My post announcing the new ownership of Bryan Street Tavern drew concern. Under the last regime, the humble bar quickly earned its place as my favorite stop for wings. They plated up crisp, juicy chicken, sauced up with Frank's and served with a top-notch blue cheese dressing. I was concerned the new owners might muck up a Dallas favorite. Glory was on the line. A wing evaluation was in order.
So last night I sat in the dimly lit bar with two fellow wing-freakers and worked through three different variations to better assess any changes. The sauces were new. Mild delivered what it promised: boring but bright. A BBQ rendition was sticky and sweet. Mango habanero invoked bad Chinese food, but in a good way. The wings themselves were crispy and well-cooked. But were they as good as they used to be?
Our table was mixed. Our best conclusion was that the wings had declined some, but not sufficiently to deter us from returning for further inspection. (Many, many inspections). The ranch and blue cheese seemed to have lost some luster but otherwise the wings were passable. We were pleased.
And then a fourth basket of wings hit the table.
When a menu uses the word thermonuclear to describe piquancy, and adds disclaimers that instruct one to eat at their own risk, alarm bells go off for me. The whole ass-fire and brimstone schtick seems hokey. Why not just say the wings are hot? Why not say they're really, really hot? But this was the first time a menu threatened to "cluck me up." It was a warning I took seriously.
An acrid, searing vapor wafted up from the paper lined basket, confirming that Bryan Street Tavern's hottest wings should be consumed with caution. It was a dusky, subtly-smoky scent that invoked a wing sauce made with the breath of demons, simmered away for hours.
We were nervous, but had a plan. With six wings in the basket and three wing enthusiasts at the table, we each committed to two appendages. The goal was to feverishly eat both wings before our senses got the better of us, and deal with the consequences together. It was a viable plan I embraced with much enthusiasm. And then I got hosed.
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Picture three kids standing at the edge of an icy pool and promising to jump in on a count of three. I jackknifed into the hellish abyss of pain and suffering while my two partners stood on the edge and dipped in their toes. Bastards. I think they laughed at me. One picked up a wing and waved it over her lips, barely taking a bite. Her cuticles burst into flames and she instantly called uncle.
My other wing partner was more bold. He managed a more sizable bite before debating the merits of a blue cheese shooter. Meanwhile, I looked down at my plate littered with two naked bones and hung on for dear life. The wings were really, really hot. And yet, there in the background, the subtle flavor of roast chilies soothed me.
I can't say for sure that Bryan Street Tavern has Dallas' best wings, but thankfully I have till September to figure it out. And now I've even got some new compatriots who are devoted to helping, which only makes the hunt more fun.
But next time, they're jumping first.