It’s a big event when signature dishes fly in from other American cities. As hospitable New Yorkers, we’re expected to appreciate them automatically, even if they don’t quite resemble their original form. Chicago sent us hot dogs, for instance, but they were so elaborate that most places trying to recreate them failed.
When Chicago pizza arrived, food writers automatically picked up their figurative pens and started writing paeans to it. It didn’t matter that we already had umpteen kinds of pizza, some similar to the thick-crusted-and-served-in-a-deep-round-pan Chicago pizza.
We recently welcomed at least three purveyors of Detroit pizza, and for that we really went gaga. Nashville hot chicken, Philly cheesesteaks, Baja fish tacos, Texas barbecue, and San Francisco sourdough have received plaudits here, too.
But now we have another just-arrived product to turn our attention to. “Trashed wings” materialized on one of those mid-pandemic, delivery-only menus in a pop-up, also called Trashed Wings, at Mel’s Burger Bar, which has two physical locations in the city as well as a setup in a bar downtown. Not accidentally, it debuted just before the Super Bowl. The Instagram account proclaimed that it was “Bringing St. Louis wings to NYC.”
Now, St. Louis is already famous for gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli, a saucy style of barbecue, and a St. Paul sandwich consisting of an egg foo yung patty on a bun with pickles, but chicken wings? I felt I had to investigate.
Listing three locations, East Side, West Side, and Downtown, the website for Trashed Wings is a mosaic of carefully selected photos of rock bands. The ones I could identify were Zep, Aerosmith, and Guns N’ Roses. As far as I know, none of these bands comes from St. Louis. The website could have had pictures of Chuck Berry, Blind Idiot God, and Fontella Bass — all acts from that region.
The online bill of fare offered trashed wings in two sizes (10 for $13.95, 20 for $26.95, a dollar more on Seamless), but the rest of the menu consisted of a dozen items, many with the word “Buffalo” in them, including cauliflower and wings. There were waffle fries and french fries, too. A little sleuthing and I found an address for the downtown location, 82 Stanton Street, and I was soon on my bike heading there against a 40 mph headwind. I was intent on making an adventure of it, whether I could get the wings without preordering or not.
They’ve taken over the kitchen at 82 Stanton, a bar located at the corner of Allen Street, and taped a menu taped up for Mel’s Burger Bar out front. Could I order my trashed wings here without going online, I asked a guy in a knit watch cap milling around inside? Yes, I could! So I got the 10 piece and an order of tater tots — an option not on the Trashed Wings website, but listed on Mel’s menu.
The wings were decently sized and coated with a coarse orange powder that must have contained some cayenne, paprika, and maybe some garlic, though they were not very spicy. An order came with plastic cups of vinegary hot sauce and blue cheese dressing.
I liked the wings fine, especially since they didn’t drip grease, so that a friend and I were able to eat them at one of the unheated outdoor tables without staining our heavy winter coats. (The powder that fell thereon could be easily brushed off.) These are effectively no-greasy-mess wings, which is maybe how they should have been marketed. But we still wondered about their purported St. Louis pedigree.
Afterwards, I tried to verify that they did indeed come from that city in some way. At a series of dive bars, sports bars, and neighborhood hangouts in and around the Gateway City I found the avian appendages variously called trashed wings, trash wings, and dirty wings, all seeming quite different than Buffalo wings. I even found a recipe online. But despite the various similar names, trashed wings seemed to be more a collection of recipes rather than a single approach.
At Billy G’s, the wings are deep-fried, coated with hot sauce, deep-fried again, and then presented with more hot sauce, blue cheese dressing, and celery. At Fenton Bar & Grill — which advertises itself as “Home of World Famous Trash Wings and the friendliest and attractive service around!” [sic] — the wings possess a light, spicy breading, while at Missouri Bar and Grille, the trashed option only involves the regular wings being finished on the flame grill.
I posted a query on Twitter, and several respondents from the city quickly disavowed them. One guy mentioned that you can get plenty of Buffalo wings in STL, but he hadn’t heard of any dry rub style native to the city. A Reddit thread dedicated to “trash wings” from St. Louis, described as being double-fried, managed to rarely mention the city — and one commenter said they knew them as “Daytona Style.”
Whatever the origin of trashed wings, the article in I Love The Upper West Side from which I got the tip furnishes no clue, other than saying the wings were developed by a laid-off cook from Mel’s who’d learned the recipe while working in St. Louis.
In an email exchange with Steven Kay, owner of Mel’s Burger Bar, he basically repeated the same vague origin story, and added, “While there are some notable places in St. Louis that serve similar versions, ours uses a similar cooking technique, but with a proprietary dry rub.” I’ve asked for the name of the anonymous inventor; if and when I get it, I’ll add it here.
In the meantime, consider ordering this new type of wings for your Super Bowl party. Although they may not have the kind of undeniable fame in their home city that the cheesesteak has in Philadelphia or deep-dish pizza has in Chicago, they’re worth investigating.