On a Wing and a Prayer

Michael Nagrant / 01.31.08

For legions of busty women carrying overloaded trays of Buffalo wings while rocking thigh-hugging orange short shorts, October 3, 1964, is a day that will live in infamy. That’s the night Dominic Bellissimo and his college buddies crashed his parents’ business, the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, looking for a snack. In return, his mom scrounged up some leftovers, chucked a few chicken wings into the fryer and then tossed them in her husband Frank’s signature Red Hot sauce. Pigskin nation would never go hungry again.

It would, however, endure generations of sad imitators slinging mouth-searing, overvinegared, soggy wings. With the Super Bowl around the corner, we enlisted some help to find Chicago’s ultimate wings. Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti is last year’s Spike TV buffalo wing–eating champion (he bested hot-dog legend Takeru Kobayashi by scarfing down 100 wings in eight minutes) and he’s also a Kendall College culinary grad, which means he knows about wings. He rated the mild version of those rumored to be the best on a scale of one to six Wet-Naps.

Buffalo Wild Wings
(2464 N Lincoln Ave, 773-868-9453)
THE PLACE For a deep-pocketed national chain, there’s a surprising dearth of plasma screens here. Couch potatoes needn’t despair, though, as the main bar still has 22 mostly tube-style televisions, which, on a lazy Monday night, outnumber patrons two to one.
THE VERDICT “These are pretty spicy for a mild sauce. The meat holds on the bone, but it’s not falling off. I get a fatty vinegar taste with too much garlic and salt. I told you I thought these would be some of the best, but I gotta eat my words. ”
3 Wet Naps

(252 W 26th St, 312-225-5555)
THE PLACE If you need a cop fast, skip Dunkin’ Donuts. Head over to this old-school gem in the shadow of a Dan Ryan freeway overpass, where the boys in blue hunker down and rip through a bevy of red-sauce Italian fare.
THE VERDICT “Acidic, lots of heat. There’s a lot of tomato. It reminds me of arrabbiata pasta sauce, with a red-pepper kick. The wings are soggy, and there’s so much sauce you can’t really taste the chicken.”
3 Wet Naps

House of Wing
(2447 N Clark St, 773-929-9421)
THE PLACE With its meager confines, this place could just as well be the Matchbox’s food-focused sibling, and may indeed be the world’s smallest buffalo-wing spot.
THE VERDICT “These taste like the usual suspects, though they’d be the best of your generic bar wings. There’s a nice sweetness, and I like that the guy deep-fried them to order and coated them by hand.”
3.5 Wet Naps

Wings Around the World
(321 E 35th St, 312-326-6930)
THE PLACE From Canadian styles featuring maple syrup to the Japanese “Kamikaze Teriyaki,” this wing spot has more flavors than a Baskin-Robbins.
THE VERDICT “These look like they’ve been fried and grilled. I like the char, but the meat’s dry. It’s seasoned well. There’s also a pucker from lemon.”
3.5 Wet Naps

Harold’s Chicken #36
(1361 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-252-2424)
THE PLACE With the wall-to-wall ceramic tile and echo-chamber acoustics, waiting for an order here feels like biding time at the bottom of an Olympic swimming pool.
THE VERDICT “The breading’s really light. There’s some nice pepper and chili. This might be the best-tasting chicken yet—it’s really fresh. The hot sauce has too much vinegar. Reminds me of Carolina barbecue sauce.”
4 Wet Naps

(660 N Wells St, 312-664-9460)
THE PLACE Pinewood walls and floors, endless strings of Christmas lights and a battalion of waitresses working the suntan-pantyhose look—it’s the perfect place to take the wife and kids.
THE VERDICT “The wings are a bit oily. They coat your lips. There’s sweetness in the crunchy batter that balances everything out. You can see how they built a whole chain on this wing.”
4 Wet Naps

Great Seas
(3254 W Lawrence Ave, 773-478-9129)
THE PLACE Amid mahogany lacquered chairs, lantern-style chandeliers and Chinese calligraphy art, the lobby of this place is covered with glossy pics documenting an afternoon when Bertoletti put down 86 of the restaurant’s “Hot & Saucy” wings. Ordering the wings “spicy” results in an esophagus-searing napalm death–style batch.
THE VERDICT “These are like chicken lollipops, the way the meat gathers at the end of the bone. Even with the spice, this sweet and spicy soy-chili sauce is awesome. There’s also a note of fish sauce. The flavor is so good, I’m willing to eat through this pain. If these weren’t so hot, they might be the best.”
4.5 Wet Naps

Buffalo Joe’s
(812 Clark St, Evanston, 847-328-5525)
THE PLACE Northwestern University freshman first-week traditions: Get textbooks, go to frat party, slide your drunken butt into the wood-slat seating at “Buff Joe’s” and chow down on wings.
THE VERDICT “Crispy. Almost like a sweet-and-sour sauce. I think there’s honey in there that helps them glaze the wing. These are supercrispy and huge, like chickens on steroids.”
5 Wet Naps

WINNER! Twisted Spoke
(501 N Ogden Ave, 312-666-1500)
THE PLACE Don’t settle for Hooters’ softcore family-friendly porn. Get the real thing at the Spoke’s Saturday-night “Smut and Eggs” showing.
THE VERDICT “These are smoky like roasted chicken. This is the best sauce I’ve tasted, really rich, nice salt and sweet balance. Maybe there’s some chipotle in there. The skin is really crispy. I’d rather lick my fingers clean than use a Wet-Nap.”
5.5 Wet Naps