One of my favorite people is a guy named Paul Langer. He’s a graduate of the Coach House apprenticeship program, executive chef at Guernsey Park and the culinary mind behind Chick N Beer. He is also just a really, really nice guy.
Every time I see Paul, he’s excited. At Chocolate Decadence a few years ago, he was excited to show off his chocolate barbecue ribs. (With good reason. To this day, those are some of the best ribs I have ever had.)
Then came the day he invited me to Guernsey Park to try something new he was working on. He’d started experimenting with chicken wings.
Now, anyone who’s been to Guernsey knows the restaurant already has a way with wings. The chicken lollipops are a much-loved appetizer in which the tendon in the wing is cut and the meat is pushed to one end before it’s fried.
It’s good. But what Paul brought me that day was better. The look on his face reminded me of what he looked like when we started describing his chocolate ribs. It’s like his eyes were screaming, “I’VE DONE SOMETHING AWESOME AND I NEED YOU TO SEE HOW AWESOME IT IS.”
Paul’s face doesn’t lie. At least not about food. I don’t know that Paul’s face NEVER lies. I can’t tell you that, in a court of law, you can put your hand on Paul’s face and swear an oath. I wish you could. That sounds like fun to me.
But on that day, Paul’s excited face told the truth. He did something awesome. He figured out how to cook chicken wings the Korean way. That’s what Chick N Beer is all about.
The wings are double battered with flour and potato starch and double fried. The meat is cooked through as the skin bubbles and crisps.
What you get is a textural wonderland. Wing meat is the best chicken meat. The most flavorful meat. So moist. So tender. The skin is puffy and crunchy and chewy and it soaks up the sauce like a sailor on shore leave.
There is another option, of course. There’s something called a boneless wing, which is a lie. Chick N Beer doesn’t actually call them “boneless wings,” thank goodness. It’s chicken breast meat, sans bone. But here’s the really weird part:
They don’t suck.
Usually, boneless wings are the worst. At least your usual chicken nuggets are processed enough that they hold onto some moisture, but boneless chicken breasts aren’t processed. That sounds good, right? Except that boneless chicken breasts have very little fat (and very little flavor) and when they’re fried in hot oil, what little moisture is in them comes right out.
There are ways around this, but most people don’t put in the work. Chick N Beer does. They brine the meat in a salty solution that holds tight onto moisture. The meat is firm, but yielding. It’s not chalky, which is a problem with dry chicken, and it’s quite flavorful.
The skin on the bone-in wings is better. It always will be better. I will never, ever choose boneless over bone-in at Chick N Beer. And not because their boneless chicken isn’t good — it’s wonderful — but the bone-in wings are better.
So, both of your chicken choices are good (though one is clearly the preferred option). Now you need to find the right sauce.
There is a buffalo-sriracha option, which is pretty close to what I consider a “traditional” hot wing. Butter and hot sauce and fried chicken skin are hard to beat. But let yourself dig a little deeper in this menu and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Gochujang was the first sauce Paul made for me — a classic spicy Korean sauce that is both sweet and savory. I probably get the gochujang wings more often than any other, but that’s only because I make excellent decisions about food.
Mama’s Sweet & Salty sauce has an ingredient that I love, but might be a tad off-putting to some: fish sauce.
“So you want to put sauce made from rotten fish on my hot wings?”
Me, personally? No. I don’t care what you get on your wings. On MY wings, though, I enjoy the funk. It’s like dipping fried chicken in Parliament. Yes, it takes a little getting used to, but the results are well worth the effort.
When I let owner Truong Le pick a flavor for me, he chose salt and pepper. Here’s something you should know about restaurants: owners usually have a pretty good grasp on what’s good. I likely wouldn’t have chosen salt and pepper, which sounds kind of basic, but I’m very glad he did.
Read the description and you’ll see that, in addition to salt and pepper, you’re also getting garlic, onions and jalapenos. Oooh, girl, you know that’s what I like.
Sorry I had to jump to the wings first, but I’ve been watching “Doctor Who” all day and I’m not feeling very temporally faithful.
For starters, in case you don’t want to start with wings, you ought to check out the kimchi fries ($8) or even just the kimchi ($1).
The fries come out on a sheet pan with kimchi, bacon, melted cheese, onions and spicy ranch. Use a fork. And your mouth. Use them in concert. Normally I’d say, “Use your fingers,” but these are pretty hot and kind of messy and, really, use a fork this time.
As an avowed lover of kimchi, I think a $1 bowl of kimchi is a pretty great deal. It’s spicy pickled cabbage and if you haven’t had it, you should give it a try. I like it on almost everything. Not breakfast cereal, so much, but plenty of other foods.
There’s also a cool take on nachos called Nacho Average Chick ($8.50). Instead of tortilla chips, these use light, crispy wonton chips for a bit of Asian flair. They’re covered in chicken, cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, onions and spicy ranch.
Between the nachos and the kimchi fries, I’ll take the fries. Your mileage may vary.
Generally, I don’t go to a place that specializes in hot wings to get a burger. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but a pretty decent guideline. Chick N Beer is an exception to that rule. The kimchi beef slider ($4.50) is beef, covered in melted cheese, bacon, kimchi and spicy ranch. It’s a little messy, but I like it. The cool kimchi and sharp cheese balance with the hot burger and crisp bacon.
If you want a second one, which I bet you will, a second slider is $3.50.
For dessert? Cocktails. In addition to a big selection of local beer, Chick N Beer has a great drink menu. The Chirping Apple ($9) is a cinnamon apple whiskey thing. It’s pretty good if you enjoy drinks that make you feel happy and fulfilled in a way normal human interaction does not.