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How the West Albany Wings Were Won

February 11, 2019

Buffalo wings. They are a staple of life in the Capital Region. Everywhere from dingy hole-in-the-wall bars to fancy restaurants, wings everywhere. So how do you even begin to tackle the challenge of finding the very best?

You break the task down into micro regions. And that’s what we’ve been doing on the FLB for the past few years. We went to the downtowns of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. But those were just for starters.

On February 2, ten intrepid eaters showed up to eat their way across Albany’s west side. You might call it uptown. You might even say we dipped our toe outside of Albany. And you might be right. But we’re not harnessed by political boundaries. We went to a cluster of great wing places that at least theoretically were in walking distance from each other.

All three teams went to the same five places that made it through the nomination process, although each of those three teams approached the task a little differently. There was Team Mild, Team Hot, and Team Hot & Crispy. And while no team ended up walking the tour, the Profussor felt much much better after the four mile walk home.

So, who came out on top?

Thankfully there are spreadsheets, because this one was too close to call on its own. Sometimes these tours can be very clear cut with one place that’s well ahead of the pack. In this outing every spot was at least one person’s favorite. And each of the three teams had its own distinct front runner based on the variation of wing they were ordering.

But points are points, and contests are contests, so in the end there can only be one. I’ve run the numbers, and by the numbers one place has edged into the top spot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the one place where not one team had a less than satisfactory experience.

What is important to remember is that the ultimate results are not just one person’s opinion, but rather the collected input of ten dedicated eaters—each with their own prejudices. So while the top wing was not my personal number one pick, I can absolutely live with the results, because it too was absolutely delicious.

As a reminder, at each stop we were evaluating a fixed set of criteria. Four are about the wing itself as we looked at skin, meat, sauce, and our overall impression for how all those elements come together. Two are for the sides, separating vegetables and blue cheese into two distinct scores. And finally, there is one overall score that encompasses the entire experience of the wings at the restaurant, including food, service, and atmosphere. All of these are scored on a five-point scale.

So with all this in mind, it’s time to share how the wings stacked up.

We started the day at TJ’s Cafe, and we were off to a strong start. It turned out to be Team Mild’s favorite place of the entire tour, achieving the highest marks in all categories except skin. But even there it was the second highest score for the day. Ann F named this her top pick “because the size, skin, and sauce were great. Definitely the best sauce of the day in the mild category.” And actually, TJ’s scored the best sauce of the day across all teams, which is no small feat. All teams were also unanimous in their agreement that TJs had the best vegetables.

Team Hot & Crispy, which made a point to order its wings “crispy”, felt like the skin could have been even crispier. Team Hot, which didn’t make the same request, also gave lower scores to TJ’s skin and meat. Steve N “wanted the wings to be crispier, and the meat to be a bit more tender.” Still, we were off to a solid start.

Little Anthony’s isn’t a wing place. It’s a pizza place. And these days it may be known more for its vegan pizza than anything else. Still, the geography worked out, and we heard good things about these wings. Even though there were no vegetables in sight, this was still Sarah M’s favorite stop of the day. She said, “Little Anthony’s was juicy, with crispy skin, and true buffalo style sauce with a strong vinegar profile.” Sarah was not alone on Team Hot & Crispy in praising the skin and meat. I felt the same way, as did Team Hot. But the rest of the team wasn’t feeling the sauce. This was the first time of several instances over the course of the day when I wished we ordered “medium-crispy” because my hunch is that the medium sauce offers a richer, rounder flavor profile.

It would be wise at Little Anthony’s to avoid the mild wings. Team Mild was sorely dissatisfied with their experience. Their consensus was that these were dry, small, and tasteless. But mild wings are tricky. Crispy skin lovers can delight in this spot, even though there is no beer, and wings should never be eaten to go. Fortunately, Little Anthony’s is surrounded by bars, so when you polish off your ten wings, you’re just a stone’s throw from a cold beer.

Speaking of cold beer, our next stop was Joe’s Grill which from the outside seems more like a beer bar than a spot to eat. It’s a place about which I had heard good things, but had never ventured inside. Even as we walked through the door, it wasn’t entirely sure about the wisdom of going there for wings. On the Saturday of our visit, the bartender was also the cook, and our wings took a shockingly long time to prepare. It was about 45 minutes, and there were no other orders in before ours. But I have to tell you, they are worth the wait. These were my personal favorite wings of the day, because I’m all about the skin and the meat, and the wings we received fulfilled all my crispy tender desires.

Collectively, across all teams, Joe’s came away with the highest score for crispy skin of the day. That extended time in the fryer really paid off. Team Hot & Crispy had it among its top meat scores, and for Team Mild it was the second best sauce for the day overall. The sauce is an interesting story, and I think the way to go at Joe’s is with medium. So I’ll have to return to confirm. David W of Team Mild found the sauce to be “a little thin, but the taste is good.” The hot wasn’t a traditional Buffalo profile and was supplemented with chili powder and chili flakes. It made for some serious heat, but once again I was wishing for medium. Team Hot was underwhelmed by the blue cheese, giving Joe’s its lowest score for the day, but not everyone agreed. There are a lot of different thoughts as to what makes a good blue cheese dip, but that is a discussion to save for another day.

For such a ramshackle place, there was much more care given to presentation than one might expect. I’d have no hesitation about going back, and in fact I can’t wait to return.

Team Hot had planned to make the walk from Joe’s to Lynn’s Uptown Tavern, but they caved and hopped in the car. That’s okay. We love them anyway. Both Steve N of Team Hot and David W of Team Mild each expected that Lynn’s would be the place to walk away with the win. And Lynn’s performed remarkably well across the board coming off with top scores for meat and blue cheese dip. Lo and behold, after the evaluation Steve N declared, “Lynn’s wings were the best of the day, with Joe’s a close second. Lynn’s wings had crispy skin, tender meat, and were perfectly sauced, with a viscous, clingy sauce. Lynn’s wings are legit.”

Once again, I found myself wishing for medium wings. These had a cayenne burn and some herbal notes that weren’t unpleasant, but just not what I was looking for in my ideal Buffalo wing. Still, the sauce was hot, balanced, and interesting. Team Mild actually found itself looking for more sauce to bring flavor to what they found to be middle of the road wings. But Team Hot had these wings at the top of their list and Team Hot & Crispy had it among its favorites.

The tour concluded at The Orchard, which makes the claim of being Albany’s oldest tavern. But the place is under new ownership and they’ve changed a few things. How they make the wings is part of it, but they’ve made adjustments to the pizza too. The mild sauce continues to be a combination of buffalo and barbecue sauces, and that made Cora D very happy indeed. On the strength of that sauce, this was her favorite spot of the day. She concluded, “I am not a fan of super spicy things, so half BBQ and half Buffalo tasted perfect.”

We definitely arrived at The Orchard at an off time. Perhaps that explains why the skin for Team Hot & Crispy scored less well than the skin for Team Hot. Plus all teams were in agreement that The Orchard came at the bottom of the pack for its side veggies. The meatiness of the wing and the blue cheese dip all fell within the middle of the pack. Which is fine, but unless you’re a fan of the mild barbecue-buffalo sauce, it’s probably better to simply stick with pizza. And I’ll say right now, that the pizza is indeed better than ever. But we can talk more about that later.

So what does all this mean?

Looking at the scores, there was an effective three way tie for first place. Team Hot went for Lynn’s. Team Hot & Crispy went for Joe’s. Team Mild went for TJs. If we could make a franken-wing, taking the crisp skin of Joe’s, the tender meat and blue cheese dip of Lynn’s, with the sauce and vegetables from TJs, it would be the best of all possible worlds. But when you stack all of the scores up on top of each other, one place comes out on top.

Congratulations to Lynn’s Uptown!

TJs was a very close second with its incredible sauce, crisp vegetables, and exceptional mild wings. Joe’s came just behind in third with that crisp skin ranking as one of the top scores of the day. But these place distinctions were won by mere inches and not yards. And it’s very possible that if we added a Team Medium to the mix, the whole thing would have worked out differently.

What I am confident to say is that the level of wings is very good in this part of town. And frankly, the wings are very good in this part of the world. Yes, we live in the shadow of Buffalo. But most of the country would kill for wings this delicious. We’re lucky to have so many great options in so many different types of venues.

What a tour! Thanks again to everyone who came out and spent their Groundhog Day with the FLB. We learned a lot. While as individuals and as teams we may all have our personal favorites, in the end a winner must prevail. Congratulations to everyone involved. It’s not often when the contest is so close that there is almost a three-way dead heat for first place.

These outings are always a ton of fun. So if this sounds like your idea of a good time, keep your eyes on the FLB, because we try to organize tours like this four times a year. If all goes well we’ll have a spring outing coming up soon, and it may even be a second outing for Mozz & Melba, because I hear there are a few good places we may have missed the first time around.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. David Nardolillo permalink
    February 11, 2019 10:54 am

    I haven’t been to the Orchard since the sale; how has the pizza changed? Or is that the topic of another post?

  2. February 11, 2019 11:26 am

    I put my credibility on the line with my adamancy that Lynn’s would run away with it. I’m glad they won, even if by a nose. I’ve retained some respectability.

    It’s good to see the others turning out great wings as well. I’m can now say proudly I live in an area with great wings.

    Joe’s is a pleasant surprise. I definitely need to spend more time there.

  3. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    February 11, 2019 11:39 am

    I’d like to try Joe’s again myself – maybe a pasta dish. Meet for dinner & beer sometime?

  4. Benjamin M. permalink
    February 11, 2019 12:31 pm

    It was a fun tour. I still think that ordering them “Medium” is the way to obtain true Buffalo sauce flavor profiles, I am glad I managed to survive the ordeal on team “Hot and Crispy.” I also can’t believe my wife thought Little Anthony’s was the best wing of the day when the wings I had (we were on the same team) weren’t even sauced properly. Oh well, such is how the tour goes.

    I advocated a Mozz and Melba tour after last year’s wing tour, so count me in for the next one!

  5. Buffsoulja permalink
    February 11, 2019 4:06 pm

    The delicious true homemade buffalo sauce of TJ’s with everything else from Lynn’s, and a perfect wing could indeed be had

  6. KateSK permalink
    February 12, 2019 12:23 am

    So much fun!!! Yum!! I would be on a team medium sometime!

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