Chicken joint charms even a wary wing-eater
I’m guess I might as well admit it right away – I hate chicken wings. Ever since my vegetarian phase back in high school, I’ve been rather squeamish about eating chicken right off the bone. I can handle a nice, juicy white breast in its natural state if it’s done right (hello, Chester Fried!), but otherwise my domestic fowl needs all the bones and gristly bits removed before it crosses my dinner plate.
I always picture the gruesome scene in John Waters’ classic “Serial Mom” when the neighbor couple is eating chicken dinner and the camera lingers on close-ups of the couple’s mouths ravaging a greasy bird, grunting and licking fingers during what turns out to be their last meal before Kathleen Turner gives them the works. Chicken wings remind me of rowdy football parties or a night out at Hooters – these things just aren’t my style.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I decided to darken the doorway of the Wingstop restaurant located behind Big Lots in the Towne Center Mall, a strip of stores named as if the place were so high class or historic that they just had to add that “e.” Wingstop is a franchise outfit with more than 550 stores across the nation.
On my first visit, I expected garish fluorescent lights and a deli atmosphere, but Wingstop is actually very charmingly put together, with unfinished cement floors, corrugated steel on the walls, high ceilings with low-slung lights and an earth and gray color scheme lending an airplane hangar vibe.
It was a little disturbing to see crashed-up airplane parts hanging around the room, but somehow it worked. A couple of TVs were showing a random, campy old John Wayne movie.
I was struck by the intensity of the counter lady – she was absolutely dynamic. Even if the food had been garbage, I would return just to experience such on-the-ball customer service again. Cheers, counter lady!
The menu is pretty simple: various-sized orders of either real wings or boneless strips accompanied by one of nine flavored sauces: Atomic, Cajun, Original Hot, Mild, Lemon Pepper, Garlic Parmesan, Hickory BBQ, Hawaiian and Teriyaki. Sides include fries, potato salad, baked beans and coleslaw.
On a recent visit, I opted to give their new “boneless wings” a try, hot little balls of fried chicken seemingly made just for bone-squeamish eaters like myself. A 10-piece order allows two different flavor options, so I settled on the Garlic Parmesan and the Atomic, the latter of which came with several warnings from employees. “That one is really hot – be careful!”
“Okay, it’ll be about nine minutes,” said Ms. Perky as she handed me my change and got to work. It was nice to see that everything was being made fresh, and sure enough my meal arrived in 8 minutes and 49 seconds (Yes, I timed it.)
I won’t make any bones about it, and I’m not even going to apologize for that bad pun. Wingstop has fully fantastic chicken, straight up. The parmesan-garlic variety was terrific, coated with generous amounts of the powdery cheese. The Atomic sauce was just the right amount of fiery without causing the massive tongue burn that can sometimes kill off the flavor of the rest of the meal. A side of ranch dressing accompanied the whole scenario, adding a cool element of dairy to keep those habañero pepper capsaicin units slightly under control.
The rough-cut seasoned fries alone are worth the price of admission, crisped to a blissful state and tossed in parmesan and herbs. The coleslaw was cold, fresh and flavorful – a rare feat in the normally bland world of slaw.
Wingstop is quite affordable and comes highly recommended, even for those of us who can’t get over our paranoia about chicken bones. You probably won’t ever catch me eating the slimy buggers, but I do have it on good authority from the drunks at last year’s Super Bowl party that their real-deal chicken wings are also truly the bomb.