Like the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, Buffalo wings get no respect, no respect at all. The name "Buffalo" hardly engenders esteem, as that burg's other contributions to the culture include Millard Fillmore, Vincent Gallo and the Goo Goo Dolls. Probably doesn't help that the word can be used as a verb meaning to B.S. someone, or that it calls to mind the bison. You can be sure über-babe Jessica Simpson isn't the first wanna-be brain surgeon to think that Buffalo wings come from those bovine critters, as she once did on her reality show.
Culinary snobs look down their noses at wings because they're an inexpensive part of the chicken that's often used for stock. Yet you'd have to have a board up your backside the size of a telephone pole not to like 'em Buffalo-style. Slathered in hot sauce, with a side of celery and blue cheese dressing for dipping, they're the perfect bar treat, nearly unthinkable without a frosty cold one nearby. By St. Hubert's hounds, I've been gnawing on clucker appendages for an entire week, and I'm not tired of them yet!
Buffalo wings were invented in a tavern, Buffalo's Anchor Bar, by proprietress Teressa Bellissimo, who, according to one account, whipped them up late one night in 1964 as a snack for her son Dominic and his friends. The fowl forelimbs were a hit with the fellas, and the Anchor Bar went on to become a mecca for poultry lovers worldwide. As far as Phoenix goes, did I discover the best wings in town? Some of the best, certainly, and the worst, absolutely. Here, then, from worst to best, are eight wing-sellers. Let me know if there are others I should attempt. The Best of Phoenix supplement is right around the corner . . .
Buffalo Wing Taste-Off
Long Wong's, 2812 East Thomas Road, Phoenix, 602-224-5464. Other locations.
What Pete's is to fish and chips in Phoenix, Long Wong's is to wings, and that is not a compliment. Three separate servings were brought to me cold and chewy, and the skin was like biting into beef jerky. Why, then, does the place still draw patrons? Cheapness plays a factor. At $4.75 for a dozen, that comes to a little under 40 cents a wing. Thing is, there's better to be had for the same amount. So if you're eating at L.W.'s, poverty is no excuse.
Nixon's, 2501 East Camelback Road (at the Esplanade), Phoenix, 602-852-0900.
Lest someone accuse me of knocking gutter grubaterias to the benefit of higher-end joints, I give you Nixon's, a bar I adore hanging out at whenever I get the chance. Neat place, with an East Coast feel, and political memorabilia on the walls. I'm a Tip O'Neill-size fan of its sliders, which go well with pints (note the plural) of Guinness, but the "West Wings" were a conundrum. The chicken itself was of better quality, and plumper than at most places. But the "hot sauce" tasted mostly like way-too-salty butter. It'd be better to just douse it all with Tabasco. At $6.50 a dozen, Nixon's deserves impeachment for not offering a superior platter of poultry.
Native New Yorker, 1301 East Broadway Road, Tempe, 480-921-2556 (www.aznativenewyorker.com). Other locations.
A local chain from a family with Empire State roots. Wings are 40 cents apiece, save on Tuesday nights, when the place does a special of 25 cents per wing. Quality is fair, with the "medium" having the best tanginess, and the "suicide" level being almost inedible. Like at a lot of places, you have to ask for blue cheese, otherwise you get ranch. Why so stingy with the blue cheese, matey? You'd think it's worth its weight in pearls, or something.
Hooters, 501 South Mill Avenue, Tempe, 480-967-2222 (www.hooters.com). Other locations.
This is the first Hooters I've ever been to where the waitresses forced to wear '70s-style, orange short-shorts were actually attractive. Must be that it's in Tempe, home of the comely co-ed. Service is impeccable, and the wings above average, though I disliked the fact that Hooters wings normally come caked in an overly sweet batter. The "naked" wings, sans batter, were the best. Slightly pricey at 10 for $6.95.
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Champps Restaurant and Bar, 2520 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, 602-852-0033 (www.champps.com).
Amazing! This place actually brings you nice-size pieces of healthy-looking celery, with blue cheese dressing, no less! I don't know why this is so difficult for other eateries, but it is. Champps' wings are tasty, lightly fried, with a sauce neither too hot nor too weak. A very safe bet, and it should be for $7.95 for a dozen. Presumably, you're paying for the upscale sports-bar atmosphere, the Biltmore environs and the framed Warhol prints on the walls.
The Vine Tavern & Eatery, 2808 East Indian School Road, Phoenix, 602-957-9806 (www.vinetavern.com). Other locations.
The Vine is one of those places I thought I'd hate, especially since it had closed down its non-smoking section early, and I was forced to dine with the Marlboro men -- and women. Moreover, I found the wings a tad dry, but the flavor was more addictive than a key of yayo. Both the medium and the hot tasted like they'd been fried in peanut oil. The server told me canola oil, and when I called the manager for confirmation, he said it was top secret, so go figure. Anyway, they're damn good, and worth $5.99 a dozen.
Corbins Bar and Grill, 8729 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602-466-3201.
For traditional Buffalo wings, you can do a lot worse than the "Diablo wings" at Corbin's, a stylish new grill on North Central. I was impressed with the fact that it serves all drumettes, those upper portions of the chicken wing that look like little legs. Some establishments charge extra for all drumettes. The spice of the sauce lingers on the tongue, but doesn't set your mouth afire. And Corbin's doesn't stint on the celery. Wings and celery are accompanied by a chunky blue cheese or a buttermilk herb dressing. Costs a bit more, at $7.75 per dozen, but I didn't mind.
Half Moon Sports Grill, 2121 East Highland Avenue (one street south of Camelback Road), Phoenix, 602-977-2700 (www.halfmoonsportsgrill.com). Other locations.
There's nothing traditional about Half Moon Sports Grill, or its wings. A sports bar with no beer on tap? Still, with specialty martinis at $3.50 a pop, or the beer of the month at $2.50 per bottle, you won't be whining. The place gets its name from the "half moon" formed when you bend over. Anyway, the wings are superlative, as fat and juicy as the ones at Nixon's, but with almost gourmet sauce. The "medium" tastes almost like barbecue sauce and is brownish. I prefer the hot, which are at the threat-level of the "mediums" of other spots. Request blue cheese, or you'll get ranch by default. $7.25 nets you eight to nine of the suckers. They're easily the best I've had in Phoenix so far, and in a pleasant, upscale environment. Oh, and check out the, uh, "video action" in the restrooms. You'll have to see it to believe it, and even then, you'll be nonplussed.