends up a Buffalo cheesy explosion."
The Buffalo-saucing of dishes goes beyond Pittsburgh, of course. Online food magazine Food Republic has reported Buffalo sweetbreads at Ditch Plains restaurant in New York. Earlier this month, the website Eater Boston chronicled wing-inspired dishes such as Brussels sprouts, shrimp, tempeh fingers, falafel and dip. One restaurant does away with the meat entirely to offer crispy Buffalo chicken skin, part of a $6 salad served with celery and ranch dressing.
But in Pittsburgh, perhaps the most inventive saucing comes by way of pierogies. Szmidt's Old World Deli in Greenfield and Cop Out Pierogies in Etna sell Buffalo chicken pierogies.
"For a while, I put a little blue cheese in there, but now it's just chicken breast dressed in Buffalo sauce," said Cop Out owner Carl Funtal. He said his wife serves them with butter and onions, but he prefers them with a side of dressing.
"Of the 30 flavors I offer, the year-round best-seller is potato and cheese and Buffalo wing is No. 2," he said. "It's a really big thing."
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter@melissamccart.