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Leno enjoys taste of Buffalo Lunch at La Nova causes a stir

Patrons stopping by La Nova Pizzeria during the lunchtime rush Thursday did double takes as they ordered their chicken wings and pizzas.

Yes, that was Jay Leno chowing down on the house specialties -- barbecue wings and pepperoni pizza -- and good-naturedly enduring requests for photos and autographs.

"Slow news day in Buffalo?" he asked a Buffalo News reporter who also stopped by.

Actually, The News queried him about what he was doing in a town that has been the frequent butt of his jokes over the years.

"I like this town, actually," he said. "I'm not a big-city guy. Anything taller than three stories, I don't like," Leno said.

The "Tonight Show" host and car buff was here to perform two shows at the Niagara Fallsview Casino and went to La Nova after checking out the Pierce-Arrow Museum downtown.

This isn't his first visit to the area, Leno said, recalling previous shows at the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena and the Tralf.

Leno said he enjoys coming here, but his personal affection for the area hasn't stopped him from telling sharp-edged jokes about our city, the weather and those Super Bowl losses.

One example: "Six suspected al-Qaida members were arrested in Buffalo, N.Y. Let me tell you something. I think prison is too good for these people. I say let's leave them in Buffalo, let them die of boredom."

Ouch. But Leno didn't seem bored as he bided his time between shows Wednesday and Thursday at the Ontario casino with Jim and Mary Ann Sandoro, a couple he met through the car-collecting community.

The Sandoros had invited Leno to visit the Pierce-Arrow Museum, which they run, next time he was in town.

Leno and Jim Sandoro hit the museum while Mary Ann Sandoro took Leno's wife, Mavis, to the Old Editions Book Shop.

"A lot of great history here," Leno said, praising the city's architecture and its automobile manufacturing heritage.

Leno also took time to meet with the winner of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle that he donated to raise money for the care of injured Buffalo Police Officer Patricia Parete.

"He is so nice. He was so patient with all the people," Mary Ann Sandoro said.

For lunch, Leno wanted to get some La Nova wings because the restaurant has on occasion shipped him packages of their signature dish. He said he figured if they taste good after six days in transit, they must taste even better fresh.

Leno caused a stir at La Nova, prompting star-struck patrons and staff to shyly approach him for a picture or autograph.

The star's appearance caught Ruben Alvira by surprise as he walked into the pizzeria.

"Somebody who was coming out said, 'Leno's in there.' We thought he was joking," said Alvira, who was visiting Buffalo from Tucson, Ariz., with his wife, Julie; daughter, Aimee; and son, Alex.

Leno posed for a photo and signed their menu.

In between fan requests, Leno ate a sampling of La Nova's best wings, a capicola-and-sausage sandwich and some thin-crust sausage pizza.

"I eat a lot of chicken wings," Leno said.

The wings in Southern California, or at national chain restaurants, don't compare to these, he said. "We've got tofu wings in L.A.," he said.

Leno said he prefers his wings with marinara sauce.

"We'll put 'em on the menu, the Jay Leno wing," said Joseph Todaro, president of La Nova, who made sure his grandchildren got to meet the comedian.

Leno's meal was on the house, Todaro said, and he wouldn't let the Lenos leave without a bag of La Nova sauce and T-shirts.


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