Duff's Famous Wings
By jimb

From Buffalo with wing sauce

Many years ago, Rob and Hy Erlich would often travel to Buffalo, New York, spend weekends there and do some shopping with their families. When it came time to eat, they would inevitably eat the dish Buffalo is famous for: chicken wings! Each time, they always seem to gravitate to a restaurant called Duff’s Famous Wings. As it were, the brothers were in the midst of a career change, and had a eureka moment. “My nephew said ‘wouldn’t it be great if Duff’s was in Toronto,’” remembers Hy. After toying with the idea, the brothers Erlich put the wheels in motion.

“We made a call and asked whether we could bring their concept to Toronto,” says Hy who adds, “after one year of paperwork, we opened in Toronto.” In September 1997, Duff’s Famous Wings opened its first location in Leaside, and to this day it still produces some of the most authentic, fresh, never frozen, fried Buffalo wings in town. So popular, they now have three locations in the Greater Toronto Area, all family owned and operated.

We make sure that everything is fresh with a better flavour. We’ve never looked at the cost of keeping everything fresh. Our priority is always quality. - Hy Erlich, co-owner
Photo by Jim Bamboulis

Fun dining experience

Once home to a bar called Dakota Blues, the brothers gutted and rebuilt the space in three months. They threw out the old seating, installed new floors, walls, bar, kitchen, basement and of course new lights. The only thing that remained was the arching stone wall that connects the front and back dining areas. Today, five big screen TVs are scattered throughout the 74-seat restaurant (18 seats on the front patio) as it continues to be a fun dining experience.

Photo by Jim Bamboulis

Some like it hot!

Along with wraps, salads, grilled chicken dishes and hamburgers, the main draw is the Buffalo wings prepared in the traditional Buffalo way, complete with authentic Buffalo sauce and spices. The wings are so loved that “between the three Duff’s locations across the Greater Toronto Area, about 15,000 pounds per week,” says Hy.  There are several flavours to choose from including hot honey garlic and spicy bbq, but a good portion of diners continue to love the original Buffalo sauce and various levels of heat.

The key to ordering wings at Duff’s is not only knowing your heat tolerance, but how the heat scale works. At Duff’s mild is medium, medium is hot and hot is well, really hot. “Back in the day, people in Buffalo would order the medium and say that it was really hot, they didn’t realize the heat intensity of that sauce, so they used to say medium is hot, and it stuck,” recalls Hy, who clarifies that “if you’re a very spicy eater, medium is not hot, but if you’re an average spice kind of person, medium has a bit of a kick to it.” No matter your heat desires, it’s best to balance it with a side of fries or salad and a cold drink.

Photo by Jim Bamboulis
Photo by Jim Bamboulis

Know your limit!

Over the years, Duff’s has become home for the bold, adventurous diners who want to eat as many Armageddon wings as possible. “When people were eating the super hot, they would tell us they wanted something hotter, so came up with something hotter called ‘Death’”, says Hy who adds, “when people wanted something hotter than Death, we came up with ‘Armaggedon’.”

If you want to push your limits and beat the record set by John Graziano, a fireman who ate 83 of the hottest wings to the bone in one hour, give it a shot. Most of the time, Hy tries to talk those few out of trying to beat the record. “You don’t look good after, you don’t feel good after and you’re still paying for it. It’s a hard go, they still try it all for the chance to have their name on the board.”

Photo by Jim Bamboulis

More than just wings

Duff’s isn’t just a restaurant, it has become a long standing, respected institution. Hy and Rob weren’t just passionate about delivering an exceptional product, they also made it a priority to establish roots, give back to the community and create a welcoming place where people could gather and have a great meal in a fun, casual, family-oriented environment. “We’ve had three people propose in our restaurant, celebrities have been here. It doesn’t matter if you come alone or with a group of 20 people, you’re going to be welcomed no matter who you are,” says Hy.

Photo by Jim Bamboulis
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