What was your first wing joint? Was it a hole in the wall serving three flavors: hot, day old hot, and forgot the sauce? Was it a sports bar that did a weekly wing special? Was it a national chain? Or was it a place that somehow “felt” local, but later turned out wasn’t?
Your first wing joint isn’t always your first watering hole, but wing joints – general – make exceptional watering holes. And while Charlottesville has not always had a thriving beer scene (even with Starr Hill, Michael’s Bistro, and South Street, who came to C’ville for beer?) it did always have wings. Biltmore was featured in Playboy, and their specialty were “feathers,” a form of boneless wing. Buffalo Wing Factory and Buffalo Wild Wings have both had outposts. St. Maarten’s (the long-time favorite for the VBR crew) featured a dozen flavors when it was en vogue to have more than one. And then…there was Wild Wing’s. Dozens of flavors, the 2fer Tuesday BOGO special that had a wait up until the kitchen closed by 7pm, the sauce-infused menu, the sampler trays…all ten years ago.
Eventually, you realize your joint may be part of a chain. It turns out that Wild Wing Café is a regional chain in the Southeast (and by the Southeast, we’re really talking the Carolinas and Georgia). You see a BW3 everywhere, and increasingly the same for BWF, Famous Dave’s, Glory Days, and even The Greene Turtle. But there really aren’t that many Wild Wing’s, and those that exist have been there a while. Case in point, the C’ville location is attached to an historic Amtrak station! And while it’s been there for years, and could rest on its laurels, you feel that they actually do care about “feeling local.” It was by no accident, then, that Ben had his wedding rehearsal dinner there. Nor is it an accident that it’s one of three places that are “must visits” during football season at UVa. Nor that they owned the wing scene in C’ville according to multiple newspapers for years on end. But when they decided to forgo a beer menu full of “light” suffixes, that made them worthy of a spot here on Virginia Brew Review.
820 W. Main St.
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Holy schnike! Is that a projection screen?
Total Beers: 19 beers and one cider on draught, 8 of which are from VA
Food Cost: $
Beer Selection: This is a pretty good effort to strike a balance in styles, location, and brewer size. Local Charlottesville stalwarts Three Notch’d, Blue Mountain, Devils Backbone, Bold Rock, Lickinghole Creek, and Starr Hill all make an appearance. Favorites such as the DB Vienna Lager and Blue Mtn Full Nelson are there, but the Starr Hill Soul Shine was welcome in lieu of the typical Northern Lights. Allagash, Stone, and Sam Adams were no surprises…but then there’s the Avery White Rascal. I did a double take, and all Hamilton could say was, “I KNOW!!!” I can easily forgive the “Witbeir” typo, because I had never seen White Rascal on draught. Since we had to limit ourselves to one on this particular visit (you’ve already seen that day’s Tailgate Throwdown, and as Hamilton mentioned elsewhere we were on triple duty that day so there’s more to come), the White Rascal was it with no further questions asked. The recent addition of flights is welcome as the beer menu continues to grow.
Food Selection: You’re not at a wing joint for their BBQ, pizza, or burgers. Well, guess what, since you can literally ask for the wing sauces on almost anything, there’s a gazillion combinations to be had. That changes the complexion of everything they offer: for instance, once upon a time – and I’m dating myself – they had an appetizer called the Finger Lickin’ Pizza Pie. It was dough, chicken, ranch, wing sauce of your choice, and cheese. As palates have evolved, this moved from appetizer into “flatbread pizza,” but you can still find this amazing creation as a Spicy Buffalo flatbread…among other combinations. Put whatever you want on the pulled pork, the variety of cheeseburgers, or the wraps (my favorite has long been the Buffarella, which is still there). And for a wing joint, they do shockingly well on all the fry specials, and I’m a sucker for good cheese fries.
But if you are in fact at this particularly wing joint for the wings – and if you can only go once, go there for the wings – you have to date 33 separate flavors to pick from. From buffalo styles of varying heat to sweet flavors to give you a break, there’s more than one thing for everyone. Once upon a time, the 2fer Tuesday allowed you to BOGO on two orders of 12, which was absolutely perfect if you wanted to die at 40. Now you can settle on orders ranging from 6 to 20, and one to two flavors if you get more than 10. Or, you can opt for a 25-50 wing sampler.
The best thing about a wing joint like this is almost any flavor combinations are defensible. Since I basically get two flavors a year, I have long settled on Red Dragon (spicy teriyaki) and Ranchilada (half ranch, half Atomic Meltdown or as it was previously known, Chernobyl). My favorite to put on a sandwich or flatbread is Gold Rush, and the best non-spicy flavor is the Thai. Just to throw Hamilton for a loop, on this visit I went for the latter two just to confirm they’re still good…no worries there. Other friends make hard arguments for Slayer (garlic), jalapeño cheddar, Chipotle Jolt…it’s endless, and that’s why samplers are so good for groups. And with new flavors Honey Lime Sriracha and Crazy Daisy Asian BBQ, I have something to look forward to for next time!
Atmosphere: Sandwiched between the Corner and the Downtown Mall, this section of Charlottesville largely escapes a fratty or hip grad student vibe. Neither of those are bad, but unless you make the genius/horrifying decision to attend 2fer Tuesday, you’re actually not all that likely to get a rowdy crowd. I actually don’t mind, as the décor feels warm enough that you’re focused as much on the games around you and your own table. There is a dining room downstairs and an open bar area/patio upstairs, but even those are designed more for sitting than mingling. As far as the sports bar appeal goes, we always found it more appropriate for basketball than football as let’s face it – wings fill you up fast. A two hour basketball game is much easier to make it through than a 3-3.5 hour football marathon. The shirts for sale are cheesy but bring a smile.
Overall: I love this place. It’s really hard to find any nits to pick beyond the small TVs and obscene wait times during their specials, because this place (chain or not) has really tried to bring something extra to the table. I’ve been to three of their locations now – Charlottesville, Chesapeake, and Raleigh, and the C’ville location is hands down the best one. With a slow adoption of craft beers on the menu over the past few years, Wild Wing’s elevated itself from a fond college memory to a serious contender for the top tier of bars in the area. It’s not a beer joint, though, and since the whole watering hole aspect is still somewhat of a work in progress compared to its peers, unfortunately I can’t go higher than this.