Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turn Up the Heat

The combination was irresistible: wings and Sweet Justice.

Even though I had plans to head out of town Sunday afternoon, priority one was seeing my favorite '80s cover band while munching on chicken wings at the first ever Kickin' Chicken Wingfest, a dubious name at best. I bet those chickens do kick (and scream) when someone tries to remove their wings.

It turned out to be a gloriously sunny day to walk down Broad to the 17th Street Farmers' Market and take a detour to see for the first time the Burial Ground for Negros located just off of Broad near 16th Street.

I hadn't realized how many informational historic sign markers were down there telling the story of the city gallows, Lumpkin's Jail and how the area had been used over the years.

Tucked away as it was, the verdant green field felt a world away from the bustling traffic above and nearby festival. In several places were small "altars" where people had left mementos and candles in acknowledgement of the countless slaves and free blacks long ago buried here but no longer marked in any way.

That's the thing about Richmond; you never know when history will rear its head to remind us of how much living and dying has gone on here for centuries.

From there, it was on to the farmers' market where I could hear Sweet Justice playing Pat Benetar long before I saw them or the stage. Don't get me wrong, I am a devotee of new music but listening to a middle-aged band play '80s hair and metal songs I never even knew the first time around is way more fun that you might think.

First order of business with Sweet Justice is always checking out the long-haired bass player's t-shirt since he's got a stellar collection. Today's read "Employee of the month," a title he's likely never earned, thereby making it all the more amusing.

Since it was barely fifteen minutes into the festival, there weren't more than a dozen people gathered in front of the stage so I left them singing Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and went off in search of something to put in my mouth.

The first stop was at the wine on tap tent for some Prosecco, easily obtainable since there was no line so the servers still had smiles on their faces. From there, it was a scavenger hunt to find the booths offering wings in between all the cheesy fair food type booths.

I can't wrap my head around why someone would go to a wing fest to get a funnel cake or gyro, yet there they were, taking up valuable space to offer crap food. But I digress.

My first wings came from Boardwalk Hotdogs where they had two flavor options, chile-lime or garlic Parmesan, which is what I got. The wing pieces and drummetes were rolled in so much salty Parmesan that after finishing them, my mouth felt like it could turn inside out like a slug with salt poured on it by a cruel child.

Round two brought full wings, not pieces, from Zainab's Halal, which had good flavor but came across as more fried than sauced and even the addition of sauce was pretty tame. To make matters worse, the band was playing "Hotel California," easily one of the most annoying and overplayed songs of all time.

I love Sweet Justice, but they could eliminate all the Eagles' dreck and it would be fine by me.

For my last venture into wings, I tried On the Rox's version which was brined, smoked and confited and came with a smoked buffalo sauce. Never one to turn down food cooked in fat, I enjoyed the wings but some people still found their heat lacking. Fortunately, the music wasn't, because who doesn't enjoy hearing Whitesnake's "Lay Down Your Love" on a sunny afternoon?

The ups and downs of wing tastings led to discussion of what makes a true buffalo wing, a subject on which I am no expert. But I once knew someone who was.

My frame of reference is a woman named Jeannie I met when I first moved to Richmond in 1986. Jeannie had lived her entire life in Buffalo (and had the accent to prove it) and was amazed that I'd never heard of, much less had, buffalo chicken wings.

She attempted to right this grievous wrong by first making me a batch which I devoured and then allowing me to copy her mother's "secret" recipe, which dated back to the '60s. One thing she was resolute about was that it mattered not if you baked, deep fried or grilled your wings; what mattered was the sauce.

Jeannie's mother's version wasn't complicated but it wasn't one note, either. It called for Durkee red hot cayenne pepper sauce, which, according to her mother, had originally been Frank's red hot cayenne pepper sauce before Durkee had bought it in the '70s. The sauce was cooked along with butter, lemon juice and garlic powder and once it came off the burner, honey was added.

The recipe advised one coating of the sauce for mild and two -one before putting them in the oven for three minutes and one when they came out - for hot and spicy. Then they got a sprinkle of Parmesan.

My favorite part of the recipe was, "Serve with blue cheese dressing for dipping and cold celery (on ice!) for cooling your mouth off." Because, you see, if the celery wasn't on ice, Jeannie and her Mom couldn't guarantee it would cool anything off.

As I sat on a bale of hay listening to Sweet Justice play Def Leppard and eating through an array of wing styles, my mind kept coming back to memories of Jeannie's wings, far superior to any at Wingfest.

This I knew, even though I hadn't had them since Def Leppard was playing their own songs.

Apparently, a girl never forgets her first real Buffalo wings. Jeannie, you spoiled me.

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