Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ain't Nothin' But A Chicken Wing...

Falcon Rob made a very timely post recently, and I went to make a comment, but it took on a life of it's own and got just a little too lengthy, so I deleted it and brought it over here. Besides, I know you guys go ga-ga for any food-related topic, so here I am showing the love to my readers.

Some of you already know that one of my favorite foods is buffalo-style wings. I love love love hot wings. Can't have pizza without having wings (Well, Grimaldi's is an exception. It stands alone atop the food hierarchy). But as far as appetizers go, or even as an entree, it's one of those foods that I never get tired of.

Yeah, you know how sometimes you're watching the game and you just don't feel like ordering a pizza? Or as much as you love a good ol' American cheeseburger, you just not in the mood for it? Or as tasty as bacon is, sometimes you just don't want to put up with the hassle of frying up a batch? Yeah, we all get that way, but I've never said I just don't feel like having chicken wings. Like free beer or a threesome with cheerleaders, I'm always up for it.

Back in Phoenix, there were several great places to go for excellent wings. Long Wong's in Tempe was probably the best, but then again, it was on Mill Avenue, so parking was a pain in the ass, and the restaurant was about the size of my living room, so seating was an issue, too. But they had killer wings, and their 'suicide' style was like taking a blow torch to both ends--not for the faint of heart. If, in a flash of drunken bravado, you decided to man up and put down a dozen... well, you spent the better part of the next 48 hours drinking cold milk and sitting in a tub of ice water feeling like you'd been violated by the bastard offspring of a pineapple and a branding iron. Trust me, I know.

On the other hand, their regular 'hot' wings were pretty damn hot, but very tasty. Enough to give a heat buzz without killing you, but enough kick to let you know that you're not as tough as you think you are. Also, if you could get a seat in the restaurant on the weekend, you'd usually be treated to live music by up-and-comers like The Pistoleros, The Refreshments, and The Gin Blossoms. Good times!

As legendary as Long Wong's was, I frequented a few other places. For a long time back in the mid 90's, I used to hang out at a place called Papillon's II in Mesa. My roommate was a cocktail waitress there, and it was a great football bar on the weekends. I can't remember what they were called on the menu, but their house recipe wings were to die for. They slow smoked 'em over hickory and mesquite out back, then crisped them in the fryer, and then dipped them in some sort of honey-bbq sauce with just a hint of habanero. Oh good lord they were awesome. I was good for at least one order of those every week during football season.

But my favorite spot was Native New Yorker. Back in the early days, there had maybe three or four restaurants around town, but now they seem to be everywhere down there. Not only was it a killer sports bar, they had excellent food, too. The big selling point, almost 20 years ago, was the ten-cent wing special. Yeah, they were pretty small, but for a dime, who cared? They had excellent sauces, and my favorite were the 'honey bear BBQ' and the 'honey bear hot'. Both were great.

Nowadays, when you order wings at most places, you get six, or ten, or maybe an even dozen and you're good to go. But back there, the wings were so small that ordering 20 or even 30 was no big deal. Reverend Dave and I would go in there and lay waste to about fifty wings (five bucks!) and a couple of pizza puffs and call it a day. Oh, and they served beer in pitchers there too (do places outside of Vegas still do that?). And they'd bring you a big silver pizza pan to use as a bone-plate.

Anyhow, one day back in the early 90's, I was spending my days working at the Pointe Hilton down on South Mountain, and attending classes at ASU in the evenings. We were in the employee dining room one day, eating their excuse for wings (doubtless leftover from some banquet in the ballroom the night before), when my co-workers and I started talking about how we would rather be at Native New Yorker plowing through a pile of good wings and having a beer instead of the leftovers and ice water that were provided for us.

One thing led to another, and by the time the lunch break was over, the challenge had been laid. We were going to see if anyone could eat 100 wings.

The rules were as follows:

-At least fifty of the wings had to be 'hot' or stronger
-One hour time limit
-After you finished, you had to sit for an hour in the restaurant without puking
-A non-participant would judge each discarded bone to ensure that as much meat as possible was consumed from each wing, no cheating by leaving a bunch of meat behind.
-If anyone actually ate a hundred, they didn't pay (By then the price had gone up to twenty cents, I think). Those who failed got stuck with the bill.

As it turned out, there were four of us up for the challenge, with another three or four observers coming along just to watch the train wreck.

Once it was decided, word spread around at the hotel, and the following Wednesday, about fifteen people headed over to the bar after we got done working for the day.

My strategy was simple. I ate a big dinner the night before, kinda as a warm up, and then I didn't eat any breakfast or lunch the next day, so that I was good and hungry. Also, I wouldn't eat a scrap of garlic bread, carrots, or celery, and drink nothing but iced tea during the contest. No Coke, and definitely no beer. As far as varieties went, I ordered fifty hot ones and fifty honey-bbq. Some of my competitors ordered a few pitchers of beer, and one guy was nibbling on a piece of bread while we waited, so I knew I had him beat.

Of course, once the wait staff figured out what was up, it was a full-on your-attention-please contest in the restaurant.

The fog of time has erased the play-by-play details, but I started off putting down as many hots as I could, and when my mouth was sufficiently on fire, I changed over to the honey-bbq long enough to cool the flames. I went back and forth like that for the first fifty or so, and it went pretty quickly. Around sixty I was starting to feel it. At the seventy-five mark I was definitely uncomfortable, and a couple of people had dropped out by then. It was just me and one other dude.

I remember that he made it to 89 before he gave up, and he didn't make it the full hour, either. When he threw in the napkin, I had only five or six wings to go, so I even as bad as I felt, I knew I'd make it. When it got down to the last fifteen or so, I put them in a line, biggest to smallest, and ate the biggest ones first. Only having a couple of small wings left by then, I managed to force myself to eat them.

As soon as I finished, with about ten minutes to spare, I swore I'd never eat another chicken wing as long as I lived. I felt like crap, but at least I didn't feel like I needed to get sick. I did, however, unbuckle my belt and unbutton my pants, Al Bundy style, while I sat there for the next hour. Eventually, I was able to drink a small glass of beer in celebration, but once my time was up, I drove straight home and stared at the ceiling for a few hours in a food coma.

Looking back, it was one of those ideas that guys come up with that sounded good at first, but in reality pretty much sucked. The other three guys all felt like shiat, too, and one guy actually got sick there at the restaurant. I was just glad that I held it together. There were no ill effects at all, except that I got a whole lot of reading done the next day, IYKWIM...

Surprisingly, even after that experience, I'm still a fan of buffalo wings. Of course, I didn't go back to Native New Yorker for a couple of months, but it's a distant memory now. As far as the prices go, I'm sure that their wings probably go 'on special' for fifty cents apiece now, maybe during Monday Night Football and such. Another such challenge like the one I participated in would likely cost the loser a small fortune. Oh well, that was a long time ago in a neighborhood far far away.

Nowadays, I don't have a must-do place for wings. BWW is just ok, as far as I'm concerned. It's good, but it ain't that good. Plus, the one nearest my house here in Hendertucky is slow as shiat and they always fark up our orders, so I've just stopped going there. A few weeks ago, I bought a bag of frozen, already sauced, wings at Costco--the kind you just throw in a 400 degree oven for twenty minutes or so, but they aren't any good. What little sauce is on them comes off onto the cookie sheet when you bake 'em, and unless you burn the shiat out of them, they don't get crispy at all.

So I'm leaning towards just getting a counter-top deep fryer with my next little windfall. I had an old roommate about ten years ago who had one, and we made the best homemade wings ever--Frozen wings, peanut oil, a little seasoned flour, Frank's Hot Sauce, and some butter. That's it--and they were damn good.

Rob's idea of using olive oil sounded intriguing, I'm sure that brings out some good flavor, but with the low smoke point of olive oil and a hot cast-iron skillet you really gotta babysit 'em. I'd probably end up burning the house down. So I'm gonna wait to make homemade wings until I get a proper deep fryer.

But that brings us to last night. Since it was such a slow week at work, I've been just hanging around the homestead at night on my days off. But AC had a day shift yesterday, and his gal was working again last night, so after he got off work he stopped at a local place called Chicken Bonez and picked up a bunch of good grub and brought it over. We had both hot wings and lemon-garlic wings, plus sides of baked beans and macaroni salad.

The wings were very very good--some of the best I've had. In fact, we were talking about it, and this may just be our go-to place for wings now. Unfortunately, they don't deliver. But the lemon-garlic ones were surprisingly good. They were dry and crispy, like a bunch of miniature extra-crispy drumsticks from KFC--dry in a good way, not dripping with any visible sauce. But the spices were mixed in with the flour, so it was like eating really good fried chicken--it tasted like it was made by a big fat grandma in a flowered dress for a church picnic, that's how good it was. Oh hells yeah, we were diggin' it. And we both really liked the side dishes, too, so it's definitely going in the rotation.

And AC had brought so much that there were plenty of leftovers for the weekend. I can't wait to eat that stuff cold for breakfast on Sunday.


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