Season’s eatings! The weather may be getting colder, but Dining Month on OnMilwaukee is just cooking up, dishing out your winning picks in this year’s Best of Dining poll. Dining Month is brought to you by Fein Brothers, your premier food service equipment and supply dealer in Wisconsin since 1929. Congratulations to all of the winners, and happy eating for all those who voted!
I'm a big fan of a well prepared chicken wing. I love the snap of a great grilled wing. I love the zip of a great sauce. But I also appreciate the diversity in preparations that you can find if you just take the time to look around.
With that in mind, here's a list – organized in alphabetical order, not ranked – comprised of wings that fly under most peoples' radar, mainly because so many defy the generalized notion of what wings are "supposed" to be.
So set aside your assumptions, rev up your palate and try something a little bit different.
It’s fancy French technique for the win at Balzac, where the coq au vin wings are slow roasted with wine and bacon before being fried until crisp and served up glazed with chili honey ($11). Run your wing through the accompanying Dijon cream sauce, and you’ve just tasted a little bit of chicken wing heaven. These wings would taste great with a beer, but why not pair them with a bottle of wine on half-price bottle night?
I’ve always viewed Thai stuffed chicken wings as a sort of minor miracle. The deft skill involved with carefully deboning the wings (usually with a razor blade) is impressive enough, especially if you’ve witnessed how quickly it's done by a seasoned pro. The wings at Bee’s Cuisine are stuffed with a combination of seasoned vegetables and glass noodles, then grilled until the exterior of the wing is golden and crisp. Bee’s come with both a mild sweet and sour chili sauce and a hot chili sauce ($3 each).
You’ll get a little drama with these wings, which are served fresh from the tandoor oven on a sizzling platter piled high with cooked onions and peppers ($10). They're salty, slightly spicy and pleasantly tangy from the traditional yogurt marinade. The high heat of the tandoor renders the wings a bit charred on the outside, but spectacularly tender within. If you love the flavors inherent to Indian cuisine, these wings might just hit the spot.
There are plenty of things to love about Buckley’s. But six of those things are the Vietnamese chicken wings you can order off the appetizer menu for $9. The intense flavor of the wings begins with a 24-hour marinade in fish sauce, hoisin, garlic, chili and lime juice. Then the wings are dredged in cornstarch, fried and finally tossed with an umami-rich sweet soy and sesame sauce. They’re crispy and tender and sweet and savory all at the same time. They’re also a bit sticky, so be sure to have a napkin at the ready.
5. The Fitz
While you’re "eating the world" of wings, you shouldn’t neglect the distinctly Italian wings at The Fitz. Named in honor of restaurateur Tony Mantuano's brother Gino, they are bright with lemon and rich with flavor from toasted garlic and Calabrian chilis. In fact, they provide the perfect opportunity to rethink what you know about chicken wings ($12, lunch menu).
6. Irie Zulu
If you’ve got an affinity for spicy wings, the jerk wings at Irie Zulu should be on your "to try" list. These grilled wings are loaded with flavor thanks to a deeply penetrating jerk marinade that pulls in savory spicy notes along with fruity overtones from habanero pepper. You can augment the flavor with a dip into the sweet and savory Afro-Fusion Cuisine jerk barbecue sauce that’s served alongside ($10). Your tongue won’t be on fire after the first bite, but you’ll note a slow, cumulative heat that begins as a hint of spice and gradually develops into a slow burn as you eat.
Bonus pro tip: Order the sweet plantain fries with your wings; they’re great dunked into the jerk sauce.
This brand new East Side spot makes traditionally prepared wings that set themselves apart by means of a Dominican-style dry rub, which offers up notes of both citrus and savory spices. Once they're rubbed, the wings are deep fried and then grilled, giving them a nice crispy snap on the exterior while keeping the meat inside tender. Sauces, which include options like tropical habanero, ranch and ancho chipotle, are served on the side. Maybe it's too soon to say, but I'd even put my neck out there and suggest that – if the line is looking a bit too long at Points East – you might want to hop down the block and give these a try. Pricing: six wings for $6.95; 12 for $11.95.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.