#1: Jake Melnicks Corner Tap
41 East Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60611 (map); 312-266-0400; jakemelnicks.com
#2, tied: Bird's Nest
2500 North Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 773-472-1502; birdsnestbar.com
#2, tied: House of Wings
2447 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 773-929-9421
With the Super Bowl less than a week away, it's time to talk game time eats. For us, Buffalo wings rank high on the list of snacks that go well with watching sports, especially football. What's behind their cosmic chemistry? Sure, Buffalo wings originated in a devout NFL town and came to national attention during the Buffalo Bills' four consecutive early '90s Super Bowl appearances. But perhaps if we go deeper, we'll find one of those delicious sports metaphors so prized by those who chronicle them. Can, in fact, the feats of strength, endurance and natural athleticism exhibited on the field, in some diminished, vicarious and logic-defying way, be translated into the metrics of Buffalo wing consumption? Maybe, just maybe, a victory over a mountain of spicy wings is like a W on the gridiron. Let's just say yes for now.
Which brings us to our grueling season. We did battle with Buffalo wings all over our city to assemble a fantasy roster of our favorites and, most importantly, crown a champion. Overall, we were surprised to discover such a broad range of quality and variety within such narrow confines (our definition of what count as Buffalo wings is below). We learned that size, while important, isn't everything; a smaller wing, when done right, can be delicious and satisfying. We learned that piling on excessive sauce, like forcing a pass into double coverage, can be a wing's worst enemy, throwing off its balance of flavors. And we learned that any place where breaded Buffalo wings are the norm has something to hide. Here's how we did it:
We were looking for Buffalo wings and only Buffalo wings. Though there are a number of amazing joints around town serving fried wings, including many great Asian restaurants, the only way to keep the process fair was to limit the scope to this specific variety. (And don't worry, we'll get to the other wings soon enough.)
According to our research and backed up by Wikipedia (which is always right), Buffalo wings have two main distinguishing features:
- The wings are fried without any coating or batter, letting the skin get crisp in the hot oil.
- After cooking, the wings are tossed in a mixture of hot sauce and butter. Often times it is Frank's Hot Sauce, but that is not necessarily essential.
In the end, we awarded points for five different factors:
- Skin Crispness (5 points): Do both the wingettes and flats have crisp skin? Does the skin remain crisp during the eating process?
- Juiciness (5 points): Did the chicken make it through the frying process with some flavor left?
- Sauce flavor (5 points): Does the sauce add to the enjoyment? Heat is fine, but overall flavor was more important. Traditionally, that comes through a balance of hot sauce and butter.
- Portion size (5 points): Wings can range in size, but are they an overall good value?
- Overall Satisfaction (10 points): Do all the elements combine to make a great experience? Would you return?
We put together a potential list of places based on general acclaim, awards from local wing competitions, and personal experience. Though the idea was to keep the list to about 10 or so places, we couldn't help ourselves. In the end we tried over 19 (!) different places in search of the best.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
- Bird's Nest
- Buffalo Joe's
- Bull & Bear
- Dick's Last Resort
- Five Star
- Hawkeye's Bar & Grill
- House of Wings
- Jake Melnicks Corner Tap
- Lucky's Sandwich Co.
- McGee's Tavern & Grille
- Mother Hubbard's
- Timothy O'Toole's
- Toons Bar & Grill
- Wild Goose Bar
- Wings Around the World
It was close—very, very close. But in the end, Jake Melnick's pulled off the win, thanks to its especially juicy meat.
Jake Melnicks Corner TapSkin Crispness: (3.5/5) Some were exceptionally crisp, while others had splotches of soggy skin.
Juiciness: (4.5/5) The over-sized wings were incredibly juicy and succulent. These were nearly flawless.
Sauce flavor: (4/5) A little mild, but the sauce was flavorful and evenly applied.
Portion size: (4/5) 8 wings, $9.95 ($1.24/piece). A little more expensive than most, but few were as big and meaty as these.
Overall Satisfaction: (8.5/10) Melnick's puts a lot of care into its wings, and it shows.
Total Score: (24.5/30)
And the Rest of the Results...
Click through the slideshow to see which dishes made the list.