Don Bauder 6:30 p.m., Jan. 20
Wingstop open in University Heights
A quick lesson in eating hot wings based on a too-expensive--but otherwise good--multi-state chain's spicy chicken bites.
So, a Wingstop recently opened in University Heights, right next to the Lovin’ Hut. 1901 El Cajon Boulevard, 619-297-9464. Maybe the owners have a sense of irony, sticking a chicken wing shop in next to the all-vegan noodle hut. Maybe the price was just right. Either way, the place was under construction for an eternity before the Wingstop’s doors opened.
People will go nuts over wings. Mostly, they’ll bicker and argue over the appropriate sauce, its level of spiciness and buttery-ness being in or out of contrast; or whether to dip in ranch or blue cheese; or whether drumettes or wingettes are the superior piece. It can go on and on, but there’s really only one, sole criterion that decides whether a wing is right or wrong. The only question to ask is, “Is it cooked right?”
That’s right, just like anything else, wings come down to cooking. Sauces are details, and the tastiest sauce in the world won’t obscure poor cooking.
The thing that matters with wings is whether or not they’re cooked hard enough. It takes a bold hand on the fryer to push the limits on overcooking the bony little chicken bits, but it’s necessary. Wings, being mostly joints, are filled with connective tissue and cartilage. Without sufficient cooking, the meat clings to rubbery, inedible sinews, and that’s just plain wrong. Cooking them hard, almost to the point of overdoing it, turns that cartilage into delicious, crispy goodness.
Yeah, maybe it sounds gross to think about it that way, but there’s no denying that gnawing a wing down until naught but polished bone remains is the ultimate expression of hot wings gastronomy. In that respect, Wingstop nailed it. “It’ll take a while to cook the wings,” they said. “We do them fresh.”
Great. Fry ‘em hard! Each wing relented to persistent chewing, giving up all sorts of chewy, crispy, morsels. ‘Nuff said.
The price of entry, on the other hand, was far too steep. Charging 1000% over cost for $0.12 worth celery and carrots is lame, even more so than getting almost $1 per wing in the smallest portions. Wings are good, but that’s too much money for something that, if it weren’t for the deep fryer and the wing sauce, would be destined for the stockpot in a nice restaurant.
Wingstop is a huge chain with over a hundred stores in California alone. The University Heights locale is the company’s third in San Diego. It bums us out (those of us who’d rather see independent restaurants flourish) to see a massive corporation take another bite out of the local economy. The other two Wingstops are fifteen minutes east and west of the new one, so it’s hard to say, “Yes, we needed another one!” with any confidence. But there’s no denying the place fries up a good wing. If only someone, some independent restaurateur, for instance, could equal the quality and offer it at a more reasonable price. That would be perfect.
The above lesson in judging wing cookery, however, remains valid in all cases and for all wings!