Flying High - 405 Magazine

Flying High

A trio of top-tier tastes in the world of wings.

One thing is certain: The modern idea of chicken wings definitely comes from Buffalo, New York, which is the likely origin of the term “Buffalo wings.” The identity of the person who originated the idea of a sauced wing as an appetizer or entree is less certain. The likeliest answer is John Young, the founder of Buffalo’s Wings and Things — a Black restaurateur who used a version of a sauce popularized in Washington, D.C., by the similarly named Wings ‘n’ Things.

Although the first references of wings on a menu date to the middle 19th century, anyone who grew up in the South has been eating fried chicken wings since they were old enough to eat solid food. The addition of spicy sauce happened in Buffalo as well, when restaurateurs Frank and Teressa Bellisimo cooked separated drums and flats in hot sauce. That became the archetypal “wing” that now lands on menus in Modern American restaurants, barbecue dives, pizza joints and any other concept that wants to add a low-cost, high-margin item to their menu.

The popularity of wings has led to an increase in price as availability fluctuated dramatically post-COVID, and many places have switched to a weight-based order (rather than count-based) as the size of the wings has shrunk. At one local concept, we ordered 10 wings and got 14, a nod to the smaller size that is greatly appreciated as people try to eat out in an atmosphere of volatile inflation.

Chef Bryan Wilson at Flycatcher Club, 1137 NW Second St. in the Ironworks District, didn’t put wings on the original menu, but demand for the snack-sized favorites led him to add both dry and wet styles to the honky-tonk’s regular rotation.

“I brine every batch for at least 24 hours,” Wilson said. “It’s my own recipe of black peppercorns, bay leaves, smoked paprika, garlic cloves, brown sugar … and a couple surprises.”

The brine ensures the flavor goes all the way to the bone, so the sauce or dry rub isn’t doing all the work. Wilson opted for salt and pepper and Cajun jerk for his dry wings. The wet wings come with barbecue sauce or sweet Thai chili glaze, the latter of which has a touch of heat well within most people’s comfort range. He occasionally offers a rotating feature where he experiments with sauces and rubs.

James Beard Award finalist Chef Jeff Chanchaleune doesn’t do wings every day at Ma Der Lao Kitchen (1634 N. Blackwelder Ave.), but at least one Friday a month, as part of the Freestyle Friday feature of off-menu items offered for one day, he makes his signature jaew bong wings. The jaew bong is a spicy red pepper sauce that has a consistency between salsa and paste. He tossed the fried wings in the jaew bong, which results in a smoky, spicy bite that warms you all the way into your chest. Once a month isn’t often enough, so encouragement to see them available more often would be greatly appreciated.

Another unlikely but excellent wing destination is Pizzeria Gusto at 2415 N. Walker Ave. in Uptown 23rd. The preparation is wet style using a house-made hot sauce with respectable heat. It does borrow a page from the buffalo chicken handbook by offering a gorgonzola dressing on the side.

It’s getting more difficult to compose a list of the metro’s “best wings,” because they are ubiquitous all over the 405. Tell someone your favorite, and they’ll list two or three that are avowedly better. In fact, at the end of the day, it’s a chicken wing, and it’s an easy thing to do right — so explore widely, and let us know what your favorites are.