Welcome to Best Wings
What do we talk about when we talk about chicken wings? The now-classic buffalo wing, a paragon of bar-food excellence and the subject of passionate devotion for purists who, hailing from upstate New York themselves, have little else to inspire pride of heritage and place? One of the countless kinds of chicken wings and chicken-wing-like things purveyed by the fast-food outfits that get much of the credit for producing a nation of folks too fat to see their own toes and who have rarely tasted well-prepared food? The traditional chop-suey-joint chicken wing, a take-out staple dating to an era when Chinese food meant a bland, candied version of Cantonese and nothing else? Or how about them trendy Korean places quietly popping up all over the country, with their newfangled twice-fried wings and drumsticks?
Me, I’m talking about all of the above, because all of the above is what I et, in the span of an hour and a half and in no particular order. One valiant sitting, in which I accomplished one simple task: chicken wings only, consumed exactly as they were prepared. No dipping sauce. No soft drinks, no beer, no possum, no sop, no taters; water only, to keep the taste buds fresh.
I know, I know: We’re talking about a festive food, a halftime snack, something to chow down with a cold one or six. But this isn’t happy hour, and I ain’t looking for a good time I’m seeking truth. Ungarnished.
Truth ungarnished number one: Eating the stuff from Papa John’s first because it’s there is a very good and a very bad idea both. Sold as “Spicy Buffalo” wings, they’re ugly as sin, a soggy, foil-wrapped mess of clumped chickenish parts that feature a skin of undercooked subcutaneous fat, a meat beneath that’s neither light nor dark it’s closest to gray and a chemical tang that could strip paint.
It was a good idea to try the Papa John’s first because every wing that followed, however mediocre, tasted good if not great. But it was a bad idea because those two bites I gave two separate wings one hearty chaw each for duty’s sake and fairness, too will haunt me always, starting tomorrow morning.
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