Watching actress Drew Barrymore chow down on some Buffalo wings in her latest rom-com Going the Distance -- her face slathered in sticky orange goo and creamy white sauce -- got me all hot and bothered. Hot for some crispy, golden wings, that is. Offered in varieties from grilled and dry rubbed to deep-fried and suicide hot, wings are the quintessential bar food.
So I headed to two local restaurants slash sports bars known for their Buffalo style wings in hopes of finding a chicken wing touchdown.
In One Corner: Zipps Sports Grill Camelback
7551 E. Camelback Rd. in Scottsdale
The local Zipps chain is all about sports. Head there on any given day during baseball, football or hockey season and the place will be packed with locals in team jerseys and ball caps, screaming at the TVs (placed perfectly every few feet) and downing pitchers of beer. Chowhounder danieli10's recommendation turned me on to their Golden Wings, described as a slightly sweet and crisp version of traditional Buffalo wings.
The Camelback location, tucked in the corner of a Sunflower Market shopping plaza, is hella dark and tiny. A huge wooden bar takes up half the real estate and is surrounded by two narrow landing strips of tables packed close together and a step-down billiards area that was shuttered while the game was on. My dining partner and I snagged a tiny table way in the back near the bathrooms. It was one of the only tables left on a Saturday afternoon.
The menu here is typical for a sports grill -- fried food and some token "healthier" grub for the ladies. They've got chicken fingers, onion rings, burgers, pizzas, tasty foccacia sammies and salads. We placed our order for drinks and mild Golden Wings and waited. A few minutes later, our waitress brought a basket of napkins and wet-naps. Much appreciated. A pile of about a dozen wings arrived fresh and hot, their skins fried to a deep golden color. Even in the dim light, they looked appealing; plump and juicy, with a nice coating of light orange sauce.
"This is delicious," mumbled my companion, wing in hand and sauce on face. "There's just a delicate sweetness to it, not cloying like honey BBQ can be. And there's a lot of meat here."
The Chowhound board didn't steer us wrong. I bit in to a drumstick and found a good chunk of moist chicken meat that crunched against my teeth. The skin was crispy and firm, the sauce light and sweet with a peppery after-burn. It was a traditional wing made with hot sauce and butter, but the crisp texture and the addition of sugar to the sauce made this a very addictive wing. The drumsticks were plenty meaty and leaner than many others I've had. A modern American classic, done right.
In the Other Corner: Pullano's Pizza & Wings
13848 N. 51st Ave. in Glendale
Several pizza places on the west side are said to have "the best wings around." But it's always hard to believe that claim. Has anyone actually tried every wing in Glendale and Goodyear? The four-star Yelp! rating and stellar review from California Yelper Saige L. steered us to Pullano's Pizza in Glendale. Plus, I just couldn't pass up a place that was founded by a couple of newlywed locals back in 1979 (originally on Indian School in Phoenix). "Little did we know at this time that this would be the end of our social life as we once knew it," co-founder Mike Pullano writes on their website. Aww, that brings a tear to my eye.
Apparently, so would Pullano's notorious suicide (super-hot) and homicide (ohmygodsohotimgonnadie) wings. We carefully avoided those, as it's hard to finish a Battle of the Dishes when you're developing an instant bleeding ulcer. Death by chicken wing... not a good way to go.
Anyway, Pullano's is a little mom-and-pop dive in a seedy shopping plaza near ASU West. Inside, the place is surprisingly large, with a good-sized dining room, a separate bar room with pool tables and a kitchen dining area. They've got TVs playing football or baseball games and cheap grub specials in the bar. On the flipside, the tables are covered in red-and-white checkered vinyl and the walls are paneled with wood. Holy '80s flashback, Batman!
The service here is great. Our waitress was attentive without being pesky, offering to hold the food until my partner arrived and refilling drinks exactly as needed. Pullano's menu is equally large, running the gamut of Italian specialties from pizza and calzones to chicken parmigiana, lasagna and stromboli sandwiches. They've even got tacos and burritos. This is Phoenix, after all. Pullano's offers sixteen different wing preparations including raspberry chipotle and chili limon; a boneless variety is also available. I ordered up a small basket of mild wings for the best comparison to Zipps.
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Ten crispy drumsticks and wings arrived piping hot in a plastic basket, served with a side of bleu cheese. "This looks like a batch of classic wings," said my friend as he took a seat. "Big and meaty and drenched in sauce." The sauce here was definitely classic, which unfortunately means greasier. Underneath the wing pile, we could see a pool of dark orange grease separating from the creamier sauce components. Ick.
I bit in and again was pleasantly surprised by the crispness of the meat. Here, the oils had permeated into the flesh of the chicken, making the meat extra moist. The sauce was thin, but packed more heat then Zipps. I felt the pleasant tingle of heat warming the back of my throat as I downed the first bite. It continued for a minute or so and then subsided.
As with Zipps, Pullano's did a nice job in selecting good quality chicken. It wasn't quite as plump or lean as the competition's meat, but there was plenty to go around even with two of us and just ten wings. The thick bleu cheese dressing provided a creamy contrast to the thin sauce. We downed the platter in less time than it took to make these babies. All in all, a solid wing.
The Winner: Zipps, by a fraction of a yard. Pullano's brought more heat, but the sweet tang and leaner meat of Zipps' Golden Wings won us over in the final quarter.