Having been a fried chicken fan all of my life, I’ve had the privilege to go to college in a fried chicken hotbed: Baltimore. There, names like Tyrone’s Fried Chicken, Lake Trout Fried Chicken, and Kennedy Fried Chicken dot the landscape, easily accessible to all. Chicago has its own fried chicken and wing spots, but the most exemplary recipes of fried chicken are concentrated primarily on the south side. I am neither from the south side nor spend much time there and the south side seems to be some invisible barrier where many native Chicagoans refuse to believe anything exists past Pilsen.
This being the case, exploring and going on the hunt for the best chicken wings in the city became increasingly difficult with friends unwilling to take a step into the south side. After numerous discussions with some of Chicago’s wing connoisseurs, the consensus from the expert panel was that Wings Around the World had the goods and a quick perusal of their menu revealed over thirty flavors from over a dozen countries and an instant call to action. I sent the alarm out to the Yelp crew to make the trek down to 75th Street and have a run at some of Chicago’s best wings.
I got off at the 79th Streed Red Line CTA stop and went over four blocks east to King Drive. Looking south I saw King Cab Company and rolled back northwards towards 75th. Despite being warned that Wings Around the World had no space to eat and was in a rough area of town known for drug dealing and the like, I didn’t pay no mind and kept on going. Along the way I saw JJ Fish, Shark’s Fried Chicken, Harold’s Chicken Shack, and Church’s Fried Chicken ubiquitous on the south side but sparingly sprinkled across the north. As I approached Wings Around the World, I saw two guys carrying some tall boys from the liquor store about to crack one open.
The insides were as glamorous as going to the fish market or butcher shop. There was no smell emanating or crumbs anywhere to be found but everything inside seemed to have the mark of dinginess and looked a little worn out. Black tiles were scratched, revealing a yellow layer of paint under. The tables were all nicked up and everything seemed very old. Proudly mounted on the walls were press articles from the RedEye and The Chicago Defender touting the virtues of Wings Around the World. Free neighborhood newspapers and flyers for parties were out on the table to read while you waited for your food.
For my own purposes, it didn’t seem appropriate to order a normal number of wings. I decided to go outrageous and ordered thirty wings and they only let me try three sauces, thus making another trip mandatory! Off of Andre’s recommendation I ordered Sweet Ginger BBQ and then I ventured for the Cheesy Buffalo and Honey Teriyaki. Reuben and Aurore went for a combination of Cheesy Buffalo, Sweet Plum, and Jerk BBQ. Andre warned that the wait would be long, but I didn’t mind in case some stragglers came in, but none showed up in the twenty minutes / half hour that we waited. While waiting I got a pretty good look of a giant fan sitting near the front window.
An interesting fan that seemed completely out of place, but probably of great usefulness during the summer high heat. After our wait, we had nowhere to go and with 48° F weather with 13 mph wind it probably wasn’t a good idea to eat outside. In fact, it probably wasn’t a good idea to eat outside in that crazy neighborhood at all! As we headed back to the car, a panhandler asked to borrow 25¢ and we ignored him.
“If you come back over here, I’ll BITE you!” he growled at us.
I couldn’t help but shake my head at such a ridiculous proposition, but he probably was off his rocker anyway. We headed back up to Hyde Park and decided to eat there towards more civilized parts. On the drive up I noticed large blocks with empty lots, looking like the abandoned parts of a poorly built Sim City. Boarded up houses, vacant commercial spaces and endless garbage littered the streets. Urban decay was at its pinnacle and I wondered if this decadence was from the current economic meltdown or if things had always been this way down here.
Back in Hyde Park, the urban decay washed away in a sea of ivy covered walls and new construction. Things were thriving in this part of town and instead of going to The Cove, we decided to hit up The Reynolds Club. “It’s just like a scene out of Harry Potter,” Reuben said, and while I have only watched one Harry Potter movie, I understood. We entered Reynolds and I was greeted by 40 foot tall ceilings and the Hutchinson Commons and endless rows of tables with students diligently pursuing their work. In the back corner, a group of chess players were vigorously playing games and we situated ourselves for WINGS!
From left to right: Sweet Ginger BBQ, Honey Teriyaki, Cheesy Buffalo
The Holy Grail of chicken wings was unveiled! After waiting so long and having gone so far with many aborted attempts to make this trip, the moment was finally here. The first item off the bucket list could finally be crossed off and I would indeed be tasting the best chicken wings Chicago had to offer. Andre didn’t lie, the Sweet Ginger BBQ wings were da bomb and I went sent shaking my head and held speechless from the deliciousness of it all. Flavor, flavor, and more flavor. I found the Honey Teriyaki to be a bit dry and underwhelming, but the Cheesy Buffalo restored my faith. Just looking at the Cheesy Buffalo, it was clear that this would be completely unhealthy, but you have to live once in awhile and it was a buttery and cheesy food experience. I couldn’t tell you what ingredients they put in the wings and I frankly didn’t care – it was a miracle of the food world and it justified the long arduous journey and it was love at first bite.