“We’re gonna need some more napkins; we’ve made a mess of things.” Our team here at the Key West Weekly takes our journalistic responsibility to this community quite seriously — most of the time. But we also recognize the importance of having a good time over a few drinks and staying in touch with the people and places that make this island chain a special place to call home.
During an editorial staff meeting the morning of Jan. 24, we turned our attention to the fast-approaching Super Bowl LIV (that’s Super Bowl 54 for those who gave up on Roman numerals long ago) and came up with a game plan.
It was then that our fearless leader, owner and publisher Britt Myers, suggested we get a little spicy (and yes, slightly sauced) while tackling a chicken wing play-by-play, taste-testing a variety of the island’s offerings.
After all, Key West is home to some of the best chefs around, so it comes as no surprise we host some of the tastiest (and creative) chicken wing dishes in the country. In fact, this is our third installment of a particular food tour around the island. Our first was a taco tour, then we tackled hot dogs . ..and well, with the Super Bowl around the corner, we figured buffalo wings were long overdue.
Coach Myers managed to throw in an impressive number of chicken and football puns before we hit the streets. He told us not to chicken out, promised to throw us a bone, and encouraged our team to get a little saucy in our commentary. The cringe-worthy list goes on; don’t get me started.
By the end of that staff meeting, we had divided into three teams of tasters, divvied up a dozen locations and broke out of our huddle committed to our cause.
Our starting lineup:
Team Mother Cluckers consisted of Keys Weekly Publisher Britt Myers and his wife, Kirby. Britt, a redneck from Georgia, knows nothing about buffalo wings, other than he enjoys copious amounts of hot sauce on every bite. Kirby, on the other hand, is the former owner of Wings Your Way, three buffalo wing restaurants based out of New Hampshire — making her the “bone”afide expert of the two.
Team Mother Cluckers’ perfect buffalo wing: Deep fried with a subtle crisp to avoid any soggy exterior. Add some spice that is not overpowering, along with celery and carrots for dipping. Homemade wing sauce is always a plus, along with a hearty ranch or blue cheese for additional taste. Oh, and beer. Lots of beer.
Team Southernmost Flyers included Key West Weekly Editor Mandy Miles, her husband, Capt. Stan, local author and Keys Weekly columnist David Sloan, his lovely fiancee Heather May Potter, longtime Keys resident Bill Ellis (a Bostonian still reeling from his Patriots’ postseason slide), two wild Irishmen named Matthew and Cuddy who kept correcting our use of the term football and Philly import Mitch Harding, who tackled more tequila than chicken during this adventure.
Team Southernmost Flyers’ perfect buffalo wing: Crispy enough to remain so under a blanket of sauce. Spicy enough to make your eyes water and face sweat while still allowing you to taste the chicken.
Team Wind Beneath Our Wings featured Key West Weekly graphic designer extraordinaire Irene de Bruijn, her husband, Capt. Adam, advertising executive Stephanie Mitchell and her 10-year-old son, Jack, and an assortment of skilled players who were happy to get down and dirty for the greater good.
Team Wind Beneath Our Wings’ ideal wing: Spicy, but flavorful; crispy, but still juicy.
• Describe what you ate and any other available sauces and options and how the wings are served.
• Note how the wings are prepared (fried, smoked or baked).
• Include a heat index for spice.
• Rate the crispiness.
• Suggest a beer pairing to extinguish the flames.
THE SALTY OYSTER AT THE PERRY HOTEL
Description: Jumbo fried wings with a sauce that combines Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ, pickle juice & Jameson’s. They serve the whole wing, with drumstick attached. Served with pickle slices, celery, carrots and blue cheese, and extra sauce on the side.
Heat index: 3
Suggested beer pairing: Blood Orange Ale, Shipyard Brewing Co.
Price: $15 for 6 (whole wings)
“Excellent flavor,” “perfectly crisp,” “huge wings,” “love the pickle slices.”
Description: Extra large, smoked wings with a variety of available sauces: Buffalo, Mango Habanero, Maple BBQ glaze, Carolina Mustard, or Bourbon BBQ. They’ll also toss them in their signature dry rub.
Heat index: Not super spicy
Crispness: Not overly crispy
Suggested beer pairing: Crazy lady, Waterfront Brewery
Price: $13.99 for 8
Description: We got fried buffalo-style with blue cheese. BBQ flavor is also available. Served with celery.
Heat index: 3 (“good spice”)
Suggested beer pairing: Sandbar Sunday, Islamorada Beer Co.
Price: $12 for 8
“Good size, fairly meaty, good service.”
Description: Fried buffalo wings, hot and spicy, served with homemade ranch dressing
Heat index: 5 — “just right”
Crispness: 4 — “good crisp, yet still moist”
Suggested beer pairing: Hogfish amber, Florida Keys Brewing Co.
Price: $11.50 for 8 ($5.75 at happy hour)
“Fantastic service and the ranch is delicious.”
Description: Fried wings with buffalo and sweet chile sauces. Old Bay seasoning is also available.
Heat index: 3
Suggested beer pairing: Maverick IPA
Price: $12 for 8 ($5 at happy hour)
“A little too much breading,” “thin ranch sauce.”
RAMS HEAD SOUTHERNMOST
Description: Ace Killer Wings, fried, in buffalo, BBQ & jerk flavors, served with ranch and blue cheese, with carrots and celery on a bed of lettuce
Heat index: 5
Suggested beer pairing: Pernicious IPA
Price: $11 for 6 ($5.50 at happy hour)
“Fantastic wings,” “good size,” “good spice.”
SOUTHERNMOST BEACH CAFE
Description: Brined, smoked and fried wings in buffalo style and signature red chile vinaigrette. Served with celery and blue cheese.
Heat index: 1
Suggested beer pairing: Crazy Lady, Waterfront Brewery
Price: $16 for 12
“Good texture,” “could be spicier,” “red chile vinaigrette a pleasant surprise.”
FOUR MARLINS AT THE REACH RESORT
Description: Jerk spiced chicken wings with island habanero sauce (served on the side)
Heat index: 1 (without sauce); 4 (with sauce)
Suggested beer pairing: Stella Artois
Price: $11 for 10
“Excellent crispness,” “nice and moist,” “wish the jerk flavor had more kick without the sauce,” “amazing view and ambience,” “great staff.”
HMF SIDECAR AT THE CASA MARINA
(kitchen is at the Sun Sun Beach Bar)
Description: Kickin’ chicken wings — fried, lightly breaded, drenched in sauce (buffalo, bbq and Asian chile flavors). Served with blue cheese, carrots and celery
Heat index: 4+
Suggested beer pairing: Iguana Bait, Florida Keys Brewing Co.
Price: $14 for 10
“Perfect buffalo spice,” “perfectly crisp,” “Asian chile is a delight,” “We’re gonna need a lot more napkins.”
HOGFISH BAR & GRILL
Description: Dragon Wings and Classic Buffalo (with celery and ranch dressing).
Heat index: 4
Suggested beer pairing: Crazy Lady
Price: $14.99 for 10
“If the sauce makes the wing, Hogfish has it down to an art. Extremely flavorful with a smooth ranch dressing.”
ROOSTICA WOOD-FIRED PIZZERIA
Description: Jamaican and Buffalo wood-fire wings
Heat index: 3
Crispiness: 3 (keep in mind these are grilled to perfection on the wood-fire).
Suggested beer pairing: Stella
Price: 10 wings for $15 or 20 wings for $22
“A unique find on the island with robust chunks of chicken on every bone. The wood-fire taste is a perfect blend against the Jamaican flavors.”
SHANNA KEY IRISH PUB
Description: Buffalo Wings ordered hot. Also available in mild and medium buffalo, roasted jalapeno & garlic hot, Jesse’s lament – deathly hot, teriyaki style and BBQ.
Heat Index: 5
Crispiness: 5 (per crispy request —recommended)
Suggested beer pairing: Harp
Price: $10 for 10
“Ask any local and they will tell you nothing beats Shanna Key wings. And they also come in a bucket!”
MY NEW JOINT
Description: Buffalo chicken lollipop wings, Thai chicken lollipop wings.
Heat index: 4
Suggested beer pairing: They have dozens.
“Amazing. With so many good menu options, it’s a tough choice, but both versions of these lollipop wings are spot on. My New Joint nailed it.”