Buffalo wings as we know them have generally been attributed to Buffalo, New York’s Anchor Bar in 1964. As the story often goes, co-owner Teressa Bellissimo found an instant hit when she tossed fried chicken wings and hot sauce together for her son and his friends, so she added them to the menu. As with many invention stories, however, it’s not that simple — as the New York Times helped elucidate last year, John Young of John Young’s Wings and Things was actually the first in the city to pair red sauce (in his case, mumbo sauce) with wings. Either way, thanks to the city of Buffalo, we’ve learned in the half-century since that crispy chicken + spicy sauce = good.
But there are only so many ways you can Buffalo a wing, and thus, Buffalo flavor, like pumpkin spice and Flamin’ Hot before it, has transcended the bounds of its original form. In recent years, we have built to — dare I say — Buffalo sauce saturation. “Virtually all pizza chains both large and small serve a Buffalo-accented pie,” Nation’s Restaurant News claimed in a 2020 piece about Buffalo flavoring’s novel applications on American menus, also calling out its presence on breakfast menus, and in salads, pastas, and vegetables. There are multiple brands of Buffalo hummus on the market and Buffalo-flavored nuts and snack mixes; better-for-you-esque snacks like cauliflower chips employ Buffalo flavor — perhaps in an attempt to distract you from the fact that you’re eating yet another reimagining of the cauliflower.
In this context, it feels a little “well, duh” to read today’s announcement that Popeyes is introducing a Buffalo ranch version of its extremely popular chicken sandwich, which will run $4.99 and be available at locations nationwide. Unlike a standard Buffalo wing, the chicken doesn’t appear to be tossed in sauce, but topped with a “zesty and buttery” Buffalo sauce seemingly mixed with “creamy buttermilk ranch.” Dolloping a creamy sauce on top of chicken does not seem to constitute a proper Buffalo-ing — I expect drippy, red, Wet-Nap-requiring glaze — but as with the other versions of the Popeyes chicken sandwich, it’s bound to be pretty good, especially since most of us already know and love Buffalo flavor.
Sami Siddiqui, president of Popeyes North America, says in the press release, “Two years ago, our chicken sandwich reintroduced the world to our chicken mastery, and we have not stopped innovating since.” One does have to wonder how innovative this creation really is given, y’know, all of the above, and that Buffalo is one of the main ways you’d expect to see chicken on an American fast-food menu. The fact that Popeyes has waited until now to introduce this flavor even seems a little surprising. I suppose at least we have restored some sense of order to the world with a new Buffalo product that is actually on chicken, not chickpeas.
I’m not arguing with the presence of Buffalo flavor, but this whole thing smacks of the idea my colleague Jaya Saxena explored in a recent piece about why American chip flavors are so boring: Brands cater to what’s considered “generally acceptable” in the United States and are thus less likely to take risks on flavors that appeal to smaller groups. No doubt about it, the Buffalo-ing of everything will continue.