While many students skewer the Williamstown culinary scene for its dearth of quality offerings, one area in which we are neither lacking in quantity nor quality is the chicken wing. From frequented establishments like the Purple Pub and our own ’82 Grill to entities lesser known for their food such as The Red Herring, wings can be found all over Williamstown and across the Berkshires. When craving wings, as one often does, navigating these different options and others can be overwhelming and so for the second installment in a series of food reviews I’d like to call “Epicurious Evan,” (see “Pad Thai or Die,” May 7, 2014) I set out to tackle this pressing issue. Sticking to a strict diet of chicken wings and drums for breakfast, lunch and dinner last weekend, I trudged around town and sampled five of the top wing offerings in the area. These are my stories.
Old Forge Restaurant
Considered by many to have the best wings in the Berkshires, this Lanesborough institution certainly lived up to the hype. The Forge offers a great wing-eating atmosphere and a variety of unique flavors. I devoured the Buff Orpington, a curry-flavored sweet and spicy wing as well as the Dean’s, their take on classic Buffalo wings, and the enigmatic, but delicious original flavored wings. Simply, these wings are close to perfection. They were crispy on the outside, but the crisp skin gave way to tender, juicy meat within. These wings achieve that elusive sauce-wing balance that escapes many wings. In all three of the flavors that I sampled, the sauces clung to the wings in just the right way and even seemed to seep into the wing beneath the skin as if it had been marinating for days, giving flavor to every last bite. The wings and drums were average-sized, not the behemoth, steroid-induced creatures that have become commonplace in restaurants, but there was still more than enough meat on the bones to satisfy. Overall, these wings are the cream of the crop and well worth the drive to get them, but Williamstown does have quality alternatives if you aren’t willing to make the trip.
The Red Herring
While most students know the Herring for its drinks rather than its food, overlooking the latter is a mistake. The Herring only makes one kind of chicken wing, a non-traditional wing rubbed in a blend of spices before being slow-cooked in a smoker. The result is an impressively crispy outside and impossibly moist and tender meat within. The complex flavor, meanwhile, is really unique and, for lack of better adjectives, smoky and spicy. I was given ranch, BBQ and a vinegar blend sauce for dipping, all made in-house. While each added another element of flavor to the wing, I preferred it most without any of these accouterments. While different from the traditional “buffalo-style” preparation of frying and then lathering in sauce, I enjoyed the change of pace in preparation and flavor and think these wings are a must-try for wing aficionados and rookies alike.
The Purple Pub
While the Forge was a predictable favorite in the competition, the race for Williamstown’s best traditiona wing was wide open and the Purple Pub competed admirably with very solid wing offerings. I sampled the BBQ, signature, spicy and “afterburn” flavored wings, with the signature and classic sauces standing out as my favorites. The sauces were much more prominent than in the other wings I tried, and while both the sauces and wings were tasty in their own right, there seemed to be some dissonance between the two. While the Forge wings existed as one harmonious unit, the distinction between sauce and wing at the Pub was unmistakable. Nitpicking, the wings themselves slightly lacked the crispness that I enjoy, perhaps due to the excess sauce, but the meat within was juicy. Overall, the sauces and wings were both good, but somehow the sum of these two worthy parts fell short of perfection.
Water St. Grill
The Water St. and Pub wings had many similarities that made it difficult to pick between the two, but several factors gave Water St. the slight edge. First, the Water St. wings were crispier and while the Pub wings were by no means soggy, the excess sauce there detracted from the crispness. This leads me to the second key differentiator: the wing-sauce integration at Water St. was superior. While the sauces themselves at the Pub were a touch superior in my eyes, the lack of total congruity between sauce and wing diminished the overall wing experience. I sampled the Kentucky bourbon, buffalo, chipotle BBQ and teriyaki honey wings, and the classic buffalo wing taking top honors.
Evaluating the ’82 wings for what they are, that is, dining hall food, they really are quite tasty. Many different flavors are offered, portions are generous and the service is second to none. However, when compared to the other wings around town, these really cannot compare. The wings are obscenely large and the ratio of skin to meat on the wing is inconsistent and usually off. Moreover, the skin lacks the crispness that the fryer or slow-cooker gives to the wings, as these wings are baked. Despite their shortcomings, the meat is tender and tasty as are most of the sauces, and the overall experience of the wings are definitely positive if convenience and the right price are your chief wing-choosing criterion. If not, however, I highly recommend you venture outside of Paresky to explore the unexpected variety of awesome wings that the Berkshires have to offer.