The year 2021 has only started, but it’s already looking like it could go down as the year of the chicken.
That's not a reference to the Lunar New Year (we're headed into the year of the ox there) but rather the big trend in restaurants. Of course, last year we saw places like Bucky’s Hot Chicken food truck, more Raising Cane’s and Angry Chickz from L.A. (still pulling in crowds with their version of Nashville hot chicken) open up all over town, so it’s probably just a continuation of a trend.
The restaurant we’re reviewing, Fire Wings, opened in the northwest back in November. But in the months ahead, we can expect to welcome Baba's Hot Chicken and Bok Bok Fried Chicken, which specializes in Korean-style double-fried bird. I confess to never having tried a Korean double-fried piece of chicken, but I’m looking forward to it later this year once it opens.
I think you’ll look forward to Fire Wings, a small chain that recently opened its first restaurant in northwest Bakersfield near Studio Movie Grill, J’s Place (always one of our favorite fried chicken sources) and the new Round Table Pizza. That particular shopping center, which also has Freddy’s, Ruben’s, a sushi place and is across the street from Dewar’s, is almost like the world’s largest food court. As we said it opened in the fall and was actually serving seated customers for a while in its casual sports bar atmosphere, but this has come and gone as we went into the purple COVID tier, many restaurants went only to takeout and delivery, others stayed defiant citing various studies showing restaurant transmission to be minuscule compared to various other pandemic threats, such as going to an indoor birthday party at The French Laundry in Napa. (Just kidding, Gavin.)
What Fire Wings offers is chicken wings in seven sauces, seven dry rubs and seven “fusion” sauces (if you’re adventurous, stay there), some big salads that are not as charismatic, sandwiches, interesting side dishes, family packs and 11 draft beers but no wines. We counted seven flat-screen TVs on our visit, a quite trendy industrial functional look with wood tables, brick, stone, the open ceiling with visible duct work. Casual and fun, that’s for sure.
On our visit we sampled the garlic french fries ($4.99), the Asian chicken salad ($8.49), two orders of 10 bone-in chicken wings with four different treatments: garlic Parmesan and Jamaican jerk rubs, mango habanero from the classic sauce list and Thai chili from the fusion sauces list. They also offer seven different dips, but we passed on all those, preferring our wings straight.
The variety of treatments is a Fire Wings strength: The Thai chili had the combination of hot and sweet that you’d expect from good Thai food, so I’ll be back to try the other fusion flavors like peanut butter, dragon, Saigon street with its honey-based sweetness and Korean kicks. The mango habanero also uses honey with the fruit for its sweet punch, and I was grateful that the heat level was reasonable. And each of these large wing pieces was so hot and crispy we knew they were freshly made.
The rubs were even better, the garlic pronounced enough without being atrocious and so much fresh grated parmesan and either a butter or oil to hold it all together, the Jamaican jerk wings being drier but calling to mind a couple of trips to that Caribbean island where the jerk spices could startle the palate in thrilling ways. The fries were long, thick and tossed like the wings with a garlic, butter, parsley, Parmesan cheese mix. Positively addicting.
Other side dishes include garlic noodles, mac and cheese, zucchini sticks, tater tots and stuffed jalapenos. Not much here for vegetarians, frankly.
My companion had mixed feelings about her salad, finding the spring mix used to be quite fresh, but the Asian dressing was distinctly sweet and mixed in with the romaine and mesclun was a bit of chard, notable for its beetlike flavor. She’s not a fan of that. The mandarin orange segments probably contributed to the cloying impression. The chicken was chopped squares of grilled breast meat, just not as impressive as the wings, where it seems most of the creative energies are spent.
If you’ve looking for a bargain, head to Fire Wings on Monday or Tuesday nights when boneless wings are going for 70 cents each (five piece minimum). You can also get $5 free credit if you sign up for the app on your phone and earn points for spending money there, as well as access to occasional app-only specials.
The list of sandwiches includes a Nashville hot chicken at four different spice levels, though I can seldom tolerate anything above hot. Medium can be serious enough for most civilians. Beer choices range from Bud and Coors to 805, Dos Equis, Modelo and a few IPAs. There are “mini meals,” which would be great choices for children or those not hungry enough for a full option. I like that there’s no age restriction on ordering those.
Service was pleasant and efficient on our visit, and I do remember that like Wing Stop they cook it to order, so you’re looking at a 15-minute wait. They warned us, and that’s exactly how long it took. I am always grateful to get my fried chicken right out of the fryer.