Though I now reside in Westchester and have fully embraced the county and all it offers, I didn’t always live here. In fact, I’ve lived in many places, one of which was Buffalo, New York, where I attended college (I know! You totally thought Harvard, right?). While there it is safe to say I ate a Buffalo wing or two (thousand), though in Buffalo they’re simply called wings. Generally believed to have been created in 1964 at The Anchor Bar, chicken wings are the perfect culinary representation of the city of its namesake. Inexpensive odds and ends, in this case chicken wings that were delivered by mistake, dressed up into something appealing, if not addicting, and bringing much needed heat on cold Buffalo nights. “A blue-collar dish for a blue-collar town”, as one Buffalonian put it. The classic chicken wing is deep fried until it has a crispy exterior and a tender, juicy interior, before being tossed in a combination of butter and hot sauce, traditionally Frank’s Red Hot. In my time in living there I basically saw only two types of wings, classic, which could be subdivided into mild, medium, hot, suicidal, etc., and Honey BBQ. But as the popularity of Buffalo wings expanded outside the city of their namesake, so too did the number of sauces and flavors, with Buffalo Wild Wings offering no fewer than twenty. And man, oh man has that popularity grown! Americans are said to consume 25 billion chicken wings per year and 1.25 billion on Super Bowl Sunday alone. That’s 100 million pounds of wings in a day!
So, the question that arises is, can a food with enormous nationwide popularity, which is inextricably linked to the city of its creation, be featured in a column about iconic Westchester dishes? Thanks to The Candlelight Inn, that answer is a resounding yes! Resembling a small red barn on Central Avenue in Scarsdale, The Candlelight has been feeding hungry diners for 58 years.
Once described in a Zagat survey as a place where bikers sit next to bankers, the crowd can indeed be varied, but one thing is certain, there will be a crowd. Upon entering one must wend his way through hungry patrons in the bar area in order to add his name and party number to a list. You can tell from the reception some get that The Candlelight enjoys a steady stream of regulars. In a way, the restaurant is like a microcosm of Buffalo itself. In Buffalo, the chicken wing displaced beef-on-weck, a roast beef sandwich served on a heavily salted roll, as the local specialty. Throughout the 1960′s and 70′s The Candlelight, too, was famous for its roast beef sandwiches. Sometime around 1984 wings were added to the menu and there’s been no looking back.
Aside from classic wings, The Candlelight offers only barbeque and Teriyaki, a lack of variety I found oddly comforting and authentic. Its classic wings are offered in mild, hot, extra hot and Chernobyl. I’m a lover of spicy food but wanted to really be able to taste the wings so I stuck with hot. As someone who ate countless wings in Buffalo I can honestly say that the wings at The Candlelight are everything they should be. The second the bowl of bright orange chicken hits your table, the vinegary aroma wafts up to your nose, sending your salivary glands into overdrive.
Biting into one filled me with nostalgia as the texture was spot on. The meat pulled easily away from the bone and the heat level was just right, enough to cause me to break into a slight sweat, but not so hot that my mouth went numb and lost the capacity to discern flavors. They were well sauced, glistening but retaining the crispness of the skin. A bit of surplus sauce pooled on one end of the platter in case one likes his wings particularly saucy. If Jump Around or November Rain came on the constantly playing juke box I would have sworn I was back in college. Classic accompaniments of blue cheese dressing and celery offered a cooling respite when my enthusiasm got the better of me.
Eating wings is never a neat endeavor, they’re not exactly fork and knife food, but thankfully your server will supply you with and adequate number of handi-wipes to remove any wing sauce you haven’t licked from your fingers.