On wings of fire

Back Door wings are legendary. Have them mild, medium, hot or “Burner.” LEO Photo by Nicole Pullen.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Nine fine spots for wings)

The calendar says it’s September, and just about everybody in town is fired up for the Cards vs. Cats weekend. So where are the colorful leaves, that hint of wood smoke in the air and the crisp, hazy autumn afternoons that define “football weather”?

OK, so it’s a little early for that, with temperatures still hitting the 90s and few signs of autumn around. But one constant of the season remains: Whether you’re tailgating at the stadium or planning a hearty repast for an afternoon of football on TV, it’s hard to imagine a better football snack than a mess of spicy, crispy Buffalo-style chicken wings.

In wings as in football, the fundamentals are simple, but it still takes talent and a bit of luck to win the Heisman Trophy. Cut chicken wings into joints, then deep-fry them (no breading, please!) until they’re golden brown and crisp. Drain, then cloak in a fiery ritual blend of hot sauce and butter. Serve with blue-cheese dressing and healthy crisp celery sticks to douse the fire. And beer. Plenty of cold beer. Is it kickoff time yet? Who cares? I’ve got my wings.

Eat ‘n’ Blog correspondent KEVIN GIBSON is a real wing man, so with gridiron season getting under way, we didn’t have to twist his arm to get him out in pursuit of the Metro’s finest wings. He’s back, stuffed and happy, and here is his report on five local favorites (keep Louisville weird!) and one popular ch- ch- chain:

Baxter Station
1201 Payne St.
Standard Portion: 10
Price: $8.95 (around 90 cents apiece)
These solid wings are the traditional Buffalo style – butter and hot sauce and tender chicken. Baxter Station adds a bit of black pepper and maybe an extra spice or two for flavor. They were cooked crispy around the edges, and we ended up with two bonus wings (always a plus) – five drummettes and seven wing segments. The homemade blue-cheese dressing could have been thicker, but I don’t know if it could have been any tastier. A good, solid offering, if a bit on the pricey side.

The Back Door
1250 Bardstown Road
Standard Portion: 10
Price: $5.95 (around 60 cents apiece)
With four flavors to choose from in this classic watering hole – mild, medium, hot or “Burner” – it’s tough to know where to start. My girlfriend Jen and I chose hot, although I’d classify them “just spicy enough.” Next time I’m getting the Burners. We got two extras – six drummettes and six wings – and they were meaty, tasty and nicely filling. Back Door wings are legendary. Jen noted an elusive, difficult-to-identify spice in the otherwise standard hot-sauce-and-butter mix that sets them apart, for better or worse. She wasn’t thrilled. Me, I’ll eat them all day long. And all night. Bartender? Another round, please.

Cumberland Brews
1576 Bardstown Road
Standard Portion: 10
Price: $6.95 (around 70 cents apiece)
These are hidden jewels. While my girlfriend and I usually get the Jamaican jerk wings here (same price, always delicious with a nice infusion of lime and spice), the Buffalo-style wings add plenty of fresh black pepper and other spices that put a great finish on the flavor and add a nice visual presentation as well. We got a good five-and-five mix of drummettes and wings, and the chicken was plump, fresh and cooked perfectly (crispy at the edges, while the meat stayed tender and bright). Absolutely delicious, and highly recommended for your Cats vs. Cards party.

Taste of Jamaica
2017 Brownsboro Road
Standard Portion: 6
Price: $3.50 (about 58 cents apiece)
Speaking of well-kept secrets, these authentic Jamaican jerk-style wings are probably unlike any you’ve had before. Marinated overnight and grilled, absolutely mad with spice, these fantastic wings are literally fall-off-the-bone tender. On my most recent visit, I scarfed down six for lunch and got a bonus wing – three drums and four wings. Wash them down with a Red Stripe or a Rolling Rock lager while watching the game, and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to Jamaica. And yes, they do carryout!

Spring Street Bar and Grill
300 S. Spring St.
Standard Portion: 10
Price: $6.75 (about 68 cents apiece)
It’s hard to go wrong with this solid offering. On a recent visit, my friends and I got an order of 10 as an appetizer and were pleased as usual. We had a standard five-and-five mix of plump wings plus a side of the chunkiest blue cheese I’ve had in a while. Not only are the wings solid (although they could have been cooked a little crisper), but this is a great place to hang out and watch the game, with a cozy bar up front and a big room in back with lots of TVs and pool tables. Note that if you must have mild wings at Spring Street, they are available only on special request, forcing you to either eat the hot ones or admit you are a pansy. Bring on the spice. And the football.

Buffalo Wild Wings
1055 Bardstown Road (and five other locations)
Standard Portion: 6
Price: $4.49 (about 75 cents apiece)
Wings are a wonderful thing, and at Buffalo Wild Wings (aka BW3’s), wings are also a business model. Basically, B-Dubs sells sauces – 14 of ’em to be exact. The mild, medium, hot, Wild and Blazin’ come closest to the classic Buffalo style; I sampled six wings with Wild sauce. It was a good batch – well tossed, and all six were drummettes. They were adequately cooked, plump and tender. Were they anything special? Well, no. Still, one could do a lot worse.

Kevin’s report made me so ravenous for wings that I had to run out and pick up a few myself, hitting a few favorite chains:

BC Roosters
7405 Preston Highway
Standard Portion: 10
Price: $6.99 (about 70 cents each)
This recent arrival, a Columbus-based chain spreading its, er, wings regionally, offers a friendly sports-bar setting and a variety of munchies that range from nachos to corn dog nuggets. But wings are the specialty, and Roosters’ are fine. The Buffalo-style options come in six levels of heat from “Mild” through “Donkey” to “Super Killer.” The wings are large and meaty, and the middle segments come with the wing tip attached, an impressive presentation that provides a built-in handle. Ten “Hot” wings were crisp and buttery, dripping a deliciously fatty orange mix of hot sauce and butter to coat your face, arms and elbows and the front of your shirt. This is a good thing.

Wings To Go
4324 Charlestown Road
New Albany, Ind.
(812) 941-9464
Standard Portion: 10
Price: $6.29 (about 63 cents each)
Buffalo-style wings at this Southern Indiana option are the real thing, sizzling and spicy with the requisite crunch, and just enough heat at the medium level to provide a gentle buzz without much pain.

2809 N. Hurstbourne Parkway
Standard Portion: 10
Price: $7.99 (about 80 cents each)
Mike Duffy, an affable UPS pilot and wingmeister, runs this suburban spot near Springhurst, the Louisville-based extension of a tiny Texas-based chain with an aviation theme. Wings come with your choice of 18 sauces, with the classic type ranging through six degrees of heat from “Mild” to “Homicide.” Wings-N-Things is one of my go-to choices on the basis of simple, classic quality: Perfectly made specimens, sizzling and spicy with hot butter cloaking crisply fried, meaty wings, are true Buffalo-style, a dead ringer for the Buffalo Anchor Bar originals.

Finally, when the Cards return home, don’t overlook two takeout options strategically located within field-goal range of the Pizza Bowl, er, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium: Six wings for $4.99 at Hippo Wings (502 E. Warnock St., 634-4477, www.hippowings.com) and 10 wings for $6.99 at The Wing Zone (905 Hess Lane, 636-2445, www.wingzone.com).