January 26-February 1, 2006
foodOff The Menu
The Wing Thing
There are more than a dozen chicken-wing restaurants in Greater Philadelphia, including Wings & More, King of Wings, Wing King and 6 Wings to Gos. But the odd name for Philly's real wing kingdue to its role as wings supplier to WIP Radio's wildly popular Wing Bowlis the Rib Ranch.
The Port Richmond barbecue joint and longtime WIP advertiser got the job about 10 years ago upon hearing that WIP was having trouble with its original wings supplier.
Trouble? "In consistency and size. If the wings are too big you don't get the big numbers you want from the winners," explains Rib Ranch owner Mitch Blackman, who came to the rescue with wings 10 to 20 percent smaller than the usual.
Another thing that won the Rib Ranch the gig: Their most popular wings are slathered in an easy-to-digest, mild barbecue sauce rather than the traditional hot Buffalo kind that could really cut down on competitive eating numbers.
Being the Bowl's wings supplier unfortunately involves more than just fraternizing with scantily clad Wingettes. Blackman says his staff starts cooking the 7,000-wing, 900-pound order at midnight Thursday and keeps the fryer on through 4:30 a.m., when the wings are loaded on a truck for the trip to the Wachovia Center. There they're placed in warmers and then counted out on plates: 10 drumsticks and 10 blades each. All this at the start of Super Bowl weekend, one of the Rib Ranch's busiest.
Before their involvement with the Wing Bowl, the Rib Ranch was mainly busy making ribs, but the Bowl has goosed the shop's wing business to nearly the same volume. "People go to Brooklyn for a hot dog, they want Nathan's. People here in Philly want wings, they want the ones from the Wing Bowl," Blackman says.
This time of year, the Rib Ranch also gets a boost from Wing Bowl contestants-in-training. By the first week in January, Blackman had already seen three or four of these types, who typically order buckets of 50 to "bone up" for the contest.
Blackman seems baffled when asked whether the fact that his wings are wolfed down to the point of literal sickness might dishonor his culinary gifts. On the contrary, he eventually answers, "I'm honored that people can eat that many. The contestants always say the wings are great. If they weren't, there's no way anyone could eat 170."
Wing Bowl 14, Fri., Feb. 3, 6 a.m., sold out (except for station giveaways), Wachovia Center, Broad St. and Pattison Ave., www.610wip.com. The Rib Ranch, Castor and Aramingo aves., 215-533-7427, www.myribranch.com.