Where I come from (New Haven), there’s a place that’s famous for wings. I never quite figured out if they are widely recognized throughout the lower forty-eight for amazing wings or if they were just a Connecticut thing, but either way, they serve some of the best wings I’ve ever had. The place is called Archie Moore’s and it’s been in New Haven on Willow Street since 1898 (although at some point in 1913, they moved the operation across the street). It was named after the original owner and upstairs tenant, Archie Moore, who was decidedly not the boxer of national notoriety. During Prohibition, Archie’s was a beverage house, serving only coffee and tea, although for those in the know, the widow Moore kept a gin still across the street to keep her special patrons happy. My mom tells me that my grandfather knew every place to get a drink in New Haven during Prohibition, so I like to think that Pop would be one of those lucky patrons to be let in on the secret stash, but you can’t be sure. Archie’s was on the other side of town from Fair Haven (where my grandparents lived) and probably not one of Pop’s usual haunts. Still, you go to the speakeasy, it doesn’t come to you.
Last year, after one of our visits to Connecticut to see my Mom, I took Lola on a very small food tour of New Haven. I think we first stopped at Modern Pizza for some of the world’s best pizza, and then we went to Archie’s for wings. I like to show off some of the places that make my hometown famous. We had done Pepe’s Pizza before and that was the same day we went to Libby’s for Italian Ice. That Italian Ice was life changing for Lola – she had never had such a delight. On this trip, the menu called for wings. You may not know this about Lola, but she loves a good wing. She likes spicy things and buffalo sauce is right up her alley. She still talks about wings that we used to get up in New Hampshire at MoJo’s (which is a rib joint). I had a feeling she’d like Archie Moore’s. It was a Saturday, although early in the night, and the place was surprisingly empty. We scored one of the two window seats that overlooks scenic Willow Street (which really isn’t very scenic at all unless you like seeing old neighborhoods). I think we ordered a dozen of their Buffalo Wings – we weren’t super hungry – and they came out in no time along with some nice refreshing beers as well. It ended up being a nice little date night out of nowhere. Plus, I converted Lola to being a fan of Archie Moore’s. I don’t know if that’s because of the wings or because it was a fun little date night, but she has a fondness for Archie’s now not unlike everyone from New Haven.
I would have loved to celebrate National Wing Day at Archie Moore’s but that wasn’t going to happen. It was another day of work at the Vineyard, so I was unavailable from morning until about 7:30 at night. Heading into work, I knew this and my plan was simply to pick up some wings on the way home. Clements has a pretty nice wing bar with 6 or seven varieties and it’s always a good option. As the day went on though, I started thinking about wings and I really wanted to make sure we had some good ones. That desire came out of hunger and not necessarily one based on making the most of National Chicken Wing Day, but that too was a factor on my choices. When I started thinking about Clements’ wings, I realized that their wings are great in the middle of the day when they are coming fresh from the fryer, but when you get there at 8 pm at night (especially when they close at 9), your selection isn’t the best. That’s just how it goes at any buffet. I decided that I should just order wings from a restaurant on the way home so I could guarantee they’d be made fresh and hot. But where should I order them from and what kind? This is what goes through your mind when you are hungry and stuck at work. There are about 1,000 pizza places in the one mile trip home (that’s how it is here) and they all sell wings. I decided to get a little variety. For Buffalo wings, the classic, I ordered from The North End Pizzeria which is right up the road from our house. Then for some variety, I ordered wings from Fieldstones Restaurant which is about halfway between our house and the Vineyard. It’s not a pizza place. It’s actually a full-service restaurant with good food and drink. A great spot for locals. I seem to remember someone saying their wings were good, so that was good enough for me. I called in and ordered two kinds: garlic parmesan and Thai Chili.
I went to Fieldstones first and I knew they wouldn’t be ready. I had called ahead and they said my order would be ready in about 20 minutes and I was there in ten. However, that was part of the grand plan because I could grab a cold beer while I was waiting. A server greeted me at the front and went to check on my order, meanwhile I grabbed a bottle of Bud Light from the bartender who served it right up with a pint glass on the side. I poured the beer into the glass and then poured the beer into me. I was super-thirsty and it tasted so good after a long day. I probably drank it too fast and I likely got myself flagged as a problem drinker, but it was worth it. I sat down and waited and the wings were ready in no time. I then went back to the car and headed to North End. The wings were ready there but there was some kind of shenanigans happening at the counter in front of me. It was a new person working the cash register and the customer was ordering the most complicated sandwich order ever. An Italian hoagie with extra provolone cheese, seven olives, the skin of a slightly bruised artichoke and the spit of a feral alpaca – something complicated like that. It was taking so long. I just wanted to yell out “I WANT MY WINGS!,” but I remained patient as best I could. Someone came from the back and took care of me. I was out of there minutes later as the clerk and the customer started discussing fair barter agreements for their king of all sandwiches.
When I got home, Lola was out for a walk which was a good thing. I knew she was inside all day working on our legal briefs and strategies. That’s not a joke. We have a deadline coming up on Tuesday and this meant that Monday is going to be a big day, so Lola was doing all our prep work. That’s super draining, so I am glad she was able to pull out for a minute and get some fresh air. I got ready for our wing fest so she could eat when she came back in. I set up some place settings and then unpacked each package of wings. The Fieldstone wings came in round plastic containers which I popped off the lid and put on display. The North End wings came in an aluminum container with a plastic lid which I went to pop off and when I did, I cut the very top of my finger on the edge of the aluminum. It hurt for a second and then started to bleed. I cleaned it up and fished out a Band-Aid to put over the wound. It was in an awkward spot, on the very tip of my left thumb, and the Band-Aid felt clumsy. I then realized that this was going to be a terrible spot to have a cut when I was just about to dive into food that I would eat with my hands which would get covered in buffalo and spicy chili sauce. I braved it out though. I got everything ready and waited for Lola.
Wings are always best served as fresh as possible so when you get them to take home, you are going to lose some quality. I knew that going in but all things considered, these were all very good. Granted, by the time we dug in, I was starving. I started with the Parmesan Garlic wings which always sound so good. They had good garlic flavor and you could see the parmesan melted right on top, They were nice and meaty too. I liked them, but the problem is that Parmesan Garlic is a flavor that doesn’t mix well with the other flavors. Even though they were my favorite of the three, if you are having a smorgasbord of wings, I would say you either go all Parmesan Garlic or skip them. The Thai Chili was good too. The sauce was slightly more sweet than spicy, although there was slight heat in the background. They were a bit sloppy as the sauce was wet and sticky, but good. The Buffalo sauce was good too. I wouldn’t say there was much difference in the quality of the wings between the two restaurants. They both were good size wings, a decent balance of drumsticks and wings and lots of meat on each one. They all had crispy skins and nice moist meat. North End makes a good buffalo sauce too – we have had their Buffalo chicken pizza before and liked it, so we kind of expected them to be good. All in all, it was a good selection for variety and quality and I was pleased and satisfied when the frenzy was over (as was Lola).
Wings are kind of common place now and almost the basic ante for anyone in the appetizer game. The big chains famous for wings (Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters) have kind of stolen that magic of local places that built a reputation on their wings. The folks at Archie Moore’s and similar places are the forefathers of good wings and why they became a sensation. It was their recipes, their persistence and their legend that made wings something that all good bars must sell. Today, as we celebrate National Chicken Wing Day, I was glad to reminisce about the magic of a place like Archie’s. They paved the way for great chicken wings and we tip our cap to their efforts. While my feast today couldn’t come from the famous spots, I did get mine from the neighborhood places. I kept it local where the wings came hot, fresh and tasty. Wings are best served in neighborhood places and our neighborhood is full of hard working wing makers. Now if they would just sell Italian Ice.
Next up: National Cheesecake Day