Gaze inward and ask yourself: If vibrantly sauced Buffalo wings were to arrive at your booth or barstool without a quartet of celery sticks peeking shyly around the blue cheese, would you calmly eat your chicken and move on with your day?
No. Of course you wouldn’t. Spicy, saucy Buffalo wings and their waifish vegetal accompaniments are inextricably linked. Theirs is a symbiotic American partnership on par with the cranberry gelée that escorts glistening turkeys to the Thanksgiving table, or hybrid Oreos and expensive dental work.
Carrot sticks come and go, and crunchy cabbage has its place (namely, beneath wings as decoration). But Buffalo wings are celery’s raison d’être. Imagine a lone, unaccompanied serving of celery sticks sitting atop a crowded bar. This has literally never happened. Meanwhile, only barbarians serve wings without a crispy accoutrement.
"It’s a desperate cry to break the salt, spice and fat of pounding 25 to 30 wings for a football game," Dale Talde, a chef and Buffalo sauce enthusiast with eponymous restaurants in Brooklyn, Miami and Jersey City, explains. "The cool, refreshing texture and slightly bitter flavor [of celery] is what you want when you eat wings."
In chicken, as in life, success has many authors. According to the most widely acknowledged origin story, celery sticks have been served with Buffalo wings since day one.
In 1939, Teressa and Frank Bellissimo purchased Anchor Bar, a watering hole in Buffalo, New York. As legend has it, when the clock struck midnight one fateful Friday in 1964, their son, Dominic, requested a meaty snack. (The Bellissimos didn’t eat meat on Fridays, a relatively common practice among Roman Catholics of their era.)
Like anyone cooking for a bunch of drunk people with late-night munchies, Teressa surveyed the random foodstuffs in her kitchen and thought, Sure, I can turn this into something edible.
Due to a mail-order mix-up, Anchor Bar had surplus chicken wings. Teressa separated them into drumsticks and "flats," created an ad hoc marinade, skipped the breading and started frying. She garnished the plate with a few celery sticks left over from an antipasto platter, and thus altered the course of American history.
Today, celery and wings are recurring costars, appearing in tandem not just at casual dive bars, but also on posher menus. At Beverly Hills’ swish Bazaar by José Andrés, heritage boneless Buffalo chicken wings are topped with tiny, precious celery cubes.
The pairing persists because it works. Electrolyte-rich celery provides "a nice, crisp-crunchy punch that’s a satisfying contrast to warm, fatty" chicken, according to nutritionist and dietician Sidney Fry. Water-packed foods like celery "are easier to digest, [because they] take less heat and energy to burn, which could be perceived as ‘cooling,’" Fry adds.
Drew Cerza, founder of the National Buffalo Wing Festival, and a man whose email signature reads "Wing King," offers a pragmatic counterpoint.
"Let’s face it, there are a couple of calories in chicken wings," Cerza laughs. "When you eat them with celery, you get to think, I’m doing something good for my body as well."
As anyone who has eyed the shopping cart of someone in the midst of a Whole30 sprint can attest, moderation is not a hallmark of the national diet. Buffalo wings and celery taste like America.