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PETE TITTL: Spread Wings to northeast

Editor's note: Rock & Wings was reviewed before the state order halting dine-in service in Kern County. It is currently offering takeout and third-party delivery.

Three years ago, I got pretty stoked when a small place opened up on White Lane just east of Highway 99 called Rock & Wings, hidden away in the corner of a shopping center.

“Come for the food, stay for the game!” was their slogan, and while I’m often suspicious of sports bars since alcohol can certainly dull the taste sensibilities of human beings as can rousing action on a big screen, this place was different. An effort was being made, to the point that I’d visit even if all ESPN could show was cornhole tournaments (which I have actually personally witnessed in the past).

Now they’ve taken the concept to the northeast to a bigger space on Niles Street just east of Mount Vernon Avenue, and I think this will add a huge and unique option to that side of town, especially once the virus is conquered and we don’t have to include watching a big sports event inside as a personal act of bravery. There is a stage where a band can perform (hence the Rock part of the title) and I already noted a Mento Buru banner on the wall near the stage. There are six big projection TVs in the big room, two pool tables and lots of high-top tables separated like the government authorities want them to be. There was a sign outside about a patio, but we didn’t personally inspect it. It was hard to get past the hostess station where a partial facsimile of Herbie the Love Bug was functioning as a greeting desk.

During our visit, the food impressed us as much as our previous visit to the White Lane restaurant, and we sampled a broad assortment of things: a 10-wing plate ($13.95), a chicken Caesar wrap with waffle fries ($11.95), spicy chicken macaroni and cheese ($9.25), and the Kumbala burger ($14.50) with regular fries.

Let’s start with the burger, as these are a real strength of this restaurant. The thick, juicy patty looked to be a good 6 ounces — not too big, not too small. The bun was a bakery-quality brioche bun branded with the restaurant’s logo. That probably shouldn’t impress me as much as it does. This particular burger is topped with strips of grilled onions, red peppers, grilled mushrooms and roasted poblano peppers. The crowning touch was avocado slices, which will make you forget there is no cheese on this thing. To me, that was a significant step above what most sports bars provide. There is some exceptional intelligent design to food items, as at the other restaurant.

I like the wings here because they deep-fry them naked the way Wing Stop does then toss them in a sauce. They are large and very meaty, available with 15 different sauce options, our favorites being the chili and lime (really a fun Mexican-style treatment) and the sweet spicy bourbon barbecue sauce. We’ve also enjoyed the mango habanero in the past as it combines significant heat with sweet, which Thailand taught us long ago is hard to beat. (Sorry for all those rhymes.)

The wraps are respectable, and they use flavored tortillas (spinach, chipotle) to put them together. My companion thought here that the chicken Caesar wrap was heavy on the dressing, but I thought it held up well with the Parmesan cheese and fresh-tasting romaine lettuce. I have also enjoyed the steak wrap on other visits, made special by the avocado and black beans with the beef.

There are three macaroni and cheese choices, and the spicy chicken one is interesting because the chicken looks like chopped squares of grilled breast meat and the spiciness is not in the poultry but in the cheese sauce, almost Buffalo-wing like in its medium-hot status.

Nowadays you have to include the vital safety information in any restaurant report, and they do seem to be a place that takes the viral threat seriously: the sign outside warns no entrance without a mask on, staff had masks on, long bar area was not open due to social distancing issues, people seemed to be seated far apart, hand sanitizer was available near the door, but no one was taking people’s temperatures when they walked in. I never thought that was a sentence that would ever appear in a restaurant column, and many may laugh, but readers do ask me about stuff like that.

And while the White Lane location has full bar service, when we visited, they had only beer and wine available in the northeast. Not sure if that will change in the future.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @pftittl.