Whoever coined the phrase, “Ain’t no thang, but a chicken wang” was clearly a careless philosopher. Because, after a lunch of jerk wings at Ja’s Jerk Chicken in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, I’ve found some wings that are quite clearly the thang. In fact, two hours after supping on them, my lips are still delighted, if not a touch inflamed, by the chili burn from their jerk sauce.
Anyone considering collagen injections should just consider a weekly order of these instead.
Ja’s has no tables or even the stainless steel chest-high counter–a Chicago staple found at beef stands and rib shacks everywhere. I had to dine with the styrofoam clamshell while holding the wings precariously perched on the console of my vintage scooter–by vintage I mean 1994 Honda Elite–underneath the Lake St. Green Line elevated train. Still, even with the train spitting the occasional drop of El juice as it roared by, I was hardly bothered. I was too busy sucking my way to the chicken bone.
When I first opened the clamshell, the waft of sweet spices from the chicken and the sweet potatoes hit me with so much oomph, it brought back memories of the Drakkar Noir cologne clouds at junior high dances. I can assure you the smell here was much more pleasing, and not masking any post-pubescent scents.
The chicken, coated in an allspice and red chili gravy, literally dripped off the bone. The wing has a smoky essence after spending time over lump charcoal in an aquarium smoker, and the burn is restrained enough to create a balanced dance of vinegar tang, sweetness, and hot spice on the tongue. Though they offer a ton of housemade sides, the sweet potato, featuring toothsome chunks and puree of sweet potato, doused in spices like cinnamon and brown sugar, tames the heat perfectly, creating a respectable combo.
Ja’s Jerk Chicken
2806 West Lake Street, Chicago IL 60612 (map); 773-533-5375