Then I eat wings as a main meal, I am often reminded of what my father would say. As a child growing up in the '30s and '40s, eating a chicken for dinner -- usually prepared whole -- was a delicacy in his simple home. He said the wings of the bird were the last part to be eaten -- no one wanted them. More often, they were put back to prepare a stock or even discarded.
Today, he says how amazed he is that wings are now a specialty item with places dedicated just to the preparation of these little treats. Yes, something as simple and seemingly insignificant as chicken wings have been elevated to entrée status. Even for my father who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., where Buffalo wings are said to have had their beginning at the Anchor Bar in the mid-1930s, they carry a certain status.
The interest in wings continues to grow. Chicken wings or simply "wings" in the colloquial are the main attraction at Wing Run, a little café specializing in "cold beer and hot wings."
General manager Stacy Simmons said they can go through at least 24 cases a week, with around 300 wings in each case -- and they are always prepared fresh, never frozen.
That's a lot of fresh wings.
I went there one evening to help reduce their weekly inventory, ordering around 30 wings to go. This little café, just north of East 81st Street and South Sheridan Road, is very welcoming, clean, and comfortable. It is a small place -- only about four booths, no more than eight little tables, but with six TVs, each of which were set to a different station. The menu is simple: wings, boneless wings, and barbeque. Simmons said as of last summer, Wing Run "started a dual-branding" with hickory-smoked barbeque items such as pork spare ribs, pulled pork, brisket, bologna, and hot links.
The big decision at wing restaurants is what flavors to choose. Unlike some wing places, Wing Run has a reasonable selection of flavors divided into two areas: Buffalo and specialty. Traditional Buffalo flavors are mild, hot, hotter, kamikaze, and rocket. Specialty flavors include lemon pepper, garlic parmesan, sweet BBQ, spicy BBQ, honey mustard, and sesame.
The sauces and rubs are a combination of their own creations and sauces from outside sources. "Our hot sauces, the hot, hotter and kamikaze are ordered directly from Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York," Simmons said. "The honey mustard and sesame are ordered from a local vendor; the sweet BBQ and spicy BBQ sauces are Head Country -- a familiar local brand, and the lemon pepper and garlic parmesan are our own mixtures."
Bone-in wings and boneless wings are available and equally popular. Simmons said they sell more boneless wings at lunch, "probably because they can be eaten with a fork and knife and are not as messy, while more bone-in wings are sold at night." Sides to go with the wings include fresh cut fries, cheese fries, cole slaw, baked beans and potato salad. Fresh cut celery and carrots are also available, which are often a traditional side item with wings.
I always have had a personal challenge to try the hottest version, and here I was directed to the rocket wings. I got a few thumbs up and raised eyebrows when I ordered a 10-piece of these ($6.49). I also ordered wings in the flavors of garlic parmesan, sweet BBQ, sesame, and spicy BBQ. Upon recommendation of the staff, I ordered a regular (small) order of baked beans ($1.89) and a regular order of fresh cut fries ($1.89).
These wings, Simmons said, have no type of coating before they are fried: "We toss the raw and naked wings right into the fryer, cook them for nine-and-one-half minutes, then toss them in a bowl to be coated with the sauce." The lemon pepper and garlic parmesan wings are first tossed in butter then in the seasoning for coating.
The rocket-coated wings were my favorite. They are hot, but taking one or two is tolerable. Eating them in rapid-fire succession is another thing. The spicy hot lingers on and on. The taste is one of black pepper and cayenne pepper and little (if any) vinegar aftertaste. The garlic parmesan wings were mild, yet rich with authentic-tasting garlic flavor and cheese. The butter coating was a good background to the dry spices. The sweet BBQ boneless wings were good, but they are not at all like eating the boned wing. They are a safe and reliable version for a child's palate: plump, soft, and tender. The sweet Oklahoma-made Head Country sauce was full of rich flavor, made with ketchup, brown sugar, distilled vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and spices. The spicy BBQ was just a mildly hot version of the same thing. The sesame probably was my least favorite -- it was sweet, tasting a little of sesame oil but otherwise, nondescript.
The bone-in wing meat was tender and very flavorful. These wings are definitely finger food -- almost impossible to each without licking the chops and fingers. The side of fresh cut fries was flavorful, but a little soggy and soft by the time I ate them at home. The baked beans were incredibly delicious. "We have a ton of things in them," Simmons said. "Brown sugar, corn syrup, onions, rib meat, and a little bourbon" are just a few of the ingredients. She said they prepare all the sides in house.
Prices range from $6.49 for a 10-piece order with one to two flavors all the way up to $59.49 for 100 pieces of one to four flavors. Increments in between are 10, 20, 35, 50, and 75. Larger orders are available on request. Boneless wings vary in price beginning with a 7-piece meal for $5.29 up to a 100-piece meal for $64.99. Combo meals, served with a drink and regular fries, are available as well as family packs of 35 wings ($24.99), 30 boneless ($23.99) and 20/20 wings and boneless ($34.99).
Simmons said her next big challenge is getting prepped for Super Bowl Sunday, which she has already been doing for a few weeks. "We load up on employees, wings, and prepare as best we can, but it is never enough for that day," she said. "It's a frenzy that day, but a great day!"
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