Last night, after a week-long craving for wings, we decided to try out a Minneapolis chicken wing institution for over 30 years listed as part of 38th Street Culinary Travelogue (full image here): Shorty & Wags Original Chicken Wings.
Open since 1979 and not looking as if anything has changed since, Shorty and Wags provides Minneapolis residents with a great variety of soul food such as fried okra and chicken gizzards, ribs, and deep-fried chicken wings in a specially spiced batter. A simple corner shop with a faded yellow sign hanging over the entrance, you walk into a small restaurant with more space for counter ordering than seating. A handful of stools spin alongside the sweeping Formica counter top which were filled at 5 PM on a Tuesday–one of their two wing special days. A line has formed under the glowing red neon sign directing you where to order and many wallflowers mill around with yellow butcher tickets in hand waiting for their order number to be called the old fashioned way–with a curt yell from the young woman working the counter.
The restaurant smells of fried foods and cinnamon. An interesting combination knowing that the main food being ordered are chicken wings but one which makes your mouth water as large red checkerboard takeout box after takeout box wrapped in thin plastic bags are handed over the Formica to each person ahead of you in line. The menu is simple, mildly confusing to read on the wall, and seems almost blurry as if the years of grease has hung there so long it obscures your view. With a sign (very similar to this one) reminding you that Shorty and Wags is most definitely not Burger King and you will like what you get or tough luck for you, I was tentative as I approached the register knowing only that I wanted 12 wings (they are not split so 12 really is 24), hot Buffalo sauce, fried okra, and hush puppies.
While the sign was terrifying for a newcomer to the place, the woman taking my order was friendly and quickly informed me that I wanted to order 12 of the original wings as they were on special. Confused as “original” meant no sauce, I was reassured that the wing sauce was on the side and I could do my own dipping. While they will dip wings in Buffalo sauce for you (another sign, nearly rotting away from the wall it was stuck to, warns you of the fact that “Buffalo” means “Hot Buffalo” sits in close proximity to the one reminding you that this is not Burger King) for the special you’re on your own. I paid the $15 and change with a credit card, grabbed my yellow ticket, and sunk against the wall with the others to wait.
While waiting I took notice of the out-of-order Pepsi vending machine and the standalone water fountain against the front window as well as the, too numerous to count or even understand, containers lined up behind the counter. The dingy dining area was contrasted against the shiny aluminum walls and trays behind the register raising dull white Styrofoam containers up off the white counter tops. While being unbelievably simple it was almost as if it were just too much. I really felt as if I was standing right on the edge of 1979 about ready to hop back into my Ford Pinto for a perilous drive home fearing someone may rear end me causing the car to explode and take my chicken wings with it.
We received our food about 15 minutes after placing the order and finding no high chair for The Rooster we decided to drive all the way home through rush hour traffic to eat our meals. It was during this trip that the enclosed space allowed us to take in the aroma of interesting spices used for the wings. With my sinuses not wanting to cooperate due to the season it was difficult to pin everything down but suffice to say Shorty & Wags has a secret seasoning which beats The Colonel hands down.
We arrived home to meals which were somehow able to stay warm. After a few photos of the fried goodness I tore into the wings after the requisite dunk in what appeared to be a deep brick red colored homemade Buffalo sauce. With plenty of flecks of cayenne I guess you’re not going to be finding any hot sauce like this one on your grocer’s shelves and for those of you who enjoy a little spice, their “Hot Buffalo” is most definitely hot. After finishing half of my wings my nose was running and my mouth was burning far more than any Frank’s based Buffalo wings could do for me. The chicken wings themselves weren’t terribly meaty and may have been a bit overdone but the flavors were excellent and I had to nod my head several times over the course of my meal that I was definitely impressed.
The fried okra was more fried than okra but the flavors were still very good. The hush puppies were also tasty but any red-blooded Southerner would take great offense to them being called hush puppies. However I still enjoyed them and would definitely order them again. The Wife’s sauce was their “Honey BBQ” and while it was definitely BBQ, I’m not sure the honey was at all noticeable. In fact I believe it was quite close to the BBQ sauce McDonald’s uses for their nuggets but I’m sure MSPD would be better able to answer to that fact. The Wife, after promptly finishing her six wings noted her meal was most certainly not worth the 40 mile round trip drive but if we lived in the area she would definitely request to eat them again.
Overall based on the flavor of the chicken, the amount and tastiness of the sauces provided, as well as the low price paid I would definitely recommend you try out Shorty and Wags Original Chicken Wings in Minneapolis. I have a bunch of other sauces I want to try (jalapeno-ranch and hot vinegar to start) and their signs advertising banana cake and sweet potato pie definitely did not go unnoticed and I plan to be back there sometime soon for more. While this isn’t a place we’re going to go out of our way to eat at, I decided if we were in the area and in the mood for wings it definitely beats driving back home for BW3.
Have you ever been to Shorty & Wags in Minneapolis? If so what did you think of their wings? Have you ordered other entrees on their menu such as the ribs or the catfish? What are you favorite sides and desserts? Whatever you have to say about Shorty & Wags go ahead and comment on as I love to hear what you have to say.
Shorty & Wags Original Chicken Wings
3753 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55409-1236
Monday: 5 PM – 9 PM
Tuesday – Saturday: 12 PM – 9 PM
Sunday: 12 PM – 8 PM
See all the photos from Shorty and Wags on Flickr here.