Smaller servings of wines served with a theme are are referred to as flights and I’ve often commented how I wish more wine bars and restaurants would serve flights of wines. As of yet few wine flights exist in Israel, but to paraphrase the Rolling Stones “you don’t always get what you want, but…sometimes you get what you need” and anyways anyone who knows me knows besides wine, one of my culinary passions is chicken wings and a new wings joint in Tel Aviv offers flights of wings from their array of a dozen choices.
Often, my memory harkens back to my days in the US and my favorite wing emporiums that specialized in serving wings, wings and more wings including Western Pennsylvania’s Quaker Steak and Lube (built in a converted auto repair shop) where I used to drive hours out of my way to indulge in one of their then 12 types of wings. In researching this article I found that Quaker Steak now has hatched locations in 18 states and offers 27 sauces by my count. As I remember back to the early 90’s, Golden Garlic was my favorite flavor and back then they sold 20,000 pounds of week out of their Sharon, Pennsylvania original (which featured a vintage car up on a hydraulic lift in the middle of the dining room). They first expanded to nearby the University of Pittsburgh. in the US, college students, wings, beer and football games on TV go together like hummus, pita beer and soccer in Israel.
So, when I first walked by 12 Herzl Street in Tel Aviv and saw WINGS on the window, I was pleasantly surprised that an American style wings joint would open in Israel where wings are often a menu item in Israel but never the focus. It seemed in every American city, there was at least one well regarded wings reliant establishment besides all the sport’s bars that often took pride in their version of buffalo wings so with no competitors for Israel’s first wing respite, I initially thought this could be nice diversion from other fare but had no expectations that the first wings joint in Israel I ate at would serve me the best chicken wings I could remember and in Tel Aviv that it would be kosher, too.
Before concluding that I was having the best wings EVER, I would sample 29 pieces (two pieces from a wing) of 30 brought to the table of ten different flavors of their expanding selection, one wing either flew away or one of the owners couldn’t resist his own treat (and really I thought we would be sharing and hate to see good food go to waste) but wasn’t shy about putting away whatever flavor or amount they put within arm’s reach. Brought to me in waves, as I tasted and was explained the ingredients, I was trying to enjoy the wings in front of me but was wrapped up in anticipating what was next.
But understanding a great menu isn’t about just understanding the food it’s about understanding the people behind the food and how their passion for cooking became a journey that included what landed on your plate before you.
Wings’ owners, Eytan White & Rob Ben Or seem at first like an unlikely pair of business partners.
Kosher keeping Eytan dons a skull cap proclaiming himself the Wing Master and he was making wings at home for football parties that often prompted friends to offer their interest in investing in any potential commercial venture featuring his wings. Eytan had a passion for food and a dream of his own restaurant since he was 12 but like many of his fellow Touro-Manhattan graduates he got bogged down in more seemingly practical ventures as Eytan was a successful project manager for high tech ventures. After the amount of offers seemed too plentiful and sincere to ignore, Eytan began pursuing his childhood fantasy.
Less religiously observant yet food zealous Rob Ben Or hails from St. Louis and appears a bit more irreverent than Eytan sporting a host of tattoos. Rob’s not the kind of Jew that you’d typically expect to see working in a New York kosher restaurant but in Tel Aviv where New York meets Amsterdam he fits right in. A graduate of Chicago’s Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts, like many immigrant chefs in Israel, Rob found himself underpaid and underutilized in job after job in Israel’s competitive restaurant scene.
When a mutual friend introduced the pair, it was a natural progression that led Eytan and Rob after a lot of market research, tweaking recipes and blood, sweat and bbq sauce to open Wings along one of Tel Aviv’s hippest and upbeat thoroughfares intersecting Rothschild within walking distance of the bustling nightlife of the Florentin and Neve Tzedik neighborhoods and the string of great restaurants on Nahalit Binyamin.
Although WIngs was initially, Eytan’s brainchild, Rob has put his mark on their menu. Where in the US, buffalo sauce for wings is comprised typically of hot sauce and butter, Rob renders down goose fat as a butter substitute to adhere with kosher traditions of not mixing milk with meat and the wings don’t seem to miss a beat (well maybe your heart would miss a beat if you ate fried wings in goose fat for every meal but what a way to go). Additionally, Rob uses five different vinegars in different combinations with spices and herbs to make their 12 and counting list of sauces sing. Rob uses vinegar as a salt substitute though he doesn’t eliminate salt totally, Rob insists the vinegars add acidity and a vibrancy to each serving and help each flavor express itself more in each bite.
When some diners complement their wings as being great for being kosher, Rob cringes because his goal is that they be great wings first that happen to be kosher (at which I say they succeed) and I would suspect in a blind tasting no one would guess they were kosher and after the first wing tasted would be too busy wolfing them down to care. Hmmn,do wolves eat birds? I’m guessing they would after tasting some of these wings.
Wing orders come in 3 sizes starting at 26 NIS for 8, with deals on 12 or 18 piece orders and any of the orders can be broken up into flights of two types with even 3 or 4 for the 18 piece order (if they aren’t too busy).
My feast started with Chicago Wings which are an homage to Rob’s days at Kendall and the Windy City’s romance with meat. They are spicy and tangy featuring thyme, Sriracha (one of my staples at home),honey and vinegar.
Next, I tried their twist on Buffalo Wings (their biggest seller) cooked with Franks’s Hot Sauce, Srirachi and “lot’s of goose fat.”
St. Louis is another homage to Rob’s past with a honey, molasses based BBQ sauce that features five different vinegars though Chef Rob sees the molasses as the star.
As a work my way through what can only be thought of as more wings than a person should consume in one sitting, I take notice of how tender and fresh they are. Rob owes that not only to the use of vinegars but that his chicken is as fresh as possible. Typically, butchered the day before serving, Rob proclaims the wings were “plucked this week.”
The next two East Asian inspired offering were my favorites (though I wouldn’t refuse and be quite satisfied with any of their flavorful preparations).
The Kohasumi Wings are named after a Thai island and coconut milk, red curry and peanut butter reinforce that theme. Future thoughts of boneless satay skewers by Eytan and Rob would seem to be destined for this sauce and if I had only one sauce to choose from this would be it for me.
Their Korean Wings were my runner up with a nice balance of ginger, soy and brown sugar playing well off each other.
Last but not least in my feast of fowl was a helping of their Texas Wings which feature a tomato and chipotle sauce which has that zing many think of when they think of Texas BBQ sauce.
WIngs is open at noon every day for lunch except on Saturday. On Friday, they stay open to about an hour or two before the Sabbath. They close at about 2 am every night including Saturday night (when they open about an hour after Shabbat ends).They are not in the habit of turning customers away so they are often open until 3am but call it quits by 4am at the latest to rest up for another day.
Side dishes include French Fries for 12 NIS a basket, Sweet Potato Fries for 16 NIS and all their soft drinks are a more than reasonable 8 NIS.
Adult only beverages include a 1/2 liter of Tuborg for 16 NIS which brings in its own crowd even at lunch time and they have struck up a relationship with the owner of the boutique Stranger Brewery and his honey infused ale that seems a match made in heaven for BBQ wings.
Buster’s two hard apple ciders and hard lemonade (a dangerously deceptive treat where the alcohol is well hidden) round out the boutique beverage list and the ciders, lemonade and Stranger all go for a NIS 24/bottle.
Gamla Merlot at NIS 14/glass is their only wine but I think Gamla’s sparkling Brut, Moscato and Riesling would be welcome additions.
Rob and Eytan keep all the beverage prices low and would rather people have more than less and want to fill bellies and provide smiles to loyal customers than have someone milk their beer because its too expensive to order a second or more.
Eytan insists their English menu is coming out shortly and even a French menu is envisioned since in just a few weeks they are already attracting a steady stream of French regulars, though, I think in any language, Wings is going to get a lot of people talking about it in the most laudable terms and I’m proud to be one of the first to herald their unique addition to the Tel Aviv culinary landscape.
David Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 054-377-1448 (in Israel)