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Just Wing it

36 Hours. 100+ Wings. Pass the Tums

ROB KALESSE | spark

04/12/2006

Mothers are full of idle threats when you're a kid: Sit too close to the television and you'll go blind. Keep making that face and it'll get stuck that way. Eat too many Doritos and you'll turn into a nacho cheese chip.

This week I decided to put that last threat to the test: Would I turn into a Buffalo wing if I ate enough of them? I'm here to tell you that ain't nothing but a chicken wing on a string.

Along the way though, I found some pretty good spots for wings as I went on a chicken wing pilgrimmage all across northern Delaware looking for a way to stuff myself with hot sauce and bleu cheese.

Keep in mind that the following is not a tale of healthy eating habits and ideal dietary decisions. The goal was to find the crispy, the meaty and the saucey, a few obscure spots for wings, and the ultimate way to enhance your wing experience -- pairing it with the right beer.

WINGS TO GO

Location: 809 Governors Plaza, Bear (among others)

Da' Meat: 5. A couple thin ones in there with some broken bones.

Da' Crisp: 8. Crispy even while doused in the sauce.

Da' Sauce: 7. A great selection from a mild honey-like consistency to fourth-degree burns, though a little liquidy. Try the Barbicide to get the best mix of sweet and hot, but not too hot.

It always makes sense to start at the beginning, so in my quest to stuff myself with wings smothered in a myriad of sauces from Buffalo to Bangkok, the first place that popped into my head was Wings To Go. I wanted wings. I wanted them to go. Made sense.

Since I 'd be eating like an animal, the location in Bear seemed apropos. There, Vivian fried me up a plate of 10 which was easily outnumbered by the 15 flavors of sauce from which to select. I started with the classic Hot Sauce, a cayenne-infused Buffalo sauce that built hotter and hotter.

Like a chicken wing tough guy, I next had to sample the sauce that came with the menu disclaimer "No refunds" -- the Homicide. Vivian said it was a forewarning to people so they knew what they were getting into.

I never listen.

One bite into the Hellishly red liquid would not be enough. After the thrid bite, the left side of my mouth, both upper and lower lip, went numb. Like a trip to the dentist office, I had to hold my lips together while drowning in a bottle of cold water.

Overall the wings were very crispy (a must), though at times a little thin on the meat. And just a finishing note on the Homicide: Four days later the bottle of water I used to put out the flames still smells like hot sauce inside. And I have found feathers where there were no feathers before. Weird.

2 FAT GUYS

Location: Wellington Plaza, Hockessin

Da' Meat: 10. As I said, the biggest wings I'd eaten so far. Ever.

Da' Crisp: 7. Solid like the others.

Da' Sauce: 7. The flavors were creative and tasty, we're just greedy and would like some more options.

When I popped out of bed Thursday at the crack of dawn, I felt as though the theory was turning out to be true. I flew out the door for another day of gettin' wung. (This is a new word for gorging oneself with chicken wings.)

Who better to check in with on the wing front than 2 Fat Guys, one of whose last names is Craft, the other Cook. They had to have some creative sauces for their wings.

Tom (the Crafty one) said they don't freeze their wings, but they do pre-bake them in a mix of corn starch, flour and seasonings to seal in the flavor, and then refrigerate them.

When the six different varieties arrived tableside, the first thing I noticed was the sheer size of these wings. They were huge, bigger than any other wings I think I've ever had. I asked if they got their chickens from Gold's Gym.

"Hey, size matters, you better believe it," Jeff (the Cook) said.

"Our wings are jumbo and they come seven to 10 in a pound (like shrimp)," Tom said. "If they're not big enough, we won't sell 'em. It's as simple as that."

I've got to salute wing purists who only serve up what they'd be willing to eat. Creative sauces like poached pear and molasses barbecue and bourbon barbecue led me to believe that these guys weren't necessarily in it for the heat, but more the tastes. Kudos.

PAPA RAY'S

Location: 16 Marrows Road, Newark

Da' Meat: 6. Some were a little small, but all were together, and no knuckles.

Da' Crisp: 8. At sometimes even crunchy, there were no soggys in here.

Da' Sauce: 10. As I mentioned, they take wing sauce here to another level, to Buffalo and beyond.

Let's keep in mind that at this point I had ingested over 100 wings in a little over 24 hours. I'm 135 pounds. I was about to go one wing for every pound and officially fly the coop.

As hiccups were replaced by chirps, I made my way to the coup de grace of my wing flight with Papa Ray's just outside of Newark. Breathing heavily I bellied up to this simple bar with the most diverse listing of sauces divvied into various boxing weightclasses.

The wings themselves were admirable, but options like jalapeno beer cheese (Bull's Eye) and Cajun twist (Hat Trick), and one that combined the two with ranch (Triple Crown) were what set them apart.

Unless you were allergic to chicken, you'd be able to find something to match your taste here.

BUFFALO WILD WINGS

Location: 1887 Pulaski Highway, Bear

Da' Meat: 8. An even amount of meat on each little drumstick.

Da' Crisp: 8. Another solidly crispy experience.

Da' Sauce: 8. A good selection from Smilin' to Sizzlin' to Screamin', all of which were thick and rich. The best of the lot was the Asian Zing, which makes the wing taste like General Tso's chicken on a stick. Very good.

With half my face sliding off my skull and lips redder than a baboon's backside, I headed down the highway to Buffalo Wild Wings, whose motto stresses "Wings. Beer. Sports." Although I was on a mission to find good wings, it was after five o'clock and they had beer.

I dove into eight different sauces, all of which were conveniently separated into different baskets and marked by name. (Nice touch.)

Again, I started easy with the milder flavors, but in no time was up to the Blazin' wings, the sauce with the warning to keep hands away from eyes, pets and children (in order of importance, I assumed).

"You eat those and go to the bathroom without washing your hands, and we've got a serious problem on our hands," ownerSteve Wheat said. I didn't think they were nearly as hot as the Homicide at Wings To Go (which I was okay with), but I heeded his warning nonetheless.

Steve also mentioned their wings are shipped fresh, not frozen. I could tell the difference from other wings, especially the way they held the taste of the fryer (which I like) and the thick sauce together.

LIVING ON A WING AND A BEER

While many the world over continue the epic journey to try and pair the perfect wine with the perfect entree, sauce or cheese, we here in America have already figured out the best possible pairing of food and drink: wings and beer.

We asked Brian Finn, the award-winning head brewer at Iron Hill Brewery in Wilmington, to give us his ideas when posed with different sauces for the chicken wing. Being a brewer for 10 years and a lover of wings, he gave us the following expert opinion.

* Hot Buffalo: "When I think of the classic Buffalo hot wings, my first beer of choice would bµe a pale ale, maybe an India Pale Ale; something hoppy and bitter."

* Teriyaki: "A nice lager would match with chicken if it's not spicy; also a porter if they blend together. We'd recommend our Lodestone Lager a Munich Helles because off the chicken being soft on the palate."

* Garlic and cheese sauce: "Again a pale ale, with hops but not over the top. A nice malt base would match up well, maybe a British pub ale like Bass."

* Honey BBQ: "Gotta be a porter or a stout, like [beer expert] Michael Jackson's classic listing says. The sweetness would go well together."

* Asian Chile sauce: "Go with something hoppy because of the heat; an American pale ale would balance the spice flow."

* Jerk seasoning: "An IPA or an equally hoppy pilsner would match up well."

* Mango and habanero: "Either Magic Hat No. 9 or Dogfish's Aprihop; good hoppiness and balanced fruit and spice."

THE BOYS AT BUFFALO WILD WINGS

The names Steve Wheat and Bobby Pancake might conjure up thoughts of two guys who run an IHOP and not a barbecue and hot wing restaurant and bar. But although they have no plans to change their names to Steve Wing and Bobby Hot Sauce anytime soon, they certainly know their wings and beer.

The two afficianados sat down to for a tasting to help us pair up some of the beers they have on tap at Buffalo Wild Wings with some of their more popular wing sauces. If you decide to hit one of the better local spots for wings, here are some recommendations from the pros:

* Sweet BBQ (a traditional sweet sauce) and Shiner Bock (rich and full-flavored to hold up).

* Teriyaki (mirin wine-based and mildly sweet) and Yuengling (a classic lager).

* Mild (classic Buffalo sans the kick) and Smithwicks (a slightly bitter Irish red).

* Parmesan Garlic (lots of creamy garlic flavor) and Amstel Light (a light beer to go with the peppery aftertaste).

* Medium (classic Buffalo with the kick) and Guinness (a smooth and creamy way to cover the palate).

* Spicy Garlic (more heat than garlic) and Bass (a hoppy classic to battle the heat)

* Asian Zing (General Tso's on a stick) and Miller Genuine Draft (rich and smooth).

* Caribbean Jerk (ginger, cinnamon and allspice) and Heineken (subtle beer to go with subtle flavors)

* Mango Habenero (good mix of fruit and veg) and Blue Moon (a spiced wheat beer and fruity essence)

* Blazin' (the hottest they got) and Miller Lite (like water to put out the fire).

A FEW SURPRISES BEYOND THE REGULAR WING JOINTS

It doesn't take a detective to find good wings at a place called "Wings to Go," because they're expected to have good wings. But when a random restaurant impresses with their own version of wing-in-sauce, you have to take notice.

There are three impressive hidden recipes out there worth a taste: The fiery chipotle at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (my first love, available in Wilmington and Newark), the Inferno sauce at Dead President's Pub & Restaurant, and the Greek wings at Costa's Grill & Wine Bar.

The obvious active ingredient in Iron Hill's fiery chipotles is the chipotles themselves. Good quality building heat, but not over powering, allows you to enjoy the wings without too many tears or extra tissues.

My suggestion here is a plate of half and half: six of their classic Buffalo and six of the fiery chipotle. Pair it with a pint of the Anvil Ale and it's as classic a combo as mac 'n' cheese and PB&J.

Chef Nas at Dead President's uses Louisiana Liquid Heat sauce (ouch) with fresh ground jalapenos and habaneros (which register anywhere from 80,000 to 300,000 pungency units on the Scoville heat scale). Grinding the peppers is what gives his sauce the extra kick.

Although they are offered with the wings, these are the kind that are dangerously close to hot just for the sake of being hot. I like 'em, but I suggest getting a side of the sauce to go with their chicken tenders, Buffalo style.

Finally we have something completely different: Costa's Greek wings, courtesy of chef David L. Jones, which are tossed in dried oregano, fresh lemon juice and grated Haloumi cheese. The light tang and flavor offers no heat, but it pairs really well with the yogurt-cucumber sauce that accompanies the wings.

 

 

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