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Book goes beyond wings to celebrate depth, history of Buffalo cuisine

Arthur Bovino came to Buffalo with a plan to write a 60,000-word book on Buffalo cuisine.

The New York City resident spent about a month eating in Buffalo, and more time delving into the history behind the food he found. He ate at more than 120 places, and packed on 20 pounds.

When Bovino started writing, he wrote 60,000 words and kept going. "I couldn't stop," he said. At 100,000 words, he informed his publisher at Countryman Press that he was running a bit long.

It's supposed to be 60,000 words, she reminded him. "It's not finished yet," he replied.

His manuscript ended up at 150,000 words, two books' worth. The first book, "Buffalo Everything: A Guide to Eating in the Nickel City," debuts in August and explores the city's cuisine in loving detail, starting with wings, pizza, fish fry and beef on weck. Then it drills deeper into the rest of the culinary offerings that make Buffalo a city where you don’t want to waste a meal.

Old-school taverns, new-school places where chefs are drawing on local farms, and late-night spots where the food tastes best after midnight all get detailed treatments drawing on original interviews. Buffalo's candy makers, sandwich artists and hot dog grillers get their close-ups, too.

In February, Countryman will release Bovino's second volume, "The Buffalo New York Cookbook." Its 70 recipes include home versions of beef on weck, Buffalo-style pizza and other classics explored in his first book, plus Buffalo versions of America's favorite comfort foods, like a Buffalo chicken pot pie.

"I had always wanted to go to Buffalo, being a pizza nerd, and I had heard so much about the pizza scene," he said. "When I had the opportunity to research Buffalo pizza, I realized how much more there was than wings and pizza. I became addicted to one thing after another, and in finding as much as I could about the history of each of them. It became a compulsion."

"Buffalo Everything" goes deep, closing in on 400 pages. The most thorough chicken wing treatise yet published runs 90 pages, including an exploration of wing-eating techniques and Bovino's Top 20 wing choices.

The history behind and guide to finding Tom & Jerrys runs nearly nine pages. The Old Pink gets four pages.

[Related: The Buffalo News' Tom & Jerry finder for 2017-18]

Will the book accelerate the discovery of Buffalo by food tourists? "I think it's already been happening," Bovino said. "It's been percolating for a while, and it's overdue."

He noted that in the two years he worked on the book, taste-spotters like Food & Wine and Travel & Leisure had articles pointing their audiences to Buffalo. The New York Times made Buffalo a destination for its "36 Hours" feature and made the city part of its "52 places to visit" coverage.

"When I came along to do the book, I was shocked it hadn't been done already," he said. He is planning a series of events and book signings in August, including an appearance Aug. 20 as part of the Larkin Square Author Series.

Tourists should find "Buffalo Everything" handy, but it will hopefully also inspire Buffalonians to explore, he said.

"Buffalonians are rabid about their own food culture, and yet I met people who considered themselves knowledgeable about the local wing scene that had only been to their local places, five minutes away from their house," Bovino said. "I know I'm going to get in trouble for saying this, but I felt like I could speak with more authority after visiting all these places than a lot of people I met while I was in town. They were rabid about their spot."

Perhaps the book will help encourage people to appreciate what they have, he said. "I hope the book celebrates Buffalo, and helps people appreciate all the stuff that, even living there, they may not have experienced that's amazing, and awesome, and tasty."

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