A friend of mine from Texas who was living on Maui once told me, “Man, the only food I really miss from home that you can’t get here is chicken wings.” Now I like chicken wings just as much as any other, especially when served with a beer, but it was an eye opener to discover that wings have such a fanatic following.
Thousands of restaurants serve them and it’s become trendy to open a niche restaurant revolving around just that one menu item. In fact, Just Wing It, one of Maui’s newest restaurants, is banking on those wings fans but plans to make some converts, too. The key is in their menagerie of house-made sauces.
They renovated and opened in the old Dairy Queen spot at the food court next to Kihei Safeway. Restaurateurs and owners Michael Capuano (Wow Wee Candy Bars) and David Gamberdell (Fiesta Time Wailuku) felt the time and space was right to introduce their chicken-wing-plus-sauce-and-sides concept. The casual eatery features eye-catching bright yellow and red, from the logo to the wall menu to the walls themselves, which are also printed with chicken footprints.
The wings come fast from the fryer since they pre-bake them so they heat through quickly. Then they take your wings and toss them in the sauce of your choice. These little boned bits of meat are juicy, and their size is generous.
Just Wing It’s saucy business is addicting. They feature so many sauces for juicing your fried wings and other things that it’s difficult to choose just one. They are all made there, from the garlic parmigiano, which is a thick, tangy and cheesy combo, to their chunky bleu cheese and volcano made with blended habeneros. I lost count at 12.
Then there’s the wasabi garlic ginger–an amazing concoction that we couldn’t stop dipping everything into. It features a bright horseradish zing with garlic and ginger and a very light, thin consistency. It would be great on sashimi, too. Of course, if you just want traditional brown barbecue sauce, they offer a great kiawe honey barbecue.
“Our bestseller is hot,” says Capuano. “And we pre-cook the wings so you can be in and out in about five minutes. All of our wings are going to be tossed in the sauce of your choice, and all of them are made from scratch here. We try to put our own spin on things, like our coleslaw has just a hint of wasabi, and we make our own baked beans. We cater, too: we’re doing an order for a wedding of 600 wings.”
They also offer boneless, skinless wings, but before you think you’re saving any calories there, remember that they’re marvelously panko-breaded and fried crispy. The same goes with their shrimp–the panko breading is light and crunchy.
The pieces are sold by the the number, starting with servings of five. Wings (bone in or out) are $6.49, and shrimp is $6.99. They also do a combo where you can add a drink and a side for an additional $2.
It also doesn’t matter if you can put the whole wing in your mouth and then extract just bones, or if you delicately pick the meat off of the bones: saucy wings like these are messy. But don’t let that scare you. Plenty of napkins can combat that. What should concern you though is proper sauce pairing: Buffalo, wasabi, sweet Thai chile, tequila mango habenero, lemon pepper, ranch…
French fry aficionados will also be impressed by the Rainbow Fries, a conglomeration of white, red and yam potatoes, all fried crisp. The restaurant has a hearty list of sides, like nice, big onion rings that have been panko-breaded, potato mac salad, coleslaw, celery and carrot sticks with ranch and, straight from the south, panko-crusted, fried pickle slices. At first I thought they were zucchini slices, since they’re very similar in texture, but when you bite in it’s dill pickle crunch all the way. All sides run $1.49 for small, $2.69 for large and “ohana” size is $7.49.
Just Wing It may be the opposite of a health food lunch, but they do include some options that keep your food out of the fryer. If you prefer your wings baked, they have those, as well as a few salads and wraps. They also have baked beans, and plain black beans, too. They also offer an artichoke and olive salad made with marinated chokes. What’s more, any of their wraps can be made in spinach or tomato tortillas with or without added tenders or shrimp.
But keep in mind they also make their own desserts: hand-dipped caramel apples were the sweet treat of the day when I went. Capuano says they like to get creative with the desserts, but he also sells the very popular Wow Wee Candy bars for chocolate lovers.
JUST WING IT
Piilani Shopping Center
For more foodie news, visit MauiTime’s food blog at: mauidish.com