My friend Joe’s face flushed to a deep crimson, and his eyes welled with moisture.
“I can’t even describe how my mouth feels right now,” Joe said after devouring 10 Cluckin’ Inferno Wings at Cluckers, a new chicken-centric bar and grill in New Albany. He later added: “I’m hurting.”
But Joe got a free T-shirt and some extra bleu cheese dressing for his delicious pain, incurred while passing the Cluckers Challenge. He’ll get his name on a permanent plaque as well, not to mention all the fame he can handle.
Cluckers resides in a small strip-mall space on Charlestown Road on New Albany’s north side. The facilities were formerly occupied by Joe’s OK Bayou; the owners of Cluckers bought the Joe’s kitchen setup via a Craigslist ad and moved right in last month.
There’s still some work to do: Staff seemed overmatched on a packed Monday night, and service was slow. However, the wings, featuring 13 signature sauces, are worth a few minutes’ wait, as they are fried crispy as a good wing should be, and the chicken is plump and fresh.
As at any good wing joint, the sauces take center stage. I dipped my finger into the lake of Inferno sauce Joe left behind, and the stuff is indeed sinister — but the habañero flavor is nevertheless outstanding. And by way of trading with several other friends whom I joined that evening for 50-cent wings (a special price during Monday Night Football), I managed to sample several of the offerings, including:
•Spicy Garlic Barbecue — Outstanding, both spicy and tangy
•Jalapeño Chipotle — A tad butter-heavy, but a flavorful finish and just enough bite to be interesting
•Honey Barbecue — With an emphasis on the honey part, a bit sweet for my palate, but honey lovers will, er, love this sauce
•Sweet Thai Chili — Fairly mild, but with a solid, sneakily spicy chili essence, and not too sweet
•Hen Hot — Rather pedestrian when I was hoping for a hot wing just a step down from the Inferno
Other intriguing sauces include Cajun and Hot & Sassy Garlic; Cluckers also has breaded and grilled tenders, a variety of chicken sandwiches under $8, plus a nice selection of appetizers (fried banana peppers anyone?), quesadillas and three salad offerings. I’m also a fan of the crinkle-cut fries — special thanks to my friend Shannon for sharing hers.
There’s also a decent enough beer list, with standard domestics and other import and craft options, from Guinness to Sam Adams. You can even get “towers” of the draft offerings for sharing with friends.
All in all, there’s plenty of potential here, and one of the four owners, Matt Murley, said he hopes for enough success to consider franchising the concept in the future. The goods are certainly there once the service logistics get worked out.
4308 Charlestown Road
New Albany, Ind.
Rating: 85 points