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Sunday, July 21

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A couple of years ago I accompanied a friend, who wrote a dining column for a local magazine, on the search for the best chicken wings in the city. As is typical with most writers, he procrastinated until the very last minute; so much so that in the final days before the assignment was due, I was forced to eat wings for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days straight. I doubt my cholesterol has ever recovered.

This whirlwind adventure of hot sauce and Handi Wipes left me with the biggest stomachache of my entire life. And while I would never admit that it was actually a worthwhile experience (I was unable to eat wings again until just recently), at least I can claim to be an expert on the Chicago wing scene. How many other people can brag about that?

When I want wings I go to Bird's Nest; no other place will do.

Bird's Nest is a comfortable dive decked out with the usual amenities of a neighborhood bar -- pool table, video games, a bunch of TVs scattered around the bar, and a back room that sometimes features live entertainment. Despite being located on Southport (just a few blocks north of Fullerton) the bar is not usually overrun by the typical high maintenance Lincoln Park crowds. Rather, the clientele is made up mainly of regulars from the neighborhood relaxing at the bar with a cold beer or watching the game with a group of friends.

I've been to a lot of places (ahem, Cubby Bear) where the wings taste like they have been taken out of a bag in the freezer and then dropped (without thawing) into a deep fryer before being brought out to the table. Shards of bone stick out where chicken meat should be as a puddle of grease collects in the bottom of the basket, and although the hot sauce is strong enough to leave your tongue numb, somehow you are still able to recognize the freezer-burn flavor. At Bird's Nest, they take a little more pride in their chicken parts.

For one thing, the wings are the biggest you will find anywhere in the city. In fact, I would even go so far as to wager that they are almost twice the size as the wings at most other bars. Don't believe me? Look at it this way: A standard wing can be eaten in about two to three bites; a wing at the Bird's Nest requires at least four, sometimes five. And before you rush off to negate my counting skills, let me just say that no matter how much you can fit into your mouth at one time, you would have to agree that these wings are unbelievably meaty, fresh, and cooked perfectly through.

But the taste of the Bird's Nest wings is actually more impressive than the size. Unfortunately, there's only one way to accurately describe it: The secret is in the sauce. The wings are deep fried until they are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and then drenched in a ridiculous amount of one of four different sauces -- hot, barbecue, teriyaki, and honey-barbecue. I usually opt for a combination of the hot, barbecue, and honey-barbecue -- the teriyaki I've found to be a bit too mild for my liking. Eating these wings is one of the messiest operations I've ever been a witness to, and I would highly recommend you only attempt this in front of close friends or people that have to love you.

Besides wings, Bird's Nest offers quite an extensive menu of inexpensive bar food -- all of the items have "creative" names that pay homage to our feathered friends. There aren't too many places in the city where you can order Nest Eggs (jalapeno poppers with cheese), Pterodactyl Caesar Salad, or The Big Bird (chicken sandwich). None of the items deserve even half the amount of praise as the wings, but when the late night munchies kick in after a long night of drinking, The Bird Brain Nachos or Road Runner Quesadilla can really hit the spot.

But one would be wise to forgo the many offerings on the menu and just order a meal entirely of chicken wings. This coming from a girl who once swore she would never eat another hot wing as long as she lived? You would be an idiot not to take my advice.

Bird's Nest is located at 2500 N. Southport. Go on Thursdays or Sundays for one of the best specials around: Wings are only 20 cents each.

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Seth Zurer / February 9, 2004 10:55 AM

Nice report - I'd never heard of the Bird's Nest before. I know it's a different genre of wing, but have you the wings at Harold's Chicken Shack? They are truly excellent, and depending on the Harold's you go to, they also have the supplier of gigantor mutant wings, from massive prehistoric chickens. In school, I had a quarter in which 4 nights a week after rehearsal I would stroll to the Harolds at 53rd and Kimbark and eat 4 wings, hot sauce salt and pepper, atop french fried with white bread, all for the princely sum of $3.10. 15 pounds later, I realized I needed to cut back, but i stand by the wings. They are good.

Here's an old Chowhound thread on Harold's that captures the details of eating them wings.

Kim / February 9, 2004 5:00 PM

I haven't actually tried Harold's wings yet. Yum! They sound great. I will try it! Thanks for the suggestion.

Dan / February 10, 2004 11:05 AM

I have to chime in here with Buffalo Joe's. Man, that place has the best wings ever. Not overpoweringly spicy with their sauce (unless you get the Suicide Wings), with a great flavor. Plus, their waffle-cut french fries (and cheese fries) are incredible.

Alice / February 11, 2004 2:55 PM

I'm curious now about Bird's Nest, but I also have to throw in my thumbs up for Harold's Chicken Shack in Hyde Park. I lived about two blocks away from the place, and I can attest to its greatness. And, you gotta love their animated neon sign of the chef chasing the chicken with an axe!


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