The hunt for a new wing king

by Alex Ashe

They can’t be replaced, but what am I going to do, stop eating chicken wings?

More than two years have passed since my favorite wing joint, Minj Grille, closed its doors on Elm Street. It wasn’t long after my friends and I discovered Minj in high school that we collectively declared it the Mecca of chicken wings.

Simply put, Minj’s wings were marvels of the craft. For one, they were “whole wings,” comprised of both the winge and drumette of a seemingly giant chicken. But it was Minj’s original sauce that made it a cult favorite. A bit sweeter and tangier than your standard Buffalo style, it struck the perfect balance. Come to think of it, I don’t know if they even offered any other flavors. They didn’t need to. When you perfect something, there’s little point in selling an inferior alternative as well.

But Minj’s wings are merely a distant memory at this point. I sometimes try to conjure up the flavor of the sauce on my taste buds, but I can never fully replicate it. Although my friends and I have accepted that it’s time to move on, we’ve yet to establish a new, go-to chicken-wing haunt in Greensboro.

Some friends have called on Jake’s Billiards to take that mantle. The Spring Garden Street pub probably wouldn’t be the first place to find outstanding wings, although I suppose there’s reason for that. Cleaner than a dive bar, but more casual than some of the swankier watering holes downtown, Jake’s is a bustling, fairly well-rounded social purlieu. I generally don’t consider places where I’m apt to meet new people to be ideal venues for staining my face and fingers with orange sauce.

So I opt for a take-out order of 10 buffalo wings, a choice I’m affirmed of when I arrive to pick it up. Even at a tick past midnight on a Sunday, Jake’s is far from dead, as attractive co-eds abound. There’s nothing to gain by eating these here, considering I can be thorough and borderline-savage when consuming wings, especially good ones.

And Jake’s wings are quite good, in fact. Just as they’ve been billed, they’re adequately fried and delectably crispy, the cardinal rule of chicken wings as far as I’m concerned. Many places struggle to crisp their wings without the use of breading filler, so it’s encouraging to see that Jake’s gets it. The tasty buffalo sauce stays authentic to its name, but more importantly, there’s an appropriate amount of it. The wings are neither dry nor drowning in sauce. They’re showered with flakes of black pepper, a nice touch that definitely adds some heat without overdoing it.

I’ve also been told to try the wings at Old Town Draught House, also located on Spring Garden. Old Town offers a more adult, intimate setting than a place like Jake’s. The wings are meaty and more filling than most wings outside of the hopefully-not-steroid-fed variety of fowl that I miss from Minj. But they’re not as spicy or as crispy as I’d prefer. They’re pretty light on the sauce, which is awfully mild for “hot Buffalo.” They’re ultimately fulfilling, but their tender, buttery texture leaves me wanting something crispier.

It turns out, though, that crispiness doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. McDonalds recently introduced its new Mighty Wings, and for the sake of research, I mustered up the courage to try an order of three. Practically polar opposites of the wings at Old Town, the Mighty Wings are crispy, but mainly due to the thick breading. There’s not a whole lot of chicken underneath, and it should also be noted that they’re served plain, with sauce containers on the side. It gives you the power to dress the wings to your liking, but that’s a pretty bothersome process, given the payoff. The wings from the Golden Arches are hardly any different than the ones sold in the frozen aisle, another futile experiment I’m not proud of trying. To quote Michael Bluth of “Arrested Development,” I don’t know what I expected.

I still haven’t filled the Minj-sized hole in my heart, but I wasn’t expecting to. The former Elm Street institution is practically my “Rebecca” in terms of chicken wings. But I’ll keep searching for new places to fill the void, while maintaining faith in my pipe dream of a Minj re-opening. But until then, Jake’s wings will do just fine.