“Little Hotties,” a.k.a. the best wings in town from Take Me Out (photo by Steve Dolinsky)
In the small anteroom just inside the front door of Great Seas Chinese in Albany Park, there is a wall of photos staring straight back at you. The images contain the happy, somewhat tired faces of customers, who have managed to chow down more than a few dozen chicken wings - in one sitting. Dudes in baseball caps proudly hold up “74”s while some of the skinniest guys I’ve ever seen hold up 60s and 50s. It’s always pretty much guys who get into competitive eating. Women have more sense. They are all bragging of course; reminding you, the neophyte diner about to enter the well-worn restaurant, that they have not only come to eat the legendary chicken wings, but they have eaten more than you or your dining companion probably ever will. They have the picture (and the bones) to prove it.
I remember going in once, before a Super Bowl party, to pick up my 20 wings to go. There, on the giant round wooden table jammed against the front counter were more than a dozen other orders ready to go - all steaming away in styrofoam containers - stacked three or four high. It was easy to see why. The beguiling aroma of toasted garlic, sweet honey, sesame and roasted chilies was slowly escaping, while the soy/garlic/sesame/chile sauce was embedding its sweet heat into the juicy flesh of those de-boned wings. Like a Lay’s potato chip, you couldn’t have just one.
About a year ago, the owner’s two daughters decamped to Pilsen, where, encouraged by the gentrification of the neighborhood and perhaps the recent popularity of Franz Ferdinand, they opened Take Me Out on 18th Street. At first, I was disappointed with the wings - they clearly were not taking the extra effort like they were at Great Seas to de-bone and “French” the meat all to one side, creating that magical handle. ‚ For some reason, these newfangled “little hotties” as they were called, just didn’t do the trick. But late last year, they decided to revert to their traditional method - chopping off the wing tip, de-boning the middle section, then pushing all of the meat to one side - before dipping them into a secret batter, frying them for a few minutes in vegetable oil and finally, tossing them into a hot wok containing the magical hot sauce that reportedly takes their father eight hours to make. Some chopped scallions are scattered over the top, just before they rush them out to the fast food-style dining room. The result is a wing that is simultaneously sweet, hot, sticky and somewhat smokey. I can never eat just one, and I’d be surprised if you were able to hold back as well. I also love that they come with some lightly-pickled daikon radish, and a choice of either white, brown or purple rice. If you want to see how they’re made, check out the ABC 7 website after 11:30 a.m. today. Hey, any other great suggestions for chicken wings? Let’s hear ‘em.