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Wing Ding 

Two local joints serve up tasty chicken treats

Never mind which came first, the chicken or the buffalo - wing, that is. Chicken wings have nestled into the American diet. Various stories are out there about the origin of Buffalo wings. One attributes the original wing to the owners of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. That legend says the owner was preparing chicken stock, but used the wings destined for the stock pot as a late night snack for her son. She broiled them, dredged them in a chile sauce (later she would deep fry the wings) and served them with blue cheese and celery strips. Another "origin" story has a restaurateur breading chicken wings, frying them, and then dunking the whole wings (the Anchor bar cut them into drumettes and the double bone) into a mambo sauce. Both of these eateries were in Buffalo in the mid-1960s. Today, the Anchor Bar claims to be the birthplace and sells a line of products. You can get their "hotter" and "the original" sauces for $5.99 at The Secret Ingredients (19825 North Cove, Cornelius, 704-892-3106).

By the 1980s, sports bars across the country had adopted wings as a menu mainstay. In that decade, many national chains, such as Hooter's, added wings to the menu. By the 1990s, pizza chains became interested in pairing the wing concept to pizza, and by the end of that decade, franchises and chains were beginning to spring up around the country and moving wings from the appetizer to the entrée column.

In 1964, chicken wings cost about five cents a pound. Nowadays, demand is forcing the cost of wings sky high. According to Mike Deaton, in sales for Prestige Farms, the jumbo chicken wings go for about 95 to 99 cents per pound and commented that the cost is directly related to the popularity of wings. "Years ago," Deaton says, "we couldn't give chicken wings away. Now even gas stations are making wings because they are so profitable." Deaton noted that a pound of jumbo wings yields about eight to 10 pieces (drumette and flapper/double bone/flats). Typically, the cost goes up during the holiday and football seasons, the most popular time for wings.

Owner Brad Fuller thought that the concept of Wing Stop, originally franchised in 1997, was like the Starbucks of the 1990s or McDonalds of 50 years ago and originally wanted to open a franchise in Texas, where the company is headquartered. But instead, he and co-owner Jeffrey Bettison saw the opportunity to open one in Charlotte in the Carmel Commons Shopping Center in October of 2003. Their second location will open in Town Center Shopping Center off Park Road on May 20. There are two other franchise owners in the Charlotte area: one at the university and one on Idlewild that recently closed after a series of robberies. Currently, there are 240 Wing Stops in 28 states.

Fuller's small interior has pre-jet aircraft memorabilia hanging from the ceiling and on the walls, which is a conversation starter for kids who are welcomed here. Wing Stop is non-smoking, but there are tables outside. The television is usually on a sporting event, except Tuesday night when American Idol is on.

But people do not come to Wing Stop for sports — or bad singing. The wings are the main draw. Wing Stop uses Prestige Farms' jumbo wings, which are so large the whole chicken must be the size of a turkey. Fuller noted that he originally started with smaller wings, but his customers demanded bigger.

Wing Stop takes wings to a level beyond the hot and spicy Buffalo variety. Here there's Original Hot, Cajun, Atomic, Mild, Teriyaki, Lemon Pepper, Hawaiian Barbeque, Garlic Parmesan and Hickory Smoked BBQ. The last is their latest flavor, and two more are planned to be released soon. Of the sauces, the most appealing was the original hot. The least appealing is the quasi-cheesy garlic parmesan. The barbecue sauce is sweeter than a typical Carolina barbecue sauce. You can order the wings crispy (well-done), wet (with lots of sauce) or dry (lightly rolled in sauce), or all drums or flats/double bone. Ten pieces (two flavors) are $5.69 and house dips are 59 cents. Also worthy of a go are the hand cut French fries sprinkled with a "secret" combination of spices.

Another spot in town known for their wings is Fairview Grill. Although many gather for the multiple screens, pool tables and videos machines, Fairview is also known as a music venue, which isn't surprising since owner Derrick Presley is part of the family which also owns other music venues including Coyote Joe's.

Fairview Grill moved from a spot across from SouthPark Mall to Park Road in July of 2004. Immediately inside the door are the flyers for music long past: Blue Oyster Cult and the J. Geils band. Manager Maryann Jones, who has worked for Presley for 14 years, stated, "We have always catered to the community. That's what keeps this place going."

In the kitchen is Howard Cormier, and while his wings were big, flavorful and spicy (dozen for $6.50), what would bring me back are his exceptional burgers and fries. The fries are hand cut and the burgers are hand shaped. Also good are the onion rings: crispy with a vivid onion flavor. The menu with a round up of salads, chili and sandwiches is offered from 11am until 1am.

The only drawback is the lack of a non-smoking section. Although a deck was just completed last week, it is outside, away from the screens and jeans.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com.

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