The “language of love.” It can reduce the most eloquent of women to twaddling teeny boppers and the most macho of men to cooing grade schoolers. It is most active–some would say most infantile–when the biochemical pathways of love are waxing to a peak during the relationship stages between infatuation and falling in love. It’s when cute nicknames–those mushy, syrupy terms of endearment–are created and used in place of actual names, when phone calls don’t end because neither party can hang up.
Not even Jerry Seinfeld was exempt from the language of love. Renown for his cooly detached approach towards commitment and for breaking up with women for the the most picayune of reasons, Seinfeld may have, in fact, taken the language of love to new depths (or heights, depending on your perspective). In his eponymous television sitcom, Seinfeld nauseated his friends George and Elaine with his openly affectionate behavior, baby talk and especially a term of endearment they found particularly offensive–Schmoopie.
The only thing that could cool his ardor was a thickly-accented, stone-faced chef renown for enforcing a strict protocol of queuing, ordering and paying for Manhattan’s best soup. Rather than incur the “Soup Nazi’s” ire and be subjected to the dreaded admonishment “No soup for you,” Seinfeld pretended he didn’t know the object of his affection, his Schmoopie. Her transgression– violating the Soup Nazi’s queuing process by kissing Seinfeld at the soup line.
Just as love morphs and changes over time, the language of love undergoes its own transformations, usually reflecting the stages of that crazy little thing called love. Whether the relationship stage is infatuation, lust, romance or attachment, stage appropriate terms of affection are used. Newly smitten lovers tend to idealize the object of their affection, amplifying their virtues and downplaying their flaws. The terms of endearment at this stage tend to be especially mushy–sobriquets such as “Tickles and Snooks.”
When Barbara Trembath, one of my most trusted foodie sources, told me about a new restaurant named “Tickles & Snooks Wings ‘N Things,” my ears perked up. En route to obtaining a Psychology degree (would you like fries with that), I once wrote a thesis on the language of love, hence the little diatribe to start this review. You’re probably grateful that the rest of this essay won’t be an exploration of terms of endearment in a relationship, but an essay on a surprising restaurant with something for everyone.
Tickles and Snooks are pet names used for each other by Rusty (Snooks) and Tikashi (Tickles) McConnell, the dynamic entrepreneurial duo who recently purchased Wings & Things in a small nondescript strip mall on Montgomery just east of San Pedro. The name “Tickles and Snooks” is the most cutesy aspect of the restaurant which has a decidedly masculine feel to it. The walls on the walls are festooned with framed photographs of muscle cars which share wall space with tools of the auto racing trade. The drawers on a Craftsman tool chest is where the restaurant’s silverware is kept. A potted plant rests on that chest.
Rusty, a native Ohioan, and Tikashi, originally from Mobile, Alabama (and who previously worked as a project manager for ESPN) are a well-traveled couple with a budding business portfolio that includes Tickles and Snooks Sweet Creations & Event Titillations, a catering enterprise offering a dazzling array of cakes for all occasions. In assuming the mantle at Wings ‘N Things, they are taking on an established business that previously received “best wings in Albuquerque” acclaim from several sources. In August, 2010, they launched a scaled down version of Wings ‘N Things at the Cottonwood Mall with much of the menu intact.
Barbara, my savant source, gave me the scoop: “Not gourmet, but very good food. Wings, tenders, pizza, a very close to authentic cheesesteak ( with Whiz if you want ) and some seafood (oyster po boy, shrimp, fish and chips ) and will be starting to do breakfast soon.” She liked it so much, she put Wings ‘N Things on her fairly exclusive restaurant rotation, a select line-up of favorite dining establishments she visits with some regularity–the few, the proud, the most delicious.
My personal rotation has long been bereft of chicken wings thanks, in some measure, to a rather disappointing visit to a chain wings restaurant pitched by Dallas Cowboys hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman. Sure Albuquerque is in the northernmost portion of the Chihuahuan desert but that’s no reason chicken wings and legs should be so wrinkly dry.
Wings ‘N Things offers more than thirty different flavors of wings from which to choose–some such as Carolina BBQ, Chile Lime, Curry, Lemon Garlic, Wasabiyaki–heretofore unavailable in Albuquerque. Sauces, which can be sampled before ordering, come in heat intensity ranging from mild to nuclear and everything in between. The most incendiary sauce is a raging inferno level of heat called Armageddon. Armageddon has more Scoville units than all the competitors put together. I’ve only managed a sample–a toothpick dipped into an incendiary combination of ghost peppers (the hottest peppers in the world), Scotch Bonnet peppers, habaneros and maybe napalm. Though I pride myself on having an asbestos-lined mouth, I certainly won’t be participating in the Armageddon challenge.
The Armageddon Challenge will tattoo your tongue with pain and sear your taste buds with a fiery intensity bordering on cruel and inhumane punishment. It will moisten your brow with profuse sweat, traumatize your nervous system and stain your face with tears. It will contort that face into a misshapen tangle of emotions. You will suffer a painful post-traumatic stress disorder the day after–a true after-burn. To say it’s definitely not for the faint of heart is a vast understatement The challenge–six wings in six minutes with a six minute after-burn which starts after you’re done with the six wings–if you get that far. Few people–about one in seven–get that far.
My friend Bill Resnik was one of the first to surmount the challenge. I’ll let him describe the experience: “So Rusty brings out these Armageddon wings – 6 of them soaking in sauce. He hands me some plastic gloves, a really nice thing to do as I was to discover later. He also brought a dish of ice cream and a wet washrag to use after the after-burn. The clock started and I started eating. Hoooooo Boy! The first 5 seconds were OK, then an assault of epic proportions filled my head. My lips, mouth, tongue, sinuses and eyes were screaming as I silently uttered the prayer, “Dear God, please don’t let me choke or get the hiccups!”
“My strategy was to get those firecrackers down as quickly as I could and deal with the aftermath later. I finished my 6 wings in about 4 minutes. The only thing harder than taking a huge bite was chewing it, and the only thing worse than that was swallowing it. The 6-minute after-burn started after the initial 6-minute eating period. NOT after I took my last bite, so I got an 8-minute after-burn. The pain peaked about 2 minutes after I finished eating and I knew the challenge was a painful downhill ride from there. By the end of the 6 minutes, I was feeling pretty good (endorphins are great!) and I didn’t have an urgent need to dive into the ice cream or the glass of water in front of me.”
“Overall, it was a lot of fun. If you finish, you get your picture on the wall (my eyes were so red I looked like I’d been smoking reefer all my life) and you get this cool tee-shirt. Of course you get bragging rights and the knowledge that you have lived through something that not everyone who attempts will be able to complete.”
Sure enough, the restaurant’s northernmost wall is dedicated to photographs of the survivors of Armageddon, a motley crew of anguished victims expressing stunned expressions akin to the tortured souls in Dante’s Inferno. Another wall, aptly titled “The Wall of Pain” celebrates the game competitors who tried and failed the challenge. They look even worse than the survivors–much worse.
Wings are available in quantities of eight (one flavor) to one-hundred (four flavors). If you prefer your chicken boneless, chicken tenders are available in the same flavors as the wings and in quantities of three to twenty-five. Wings ‘N Things is no one-trick pony. The menu also features five pizzas (with such clever sobriquets as Sleepin’ With The Fishes and Fugetaboutit), including a build your own option. The five item seafood menu–including New Orleans style Po Boys (catfish, oyster, shrimp or shrimp and oyster)–sounds more Mississippi Gulf Coast than desert Southwest, but it’s certainly welcome.
The menu’s half-pound burgers, made with fresh, hand-formed beef, are an impressive lot with such offerings as a Philly Cheese Burger, Pastrami Burger, Pizza Burger and even a Caribbean Jerk Burger. Carnivores can even request a second half-pound beef patty if they desire. A number of subs and wraps are also available as are salads, everything from a standard garden salad to a meat lover’s salad. As of this writing, however, none of the Tickles & Snooks cake creations are available on the menu at Wings ‘N Things.
The menu’s wonderful diversity is to be celebrated, but a visit would be incomplete without sampling the name on the marquee, the amazing wings. With more than thirty flavors available, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide which to order. Don’t hesitate to accept the offer to sample a few of the sauces. You’ll find these sauces aren’t the dumbed down, lacquered on sauces served at some chains. Wings ‘N Things’ sauces have audacious personalities. They’re intensely flavored, heavily spiced, generously applied and some are eye-watering and nasal-clearing.
The “Spicy BBQ” flavor sounds fairly innocuous, but it packs a piquant punch. It won’t water your eyes or bring sweat to your brows, but it will leave an impression on your taste buds. Wings are well saturated in the sauce which means eating them is a messy proposition. Fortunately each table has a roll of paper towels with which to wipe off your fingers and mouth. It goes without saying that the wings are moist, but they would be so even without any sauce. They are also meaty and delicious with a tangy and smoky sauce that doesn’t completely obfuscate the flavor of the wings themselves.
The flavor intensity isn’t solely focused on piquancy. The Spicy Lemon sauced wings manage to be both lip-pursing tangy and salute-worthy piquant to totally make you scrunch up your face in the throes of intense flavor-wrought delight. For sheer sublime magnificence, however, you can’t beat the curry sauce. It’s an Indian curry, an aromatic, olfactory arousing bouquet with no discernible cumin aftertaste. Whether served with chicken tenders (pictured below) or on wings, it’s an excellent curry, sure to win over even people who don’t think they like curry. It’s also an excellent dipping sauce for fries.
Now, the name “Heather Pomme Frites” sounds benign enough, but don’t let the name fool you. These aren’t the garden variety boring fries so typical in Albuquerque. The fries are beer-battered then dressed in a garlic parmesan sauce that will knock your socks off, especially if you love garlic. There’s enough garlic here to ward off a family of famished vampires. It’s breath-wrecking garlic at its very best. The fries are then sprinkled with a generous amount of shredded parmesan for a cheesy kick that complements the garlic flavor very well.
Having visited New Orleans more than seventy times during the eight years we lived in Mississippi, we quite naturally became enamored of the Crescent City’s cuisine, particularly its Cajun and Creole offerings. The seafood section of Wings ‘N Things’ menu rekindled our hopes that we could relive memorable meals of years past. Though only seven items comprise Wings ‘N Things seafood selections, four of the seven possess names which could have come out of a menu at one of our favorite New Orleans eateries.
That Southern-inspired line-up (thank you, Tikashi) includes Po Boys (choice of catfish, oyster, shrimp, or shrimp and oyster), Billy Bob’s Belly Buster (a large filet of fish sandwich), The Maspero (a combination seafood platter) and The Decatur (Creole seasoned Gulf shrimp). One of those four, The Maspero, shares a name with one of our favorite New Orleans Po Boy establishments, Cafe Maspero, which is within easy walking distance of Jackson Square. The Maspero is a seafood platter with a large catfish filet surrounded by calamari rings and Creole seasoned Gulf shrimp and oysters on a bed of the restaurant’s signature beer-battered fries.
The starters section of the menu includes three seafood items–seared ahi tuna, fried mussels and gator bites. The seared tuna appetizer features four generously-sized medallions of lightly crusted tuna as red, rare and beautiful as sashimi-grade tuna. The crust is a sheath of paprika, fennel, rosemary and other spices we couldn’t discern. It’s a flavor-rich component to the freshness of the tuna.
Anyone who tells you alligator tastes like chicken hasn’t had good alligator. Tickles & Snooks serves good alligator–an entire half-pound of alligator tenderloin dredged and fried in a Cajun Creole seasoning and served with a Remoulade or Zesty Orange sauce (ask for both). The texture of alligator is somewhat more chewy than say chicken tenders. It’s lightly coated in a crispy batter, but when you bite down on each tasty morsel, there’s very little crunch. It doesn’t have an especially wild flavor and may, in fact, remind you of a chewy white fish. The Remoulade and Zesty Orange sauces are excellent accompaniment.
A more conventional starter for seafood lovers is fried mussels though at first glance, they hardly resemble mussels rolled in flour and battered. Each mussel resembles an oblong chicken nugget. Each is lightly battered with a golden-hued, slightly sweet sheath that keeps the mussels moist and delicious. They are surprisingly less “fishy” tasting than most fresh mussels and are fun to pop in your mouth and devour. Though served with a marinara sauce, they might be better with the restaurant’s piquant homemade Remoulade.
One of the most recent additions to the seafood line-up (as of March 24th, 2010) is inspired by Rusty’s love of Japan, an island nation with which he is very familiar from his travels with the semi-conductor company for which he works. The Ichiban is a quarter-pound Ahi tuna steak blackened and seared to perfection topped with a Wasabi butter infused slaw and served on a sourdough bun accompanied by a “sweet Tsunami” sauce and sweet potato fries.
Though not quite of the caliber of seafood plucked out of the Gulf Coast then making the short trek to a New Orleans cafe, the Maspero, a combination seafood plate is quite good. The catfish filet is light and flaky with a delicate flavor, a cut above other catfish we’ve had in New Mexico (most of which have the texture of sawdust). The Creole seasoned shrimp are fresh, sweet and have a nice snap of freshness to them. The oysters are a bit on the dwarfish side, but nonetheless have that distinctive briny flavor and characteristic sliminess that doesn’t go away when you fry them. All were lightly breaded in a well-seasoned coating. The seasoned fries are just the way we remembered them from the Gulf Coast where seasoned is the preferred way to have fries.
The Maspero comes with a make-it-yourself cocktail sauce (because the restaurant’s house version is too strong for many patrons) of ketchup and horseradish as well as tartar sauce (pretty standard stuff) and an eye-watering Wasabi butter sauce with which Rusty became enamored during extensive travels to Japan.
Japan is where Wings ‘N Things procures its Akaushi beef. If you’ve never heard of Akaushi beef, you’re probably not alone. It’s a richly marbled, very tender and flavorful beef used in Kobe restaurants throughout Japan. Akaushi, a Japanese word meaning “Red Cow” are considered a national treasure in Japan and is the ONLY natural 100-percent source verified Kobe beef in America. It is not American wagyu beef. The menu offers three Akaushi burgers.
The Caribbean Jerk Burger is but one of the intriguing non-Akaushi burger selections on the menu. It’s a half-pounder seasoned with the house jerk rub topped with Pepper Jack cheese and Tikki slaw. Years of experimentation at home with jerk burgers has taught us that ground beef is not a great canvas for jerk seasonings, no matter how good the beef or the seasonings might be. Our best results have come from ground pork which allows the jerk rub to shine. The result at restaurants are similar to what we’ve experienced at home. That holds true for the jerk burger at Wings ‘N Things. That’s not to say the burger isn’t good; it just would be much better with ground pork and with a sweeter apple-based slaw.
While we liked the Caribbean Jerk burger well enough, we loved the Junk Yard Dog, a quarter-pound all-beef hot dog battered and deep-fried in the tradition of northern New Jersey hot dogs then topped with a phalanx of fantastic ingredients: onions, mushrooms, bacon, pepper Jack cheese, sauerkraut and Cheddar cheese on a hoagie roll. The hoagie roll is sturdy enough to hold in all the deliciousness, but it’s unlikely your mouth can open wide enough to take in everything at once so you’ll eat bits and pieces of the ingredients in various combinations. Thank you to Tina Chavez for recommending this hunky hot dog.
The menu, which is constantly evolving (frog legs were added in May, 2010) is amazingly diverse with something for all appetites. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that everything on the menu, at least all I’ve tried, is good enough to be the featured item on the menu at most restaurants. That goes for the pizza, too. The New Mexican pizza whose chief ingredients are green chile and pepperoni, is terrific, an incendiary chile on a chewy, no-char, well sauced crust. The pizza is sauced all the way to its edges; it’s not just slathered on indiscriminately. Available in a personal-sized seven-inches or a full sixteen inches, it’s a very good pizza.
Tickles & Snooks Wings ‘N Things may sound like a children’s fantasy movie, but it’s replete with adult flavors that may have you uttering some terms of endearment of your own.
Wings ‘N Things
6219 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1st VISIT: 7 March 2010
LATEST VISIT: 17 November 2010
# OF VISITS: 5
BEST BET: Caribbean Jerk Burger, The Maspero, Spicy BBQ Wings, Spicy Lemon Wings, Curry Chicken Tenders, Heather Pome Frites, The Junk Yard Dog,The New Mexican, Ahi Tuna, Gator Bites, Fried Mussels