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What I didn't know about chicken wings when I first set foot in Hurricane Grill and Wings would fill the corporate libraries of Tyson and Perdue.
I didn't know the things we eat today by the basket-load, a deep-fried finger-food that has conquered corner bars and corporate franchises, the dripping mouthfuls of heat served with a tub of blue cheese dip and celery sticks for tailgate parties up and down the East Coast, came into being just 40 years ago. The Bellissimo family served the original hot-sauce-drenched wing at its Italian eatery the Anchor Bar to take the edge off late-night drinking. Or else the chicken wing was pioneered at Young's Wings 'n' Things, where John Young drew on the history of African-American chicken recipes to come up with his special Mambo sauce, creating from a not-so-appetizing poultry part (only a neck or tail could be less edible) a snack to turn otherwise reasonable people into Mambo-smeared zombies. Here's what we know for sure: The greasy trail from today's Hooters or Wing Hut leads back to Buffalo, New York, in the mid-1960s.
I also didn't know that Americans eat 90 pounds of chicken per person a year. Chicken wings are the fastest-growing segment of the "casual dining" market, according to Nation's Restaurant News, soaring high through war and recession. And I didn't realize that the boneless chicken wings advertised on sports-bar backboards aren't wings at all. They're pieces of deep-fried chicken breast if you're lucky; they're unidentified chicken scraps pressed together and laden with chemicals if you're not. (A truly boneless chicken wing, achieved by painstaking kitchen surgery, is another story.)
1855 Pine Island Road
Plantation, FL 33322
I didn't even know if I liked chicken wings. I had an idea they were messy and fattening and went well with watching football. I do not watch football. Ever. My experience with wings was so crippled that when I forayed out to the new Hurricane Grill and Wings franchise in Plantation, I was obliged to press into service a friend who'd recently moved here from Texas. Michael Mooney is a consummate wingman, a young gourmand so knowledgeable of chicken-wing ways that he was scouting the area for chicken-wing sandwiches. He'd asked me for advice on where to find the best ones. I'd never heard of a chicken-wing sandwich.
So off we went to one of the 400 Hurricane franchises slated to open in the next five years. Area wing nuts will be happy to hear that 60 or more of them are supposed to open in Broward and Palm Beach. That's practically one on every corner.
Chris Russo founded Hurricane in Fort Pierce in 1995, when he was 22. Russo liked to cook; he'd worked in country-club and coffee-shop kitchens during college, and he thought he could do something with an empty barbecue place that was for rent half a block from the beach. He started with hot garlic and Parmesan wings, which are on the Hurricane menu today and still his favorite. He kept adding rubs and flavors, including Mojo, Jamaican jerk, habanero lime, and piña colada. He cooked in that original Fort Pierce kitchen until three years ago, when he hatched his plan to take over the planet a wing at a time.
So far, there are 28 Hurricanes, mostly in Florida. They offer about 30 wing sauces, from fruity to flaming. You can choose boneless wings, made from hand-cut chicken breasts and frozen, or bone-in wings, which are delivered to the Hurricanes three times a week, as well as grouper fingers, fish dip, cheese steaks, and the best French fries you've ever tasted.
I tried to describe those fries, which are made without trans fats, to a bunch of skeptical New Times staffers — and triggered a noisy debate filled with misinformation about what a trans fat is, why it's now illegal to harbor one in New York, whether you could fry a decent spud without it, whether a trans fat is the same as a saturated fat (with much confusion on this point), and the smoking point of olive oil (which is completely irrelevant, because olive oil is neither a trans fat nor a saturated fat). Hurricane's Parmesan-garlic French fries, doused in garlic butter, sprinkled with deliciously gritty cheese, and rushed steaming from the fryer into a paper cone, might constitute the Ultimate Fry Experience. So let's clarify our fat issues.
Hurricane's fries — including its crisp sweet-potato straws drizzled with maple pepper glaze and dusted with powdered sugar — are cooked in a proprietary blend of "zero trans fat oil," Russo says, part of which is recycled into biodiesel fuel. Here's what that means for you and me and KFC, Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, and the slew of foodniks on the zero-trans-fat bandwagon: The National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine announced a couple of years ago that trans fats should not be consumed at all. These vegetable-based Frankenfats, devised in labs and until recently used to extend the shelf life of Oreos and Animal Crackers, considerably shorten our own shelf lives. They are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which turn into trans fatty acids, which are wickedly bad for you, as well as mono- or poly-unsaturated oils. And they're going the way of the dodo.