|Sweetwater Tavern. All photos from EID.|
I have but one rule when it comes to chicken wings: NEVER order wings to go. It is a crime against food tantamount to microwaved pizza and mayonnaise (which, as you all should know by now, is disgusting). The whole enjoyment of your wing-eating experience hinges upon the crispiness of said wing. You know what happens when you throw a freshly-fried chicken wing in a styrofoam container and let it sit in there steaming in its own little hotbox for 20 minutes until you get it home? It becomes soggy and disgusting. This is no way to eat a wing.
A good wing starts with the chicken: plump and juicy, not tiny like some embarrassing little pigeon wing. If fried, they should be crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. If other (smoked, oven-roasted) they should have a clean, smokey flavor without char. Some of the best wings really don't need a sauce to dress them up, but the sauce itself can make or break a wing (so to speak). These places get it all, or at least most of it enough for it to count, right. Oh, I should also mention, blue cheese and ranch dressing are for pussies. Skip that shit; you're ruining your wings.
#1 City Wings (New Center)
14 different flavors of meaty Amish chicken wings fried fresh to order in one of the most immaculate dining environments you could ever hope to stumble across. Seriously, it smells like fried chicken and clean inside. There are hospitals that could aspire to their level of cleanliness. And I appreciate that: it shows respect to your business and to your customers. So, okay, maybe not everyone will be as impressed by this as I am, so let's get back to important stuff: these are the best wings you will find anywhere in metro Detroit right now. Everything is fried up fresh to order in their open kitchen (so CLEAN!) and the wings are perfectly crispy, just that right amount of crunch at the edges without being burnt, with juicy meat inside with none of that nasty ridge of fat under the skin and fantastic sauces to boot. (Try the parmesan garlic or the lemon pepper if you can't take the heat.)
#2 Sweetwater Tavern (Detroit)
Ladies and gentleman, in a massive upset Sweetwater comes in second! Yes, that's right, what are usually voted as Detroit's best wings are coming in second to City Wings, which has only been open for a little over a year. And why? Sweetwater has been resting on its laurels for awhile. They too serve plump, juicy Amish chicken wings that they get daily from Eastern Market and rub in their own secret blend of spices, fry up crispy fresh to order in their own dedicated fryer and in oil that they say is changed daily, and douse in their signature sauce which is both slightly sweet and slightly tangy ("hot" isn't really the right word, but the flavor of the spices certainly comes through). These are stellar wings, no doubt, and sometimes you just can't (and shouldn't) mess with a classic. It's also a full bar that is open for lunch and late-night with a full menu of other options to choose from as well; City Wings has food only. So why City Wings over Sweetwater? YOU GUYS, IT'S REALLY REALLY CLEAN. Also when speaking strictly about the wings themselves, the quality is directly comparable which means variety wins out.
#3 Your Mother's (Mt. Clemens)
There is not much fancy or special about Your Mother's in the Clem. It's a sports bar, and not a particularly snazzy one at that. But good GOD they have good wings. 17 different flavors of house-made sauces includes five different kinds of hot sauces, which in turn include my personal favorite spicy garlic (they call it "hot garlic" - tomahto) and the they're-not-kidding bright-ass-red "I Dare You." (And seriously, I do. Shit is HOT.) Big big big meaty wings roasted, fried in oil and sautéed in sauce with each order. It's a veritable rainbow of flavors both on the palate and as a palette (you know, like when you order a whole bunch of different flavors and set them next to each other and it looks like a rainbow). If you're hardcore about wings, this place is well worth checking out.
Seoul Street (Ann Arbor)
First, it's impossible to find. Don't even bother with your GPS because it won't be able to find it. There's a really good chance that you'll end up at Seoul Garden, which is in fact the wrong place but the helpful woman who works there will kindly tell you that this happens all the time when after you spend a solid 10 minutes flipping through the menu you finally ask her, "Uh, someone told me you had wings?" When you finally approach your destination, you will not see a sign for it in front of the massive strip mall complex it resides in. Instead you must know that when you see the signage for Panera Bread and Great Plains Burger Co. that you must turn into that parking lot and drive to the far corner. And there it is. Tiny. Nondescript. About 8 seats in the whole house. And real, genuine, bonafide KFC - Korean fried chicken. They describe their sauces as "glazes" and that seems pretty appropriate as they look almost glassy - the wings are fried up crispy and then "glazed" in a soy-based sauce (choose from "hot and spicy" or soy garlic - I recommend trying both) and served with pickled radish or corn salad. And yes, they have other Korean dishes too (kimchee, bibimbop, etc.).
Cass Cafe (Midtown)
A place best known for their vegetarian cuisine has some of the best wings in town? You betcha. Their Asian Sriracha Wings are the bomb-diggity: deep-fried wings glazed in honey and sriracha, served with peanut sauce (which quite frankly you won't even need ... unless you're a pussy). This might actually be the best thing on their whole menu (with apologies to vegetarian friends who might beg to differ). Plus they usually have really awesome broke college student/artist/hipster drink specials, which is always nice.
Bubbling under Nikola's (Southfield), Tipsy McStagger's (Warren), Anita's Kitchen (Ferndale), Slows BAR BQ (Corktown), Union Street (Midtown), Bookies Bar and Grill (Detroit)
Honorable mention Detroit's Turkey Grill, while not serving "wings" in the traditional sense of it being chicken, still deserves a mention for their massive barbarian-sized turkey leg drumstick (suggestion: skip the fried legs and go with the smoked version rubbed in herbs and spices).