By Frank Sabatini Jr.
I’m a stubborn judge when it comes to rating chicken wings. Having practically been born with one sticking out of my mouth in Buffalo, New York, and then becoming privy to restaurant recipes there before moving to San Diego, I know exactly what it takes for making crispy wings that no carnivore can possibly reject.
In most Buffalo joints that sell them, wings of medium size are kept in the deep fryers for a minimum of 10 minutes, even though they take only seven minutes to properly cook in oil heated to 375 degrees. If you want them extra-crispy, it’ll cost you another five minutes. Either way, Buffalonians are well-adapted to waiting for that faintly audible crunch that pretty much disappears the moment chicken wings fly outside of the city.
Which brings me to The Blazzin’ Buffalo in Hillcrest, a quaint and bright gay-friendly eatery that is the first independently owned, wing-centric place I’ve come across in metro San Diego. Situated next door to Panda Express, and flaunting a rainbow flag on the window, it appears like a chain. But this is the singular, debut location of what could potentially flap into other areas town if profitable. Its young, personable owner, Fahad Ibadi, loves chicken wings. He worked for several years in eateries that serve them and is a former co-owner of Legends Wings in National City.
Not from Buffalo, he follows the seven-minute method for cooking the wings, which I’ve come to expect from anyone who isn’t from my hometown. Like his franchise competitors, he doesn’t want to risk keeping customers waiting for wing orders, especially since opening only a couple months ago.
Case in point: On Super Bowl Sunday last month, he sold 7,600 wings in a single day. I too might have cranked out the orders as fast as possible to a population that largely never experienced wings cooked to a crispy default. Their loss, his gain.
But I credit Ibadi with keeping the appendages submerged in the bubbling oil for an additional three or four minutes if customers ask for extra-crispy. Better yet, he changes the oil in his deep fryers daily — something other restaurants here or in Buffalo rarely do. I’ve always professed that a clean-tasting wing is nearly as good as a crunchy wing.
Hubby and I got two six-count orders of the wings — extra crispy, of course. From a choice of 15 sauces, we opted for garlic-Parmesan, which didn’t require a breath mint afterwards. On the other six we chose traditional Buffalo-style sauce at the medium-heat level. It was an accurate blend of butter and a secret equivalent to Frank’s Hot Sauce that worked just as well.
We augmented our poultry fest with four plump white-meat chicken tenders that are dusted in flour and deep-fried. Lime-cilantro sauce was recommended, and we weren’t disappointed. In fact it was so appealing, I’ll go for some on the side for a little extra zing next time.
Wings, tenders, and boneless wings consisting of thigh meat are served with a choice of ranch or blue cheese dressing. Like many of the sauces, they’re house-made.
The ranch tasted classic with a nice, creamy buttermilk tang. However, the blue cheese — measured against some tough Buffalo standards I have for that as well — didn’t stand up to the robust flavors of the sauces, particularly the Buffalo sauce. Despite chunks of the cheese sitting the bottom, the dressing was too milky.
House-roasted pulled pork shows up in all its juicy glory on top of french fries. It’s also generously tucked into beautifully springy buns from California Baking Co. We ordered the latter and loved the additions of coleslaw and chipotle aioli layered over the meat. Given that the pork is marinated for a day and then gently baked for six hours, the sandwich is a steal at only $5.89.
With a plethora of fried foods dominating the menu, which also include jalapeno poppers, zucchini sticks, cheese sticks and onion rings, there are a handful of healthy options available.
Perhaps it’s the Greek salad or grilled chicken wraps that attract the weekday lunch rush of health care employees from nearby UCSD and Mercy hospitals.
Or maybe not.
Because as we all know, crispy fried vittles are one of life’s guilty pleasures few of us go entirely without. And at The Blazzin’ Buffalo, where the oil isn’t mucky, nobody’s pointing fingers.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.