Arthur Bovino, pizza aficionado and (full disclosure) former longtime executive editor at The Daily Meal, just published his first book (well, two books): a deep dive into the foodways of Buffalo, New York, called “Buffalo Everything: A Guide to Eating in ‘The Nickel City’” and a companion cookbook called “The Buffalo New York Cookbook: 70 Recipes from The Nickel City.” Buffalo is most famous for being the birthplace of the Buffalo wing, of course, but it’s also the home of the legendarily delicious sandwich known as beef on weck, fish fries, chicken finger subs, sponge candy, and countless other regional specialties. Its unique take on pizza is also an underappreciated regional style.
We had the opportunity to chat with Bovino, a Long Island native, about what inspired him to write about the city, what makes the cuisine of Buffalo unique, and the must-eat foods that anyone visiting Buffalo should track down.
The Daily Meal: What initially sparked your interest in Buffalo and its cuisine?
Arthur Bovino: I’d always wanted to visit the wing mecca and check out the best places for beef on weck. But the short answer is pizza. That’s the answer to many of my life’s questions. For years, as a writer and editor, Buffalo’s pizza style and regional passion for it made the city a checklist pizza destination for me. I considered it a hole in my game. I quickly learned how much more to Buffalo’s food scene there was and how little was known about it nationally.
Was there a light bulb moment when you decided that you had to write a book about it?
Buffalo “flavor” has spread far beyond wings — to potato chips, pizza, soda, you name it. And the project started as a Buffalo sauce cookbook to explore America’s compulsion to “Buffalo-ize” its comfort foods. But it was learning about a creative wing sauce that incorporated all of the signature flavors of the original iconic dish (celery, blue cheese dressing, butter, and hot sauce) while watching a wing documentary called “The Great Chicken Wing Hunt” that made me determined to make the proposal a success.
What makes the cuisine of Buffalo unique from anywhere else in America?
Buffalo is America’s comfort food capital. It’s the birthplace of wings, chicken finger subs, and Buffalo chicken pizza. But it’s so much more. Immigrants from Burma, Bhutan, Somalia, and Iraq have brought with them delicious food and have created a demand for it. You’ll find restaurants serving Korean, Szechuan, Vietnamese, Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, Iraqi and Peruvian cuisines.
And there’s been a wave of chefs opening new restaurants with menus based on the best local ingredients they can find. There’s Acapulco-born, James Beard-nominated chef Victor Parra Gonzalez of Las Puertas, where I had one of the best tasting menus I’ve had in years; James Roberts, whose legit Southern-inspired menu keeps me coming back every time I visit; and my fellow International Culinary Center alum Brad Rowell, whose Grange Community Kitchen bowled me over last time I was in town. This is also just a town filled with people who like to eat and some great restaurants that know how to please.
What are the must-eat foods for anyone traveling to Buffalo, and where should they eat them?
It’s a tough question to answer. It took me several hundred pages to tackle! There are the city’s icons, known and unknown nationally. Wings (obviously) at at least three other places besides Anchor (Nine-Eleven Tavern, Duff’s, Elmo’s), beef on weck and a Tom & Jerry Cocktail at Schwabl’s, sponge candy (Ko-Ed), a stinger at Jim’s Steak-Out, a steak sandwich at The Pink, pizza at Bocce and La Nova, a hot dog at Ted’s, a doughnut at Paula’s, ice cream at Lake Effect, a steak in the grass at Dandelions, fish fry, a chicken finger sub, spag parm — I could go on. And then there are the must-drink-at and must-eat-in New Buffalo Cuisine places, up-and-comers, and stalwarts. I don’t like to go back without visiting Westside Bazaar, Breadhive, Las Puertas, Grange, Toutant, and Billy Club to name just a few. If you ask, “What’s that?” about any of the icons above, you need to visit, if not buy the book.
What do you think the biggest misconception is about Buffalo and its food?
That it’s just where wings were born, and wings are good anywhere. It was, but they’re not.
Why did you decide to divide the project into two books?
It was a division of necessity. The book was originally supposed to be 60,000 words, but there were so many great stories to tell that I had to keep going. It just wasn’t finished. And then it was just too long for one book. So the project went from a cookbook to a cookbook and restaurant and travel history/guide to a restaurant and travel history/guide and a cookbook.
What was the most exciting/educational discovery you made along the way?
That Buffalo’s history with chicken wings goes back to the 1800s. That great wings take time. That Tom & Jerry cocktails are a lost art and the greatest holiday cocktail you’ve never had. The origins of Buffalo chicken pizza. Chicken finger subs. That homemade bologna can be life-changing. There’s so much more... read the book!
What makes Buffalo-style pizza unique? Do you think it’s worthy of inclusion with the top regional styles, like New York, Connecticut, Detroit, etc.?
Buffalo-style pizza is typically a cup-and-char pepperoni pizza; a non-existent crust coastline with ingredients out to (and often over) the edges; a thick, airy undercarriage with little structural integrity that’s topped by a sweet sauce and enough cheese to guarantee a cheese pull. If you were going to use other regional styles to describe it, I’d say it’s a Detroit amount of cheese with a Motor City trim, a Maine undercarriage, and a New York City soul.
I’d argue that it’s one of the most unappreciated regional pizza styles in America and that New York City’s most Instagrammed slice, Prince Street Pizza, is the closest thing you can get to it.
And finally, are the wings in Buffalo actually any better than what you find in the rest of the country?
Pshh. Stop. Anyone who says different, my first question is if they’ve been to Buffalo and hit the top five spots in the book. No? Let me know when you have. Then we’ll talk.