In Search of… the Best Chicken Wings in Wilmington NC
Port City Foodie is once again back at it for a 7-foods-in-7-days challenge. What better challenge to take on than hot buffalo wings? So we set out to find the best chicken wings in Wilmington NC.
Personally, my opinion is wings are great to eat year-round, but nothing says “hot wings” better than football season and of course, as we are heading right into the heat of it: March madness! On my journey through 7 great local wing joints, I focused on locally-owned restaurants serving up some of the best wings in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.
There are several different theories how the buffalo wing was invented, but one thing we know for sure is the word “buffalo” refers to the city in western NY. One of the claims is that the original owner Frank Bellissimo and partner Teressa of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo NY, accidentally invented this dish in 1964. There are several story variations on how they invented their wings, but here is one version.
When the Bellissimo family made their homemade spaghetti sauce, they would order chicken necks to add to the family recipe. One day they received an order of chicken wings instead of the necks. To avoid wasting the product Frank asked Teressa to concoct a bar appetizer, which lead to the creation of one of America’s favorite finger foods.
The other theory – and rival to the Anchor Bar as the creator of the wings appetizer – involves a young man named John Young, a farm boy from Alabama who started cooking with his father on a riverboat. Mr. Young grew up in an African American community, and frequently enjoyed a meal of chicken wings. He started his own restaurant in Buffalo NY in 1964, called Young’s Wings N’ Things, which featured his own special “Mambo Sauce.” John did not serve his wings the way as we usually see them. His wings were whole, breaded and dipped, unlike the Anchor Bar where the wings were chopped, fried and dipped.
In search of the Best Chicken Wings in Wilmington NC: Seven Wings in Seven Days
No matter which myth you subscribe to, it’s a fact that buffalo wings took off in the 70s, popping up in restaurants all over the country. Now, in Wilmington, as in every other town across the U.S., you would be hard-pressed to find a sports bar-restaurant without some version of wings on its appetizer menu.
Day 1. To start off my challenge, my first wing stop was at a great little Irish bar/restaurant in Wilmington called The Harp. Now this is not a place you would think you would find great hot wings, but don’t let the Celtic vibe fool you! Besides their wonderful Irish food, their wings are outstanding! The wings were very crispy, unbreaded, with a light sprinkle of pepper flakes to add extra heat. All the sauces are homemade. The offerings are: Atomic, Backwoods Cajun, and two additional sauces not listed on the menu, one called Bob’s Sauce and a Guinness sauce. The Guinness sauce is great for the beer lovers out there as it offers up a rich and roasted savory flavor just like the stout beer. If you are looking for heat, the Guinness sauce is not going to bring it, but it is full-flavored. Bob’s sauce has a sweet and spicy kick with a slight Asian flair (delicious) and the Atomic sauce offers a perfect balance of heat. I can’t say enough about the wings at The Harp, as the atmosphere is hugely welcoming, with great music and sports-oriented entertainment.
Day 4. My fourth stop was in Brunswick county at a local restaurant called Wing and Fish Company of Shallotte. This restaurant is for sports lovers, located in a warehouse-type building representing just about any college team and filled with TVs galore to watch your favorite games. Their wings are offered up baked, grilled, fried, breaded or naked, with several dry rubs and over 20 wing sauces. Choices! One of my favorites was the Triple A buffalo sauce which delivered just the right amount of heat. Wing and Fish Company also offers a mild sauce and one step up from the mild, called The Contender. The Contender was not quite as warm, but slightly hotter than the mild and very tasty. I personally like spicy as you know from my Port City Bloody Mary article, so I naturally lean towards the heat, but I can also enjoy a favorable mild sauce, so the Triple A and the sweet and spicy Mango Habanero hit the spot! Don’t let the word “Habanero” scare you on this sauce, the kitchen has perfectly balanced the sweet and the spicy and created a tasty sauce for even the mild wing eater.
If you are not sure what you like, Wing and Fish Company will let you try a few samples before you place your order. Now I have had quite a few dry rub wings, and I have never been a huge fan, but there is no denying that their campfire dry rub is out of this world. It offers a perfect balance of smokey, woodsy and mesquite. If that’s not your taste, that’s ok, they also offer a great Cajun dry rub and neither of them are too salty. The only drawback on the wings was the lack of crispiness that a good hot wing needs. This again did not take away from the great flavors, super beers and welcoming sports atmosphere.
The next sauce I tried was the suicidal, don’t let the name intimidate you as the heat was not too intense and the seasonings were just right. The Jamaican jerk was full bodied, and incorporated all the mixed flavors of cumin, nutmeg, black pepper, allspice, and Habanero peppers that you would expect in a jerk sauce. Half Time Sports Bar & Grill also features a wing sauce of the month, and on this visit I got to try the Mango jalapeno. This was delicious! It offered a sweet and spicy combo with a load of tropical flavor and a slight heat.
Day 6. Winding down with Number 6 on the list, I just could not pass up a Wilmington NC restaurant known for its gourmet bar and comfort foods and cozy environment. Fork and Cork in downtown Wilmington offers up food like no other and one of the items that hits top on my list are their fried confit duck wings. The outstanding and unique twist for a “wing” offering rates second to highest on Yelp as a local menu favorite. The moist, succulent duck wings are brined first and then deep fried naked. Fork and Cork offers 5 of gourmet homemade sauces. The sauces vary from sweet and spicy: peach BBQ, raspberry Chipotle, Creole Rosemary honey mustard, hot honey garlic, Habanero orange marmalade, and a spicy Chermoula (Moroccan sauce). The friendly wait staff was accommodating and let us try each of the six sauces. I will with my top favorite and their best seller, the hot honey garlic. This slightly stinging sauce has a very nice warmth but ends with a soothing honey taste. You want a nice lip burner but with a load of taste? I highly recommend the Habanero orange marmalade. This sauce is fiery, but the little pieces of orange help counter the heat at every bite. My partner in crime and owner of Port City Foodie favors sweet and fruity flavors, and truly enjoyed the Raspberry Chipotle. This sauce started with a nice sweetness but ended with just a little warmth. All the sauces at Fork and Cork are perfectly balanced.
What more can I say. These may not be your traditional wings, but they are a gourmet delight, and the sauces are like no other. I highly recommend that you give them a shot.
On my visit, I ordered 25 naked wings and tried 8 of their sauces. The sauces that I chose were the Hot Buffalo, Honey Siracha, Carolina wing sauce, Jalapeno, Asian Cajun, garlic buffalo, pineapple Habanero, and the oyster garlic. When you order your wings, they come untossed and all your sauces to the side. This method keeps the wings a perfect crispiness for a takeout order. My favorite sauce was your standard hot buffalo. With a slight heat, it is a delicious standard Buffalo wing sauce. The buffalo garlic was also one of my favorites; for the garlic lovers out there, this sauce offers chopped garlic with sprinkle of parsley flakes and bold flavor. And the Carolina sauce… well what can I say, it’s delicious. This option has a slight vinegar base with a little spice. It was such a nicely seasoned Carolina BBQ wing sauce, once you eat one you won’t be able to stop. The Jalapeno sauce is also just out of this world! Chunks of jalapeno and onion with other seasonings, and surprisingly it was not that spicy. The jalapeno had the texture of salsa, so it may not be a favorite on wings for everyone, but I loved it on my wings and I would love to buy containers of this stuff to dip my nacho chips. The Asian Cajun and garlic oyster had good flavors but are a little salty for my taste. The honey Siracha sauce was a sweet and slight spicy sauce that was also quite tasty, with the flavor of an Asian sweet and sour sauce. I could go on and on about the sauces at Fu Wangz, but there are too many to list, so I recommend giving this place a try. I would like to see them offer up meatier wings because they are a little on the small side, but this did not take away from the perfect crispy texture, friendly staff and endless wing sauce options.
Of course, while I was on my expedition, locals were quick to share their opinions on other great restaurants and bars that offer the best chicken wings in Wilmington NC. If you have a favorite, share it in the comments below.
Contributing blogger: Sarah Koob is a foodie, home cook, and lover of seafood, Bloody Marys, and is always up for any kind of food adventure.