Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern has nothing on my friend Ralph Guariglio. Zimmern who claims to love such “exotic cuisine” as fermented walrus anus probably wouldn’t touch some of the…er, interesting foods Ralph enjoyed during his travels for Intel. That’s especially true when Ralph traveled to Vietnam and The Philippines, all the while chronicling his adventures in “Captain Ralphie’s Travelogue.” Though most of us envied his peregrinations, few of us would have had the gastronomical fortitude to try such “delicacies” as beating cobra heart and live lobster (yes, still alive…and thrashing).
Much as Ralph loves adventurous dining, his passion and favorite food group is chicken wings. Ralph can eat chicken wings for breakfast, lunch and dinner with chicken wing snacks in between. Never mind that chicken wings have a disproportionate “effort-to-meat” ratio, he happily gnaws on those tiny avian bones to extricate every meaty morsel, a look of blissful contentment on his face. Ralph is the type of guy who would bob for chicken wings in a deep fryer. When he married his beautiful bride Linda, I thought for sure the wedding cake would be studded with layers of chicken wings and the cake would be “frosted” with Buffalo wing sauce.
When Ralph visited the Intel plant in Rio Rancho, he never asked to be feted with chicken wings. Nor did we ever presume he would enjoy chicken wings in our fair city. Unlike at his hometown of Ahwatukee, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb, most chicken wings in the Albuquerque area came from chain restaurants (Applebees’ riblets anyone?). Fortunately, we kept Ralph happy with frequent infusions of New Mexico’s sacrosanct red and green chile (which he undoubtedly figured out would have tasted great with good chicken wings).
Over the year, I’ve had my share of wings but never came close to developing the type of unbridled passion bordering on lust for the poultry appendages Ralph has. For the most part, I wondered what he saw…or rather, tasted in them that inspired such loyalty. It wasn’t until Chef Bob Yacone introduced me to his award-winning maple-bacon wings that I finally got it…and when I say “award-winning,” I’m talking about earning first place at the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York. That’s like winning the Super Bowl of chicken wings. That’s what Bob’s restaurant, Forghedaboudit did.
Ralph isn’t the only chicken wing fanatic under spacious skies. According to Buffalo, New York radio station WYRK “Americans will eat 18,000 chicken wings in their lifetime. That’s an average of eating about 24 per month, or 290 a year. For Buffalonians (and for Ralph) that seems like a low number.” The day in which more chicken wings are consumed than any other is, not surprisingly, the Super Bowl. According to the National Chicken Council, Americans consumed a record-breaking 1.4 billion chicken wings during Super Bowl LIV weekend. That couldn’t have been just Ralph.
One of the reasons chicken wings are so popular is their versatility. You can coat them in a sauce or dry rub or you can have them naked (usually just the wings, but if you’re nude when you eat them they won’t make make a mess out of your clothing). You can fry them or bake them. You can dip them in ranch or blue cheese dressing. You can have them as a snack or make a full meal out of them. You can even have them bone-in or boneless. It’s hard to believe chicken wings used to be nothing more than scraps used mainly for making chicken stock.
When absence from chicken wings at Forghedaboudit was making our hearts grow fonder, we fortuitously tuned in to the October 4th What’s Up Abq podcast interview with Michael “Mighty Mike” Mondragon. Mike, whose barbecue is taking the city by storm, raved both about the chicken wings and the “great girls” (Alejandra Leal and Brittany Muller) who owned and operated Wing It Up, the food truck that featured fabulous fried fowl. We caught up with Wing It Up at Marble Brewery’s Westside Taproom where a “Mighty Mike’s Meats” sticker on the window confirmed the “mutual admiration society” between the proprietors of two of the city’s best food trucks.
We enjoyed our inaugural visit so much that the very next day we tracked Wing It Up to Rio Rancho’s Brew Lab 101. Though my eyes normally gravitate immediately to a food truck’s menu, I couldn’t help but notice Alejandra’s Dallas Cowboys shirt and matching face mask. Naturally, I had to compliment her on her fashion sense and class before commiserating with her about the Cowboys season. When I asked why Brittany wasn’t wearing similar attire, Alejandra forlornly explained that Brittany is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but she’s working to convert her. I applauded Brittany for not wearing Steelers regalia as it would drive customers away.
It says a lot about Alejandra and Brittany that you can enjoy good-natured banter with them. Alejandra, who takes care of the “front of the house” explained that they launched Wing It Up in 2019 and have been very enthusiastically embraced by chicken wing aficionados. She stressed that their food truck is all about feeding great food to great people. Brittany manages the fryers, coaxing delicious flavors and textures out of chicken wings so addictive you’ll become a regular. Not all the sauces are created in-house, but the sauces they procure are of very high quality and deliciousness.
28 May 2022: For three years, Alejandra and Brittany cultivated such a loyal following that they decided to strike out as a brick-and-mortar restaurant, launching their storefront on May 14, 2022. Situated on the corner of 4th and Gold, Wing It Up is just a block south of heavily trafficked Central Avenue. With ample seating, diners don’t have to take their wings home or search for a shady space in which to enjoy them. As with the food truck, the “wings you will crave” menu isn’t solely about chicken wings. The menu (subject to change) also lists chicken tenders, a chicen sandwich, mozzarella stix, sweet potato fries, fried zucchini bites, fried pickles and fries available in a number of intriguing seasonings. Wings are available in seven-, ten- and twenty-piece portion sizes, boneless or bone-in. If you can’t decide which of two wing flavors to enjoy, order a wing combo (ten of one flavor and ten of another, for example). Family (or Ralph) sized meals spearheaded by fifty wings are also available.
You’ll enjoy studying the wing sauces menu where you’ll find such alluring sauce flavors as golden BBQ, sweet red chile, mango habanero, hot green chile and lemon pepper rub. There are ten wing sauces in all. There are also eight fry seasonings which transform fries from predictable to rarefied air. Fry seasonings include sour cream and onion, flame-grilled BBQ, cheesy Cheddar ketchup and salted maple. Get the picture. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill wings and fries.
31 October 2020: My Kim’s introduction to Wing It Up came in the form of sweet teriyaki wings served naked (deep fried with no flour and no breading). She thought for sure she’d be ferrying home at least half of her ten-piece order, but surprised herself (and me) by not only finishing every single wing but doing so well before I finished my ten piece order. That’s a sure-fire predictor that we’ll be regularly tracking down Wing It Up. These Super Bowl worthy wings are meaty, sticky and delicious with a sweet teriyaki sauce that isn’t as cloying as its name might suggest.
31 October 2020: The pairing of incendiary habanero peppers with the tropical floral fruitiness of mangoes is probably not what Teressa Bellissimo had in mind when she invented chicken wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, but it’s exactly what you’ll crave time and again. Heat-seekers will appreciate the steady level of tongue-tingling heat that will get their taste buds dancing. It’s an up-front heat, not one that sneaks up on you, but one that’s always present. Habaneros have their own fruity, floral, and sweet flavor and it goes nicely with the sweet, sticky mangoes. These mango-habanero wingsare outstanding
31 October 2020: During our time in England we fell in love with salt and vinegar crisps (what colonists call fries). Pairing sour, acidic vinegar and salt is a rather scientific process we won’t discuss here. Suffice to say, adding vinegar and salts to crisps…er, chips is genius. So are vinegar and salt fries. Contrary to the picture you’re probably conjuring in your mind, these fries aren’t soggy and flaccid nor are they so sour they purse your lips. As with our favorite crisps, the fries have a very nice balance of sour and salty flavors and boy, are they delicious.
31 October 2020: After indulging in a coop’s worth of chicken wings, you might not have room for dessert. That would be a shame because Wing It Up offers a variety of postprandial delights. You might luck upon mini pineapple upside down cake or as we did, two Texas state fair favorites: deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried Reese’s. Not being much of a sweets guy, I enjoyed they them vicariously through my Kim. She certified them both as well worth the extra hour she’ll have to do on the treadmill.
1 November 2020: After having insulted her beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, I feared Brittany would put an extra ingredient (arsenic) on my sweet chile wings. Thank goodness she’s quick to forgive. The sweet chile sauce is the type of sauce in which the flavor comes in waves. First, you’re hit with a mellow peppery sweetness, then just as you’re starting to wonder where the heat is, you get a hit of piquancy from the red chile flakes. It’s a sensation that stays with you. The sweet “chile” isn’t of the New Mexico variety. It’s more of a “chili” sauce, the type popular on Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. By any spelling, it’s a good sauce that goes so well with great wings.
1 November 2020: On many chicken wing menus, plain wings seem hidden in…plain sight if you can find them at all. Americans, it seems, love their wings sauced or dusted with a rub and chicken wing restaurants accommodate them. Not my Kim who loves fried chicken any way she can get them. She loves thighs, breasts, wings, legs…feathers. Wing It Up’s plain wings served naked are terrific, akin to really good fried chicken. These wings are so good she wouldn’t “desecrate” them with a very good ranch dressing provided with carrots and celery on the side.
1 November 2020: Fearing we wouldn’t be seeing Wing It Up until at least next weekend, my Kim picked up a denary of golden barbecue wings to take home. We wondered if “golden” meant South Carolina’s golden mustard-based barbecue sauce, but that wasn’t the case at all. The golden barbecue did have a balance of three basic flavors: sweet, spicy and smoky. That balance, in perfect proportion, is the key to making these wings so darn tasty. Old-fashioned barbecue sauces seem to play second fiddle to the hotter or sweeter wing sauces, but this sauce doesn’t take a backseat to any. It’s outstanding–even reheated at home.
1 November 2020: Several years ago, at Roswell’s Big D’s Downtown Dive we discovered what my Kim described as the best fries she’s ever had. Named “Thanksgiving fries” (sweet potato fries, sweet whiskey butter, cinnamon and pecan smoked bacon) they blended sweet and savory flavors in a manner that imprinted them permanently in our hearts and memory engrams. When we espied the sweet potato fries with salt and maple syrup at Wing It Up, it triggered sweet memories of those Thanksgiving fries. Unlike the fries of our dreams, the salt and maple syrup fries weren’t sticky. If pecan-smoked bacon had been part of the formula, they might have been even better than the Thanksgiving fries.
4 January 2022: My Kim jokes that I wouldn’t eat KFC chicken if you put a gun to my head. That’s not entirely accurate. I’d drive a hundred miles out of my way for the “real” KFC. That would be Korean Fried Chicken and it’s harder to find than toilet paper was during the onset of the Cabrona virus. KFC is characterized by lightly coated chicken pieces fried until the outside is crispy, fat is rendered out and the meat inside is cooked through. You’d swear KFC had a crust; they’re that crispy. Wing It Up’s Korean wings aren’t intended to emulate KFC–at least in appearance. Their signature batter makes them somewhat thicker than KFC, but similar to KFC, the wings are seasoned with a glaze that’s impregnated with a sweet, slightly piquant sauce. Notes of garlic, ginger and pepper are obvious.
28 May 2022: When Popeye’s launched its chicken sandwich in 2019, the sandwich sold out within a couple of weeks. It took weeks to replenish ingredients, but when the sandwich returned to the menu so did droves of diners. Its popularity triggered the so-called “chicken sandwich wars” with other chains vying for supremacy in the chicken sandwich market. Since its auspicious launch in 2019, the chicken sandwich has been an integral item on the Popeye’s menu, accounting for much of the restaurant’s 13.8% growth in 2020. In large part because of my loyalty to independent restaurants, I resisted trying Popeye’s chicken sandwich until 2022. Predictably, I was disappointed. I’ve had far better chicken sandwiches in virtually every local mom-and-pop that serves them.
Include Wing It Up among them. Alejandra explained the sandwich is available with any of the sauces and rubs, but her recommendation was buffalo wing sauce and ranch dressing, a combination she assured me she enjoys very much. Alejandra has been akin to a personal chicken concierge, always making savvy recommendations that please this poultry paramour. Unlike so many chicken sandwiches (particularly among the chains), the chicken isn’t so heavily breaded that you have to launch an expedition to find it. Wing It Up’s sandwich is about the chicken not the breading, not the sauces. The buffalo sauce and ranch dressing play three-part-harmony with the chicken, each doing its part to make this juicy, delicious sandwich stand out.
It’s too bad Wing It Up wasn’t around when Ralph visited New Mexico with regularity. It’s a food truck for not only those who love wings, but for those who just don’t understand them.
Wing It Up
317 Gold, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 28 May 2022
1st VISIT: 31 October 2020
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Sweet Teriyaki Wings (Naked), Mango-Habanero Wings (Breaded), Salt & Vinegar Fries, Deep-Fried Reese’s, Deep-Fried Oreo, Sweet Potato Fries with Salt and Maple Syrup, Golden Barbecue Wings, Plain Naked Wings, Sweet Chile Wings, Korean Wings, Chicken Sandwich