The art of the hot wing7/1/2015
Buffalo wings revolutionized the economics of chicken as well as the image of Buffalo, New York. Invented either at The Anchor Bar or John Young’s Wing’s ‘n Things in the mid-1960s, they employed what was then the least desirable part of a chicken. At that time, when most chicken was sold whole, wings were often reserved for the stock pot. After deep frying and coating wings with a mixture of vinegar, butter, Frank’s hot sauce and cayenne pepper, the bars of western New York found a cheap way to encourage patrons to buy more beer. Most such wings were served without charge at Happy Hour and at midnight on Friday, when Roman Catholics could eat meat. The city of Buffalo needed some spice and heat. Previously, the town was best known for being the victim of lake effect snowstorms, as the place where President William McKinley was assassinated and for loss of population. The nation’s eighth largest city in 1900 is now No. 69.
Buffalo wings caught on nationally after the Buffalo Bills played in four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s. A restaurant chain called Buffalo Wild Wings was formed in Ohio before moving to Minneapolis. Today they have 1,070 stores in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines. At the same time, wings became one of the most valuable chicken parts per pound. That’s a supply and demand thing as nearly every sports bar deals with them in volume. Today, wings are served with multiple sauces. Buffalo Wild Wings lists 21 different choices on its menu. Wings are not free anymore either. The average price in Des Moines seems to be $11 for 10 pieces, or five wings. Still, they are one of the most popular items in any sports bar.
To celebrate the state of the art of the Buffalo wing in Des Moines and to raise money for Rebuilding Together of Greater Des Moines (a nonprofit organization that helps low-income residents repair or improve their homes), Jethro’s hosted its third annual WingDing last month. Nine different restaurants showed up with their unique takes on the product while two bands played. Customers ate wings and sauce and voted for their favorites.
Wings, all supplied by Jethro’s, were treated to three different methods of cooking. Jethro’s and GoodSons smoked their product. GoodSons Pizza (formerly Jersey Guys) deep fried previously smoked wings. Satari Sushi Lounge, Buffalo Wild Wings, Saints, Twin Peaks, Sam & Louie’s Pizza and Players Sports Bar all deep fried theirs. Jethro’s offered six regional sauces. My favorite was their “Alabama white,” a sauce traditionally served with chicken. Twin Peaks brought two sauces, “ghost pepper” and “red hot,” which looked identical and tasted nearly the same. GoodSons served its dry rubbed wings with a choice of “ranch” or “hot.” Sam & Louie’s brought a choice of “sweet heat” or “related to bacon.” The latter was sweet with marmalade and pork belly sprinkles. GoodSons Pizza offered “hot” or “spicy BBQ.” Buffalo Wild Wings restrained themselves and only brought five of their many sauces. All seemed to taste sweeter than any others in the event. In fact, four of the eight most prevalent ingredients in their honey BBQ sauce were sweeteners. Even their “mango habanero” tasted quite sweet. Saints offered a distinctive difference between their “boom boom” and “creamy garlic” choices. Satari brought three very hot sauces: “regular,” “hot” and “XXX.” The latter sauce was made with Carolina reaper chilies. Now the hottest pepper in the world, those were bred by crossing ghost peppers with red habaneros, previously the world’s hottest peppers, and the agents of heat in Satari’s other two sauces.
Side Dishes: Chris Michael won a wing-eating contest at WingDing… GoodSons wings were judged the most popular, with Satari finishing runner-up at that same event… Former Des Moines chef and restaurateur Rob Beasely is now chef for Chaumette Winery in Ste Genevieve, Missouri. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.