The Hot Take
“While not exactly approaching perfection, it’s this kind of joint that really kindled within me the passion I have for wings today.”
Thanksgiving is without question my favorite holiday. I always make it a point to spend it at home, because we invariably have a huge collection of people who we’ve adopted as family throughout the years, and we always laugh ourselves silly and have an amazing dinner. Most importantly, we all talk about all of the things we’re thankful for, which is really what the whole dang thing is about. We inevitably cry as much as we laugh, and then all take naps. With all the travel, however, I wasn’t able to secure a NYC venue for the wreview before I left. So instead of skipping a week, I figured I would rope a couple of locals into checking out a spot in their very city they had never been to before. Which is how this week’s On the Road! Home for the Holidays—State Capitol Edition! wreview brought us to…
TLC Wings & Grill
805 W Peace St, Raleigh, NC (Brooklyn Hill)
This week I was joined by my one of my older brothers, Scott Alexander, manager of the Bison Bar in Raleigh, and our good friend Brian Cox, a talented graphic designer and owner of Old North Rags.
TLC is, from what I could gather, a pretty new place (at least in Raleigh. It’s the second location, the first being in Charlotte NC.) We actually stopped around the corner to have a couple of beers first (TLC does not serve alcohol) and none of the people we spoke with had heard of it, despite the fact that it was a literal 3 minute walk away. Inside, TLC looked almost like a fast food joint, or at least a slightly less than fast food local version. There were about 7 or 8 tables around, most of which were 2 or 3 tops, which in a city like Raleigh means they really are banking on the take-out/delivery crowd. Despite that fact, there was only one person working there on this Tuesday night, and I don’t believe we saw a single other person (customer or employee) the whole time. It was honestly pretty weird, but in a good way.
Full disclosure, there was another side to this menu, I just didn’t take a picture of it. But TLC is all about the wings, pizza, and fried foods. Everything seemed pretty standard, but also priced really well.
What We Ordered
As I said, TLC does not serve alcohol. I had a couple of Red Oaks before stopping in, but didn’t have my regular notebook with me, so I can’t speak to exactly what my cohorts were drinking. On arrival, BC graciously covered the cost of the fountain drinks, but to our dismay the fountain was totally out of order. However, the guy at the counter let us have cans (and didn’t charge us at all when we went back for seconds, because of their technical difficulties.)
For wings, we order 5 Sea Salt, and two orders of 15, which by their menu allowed for split sauces, so we as per usual got the Medium, X-Hot, and then chose the curiouly named Calypso and Georgia Red. Yeah, you read that right. This is going to be a 5 sauce wreview. Go big or go home I say. Especially when the wings are this cheap.
The PPW stars at a miniscule decimal point below $1 for 5, and works its way down to about 86 cents for an order of 100. Split sauces are built right into their menu, to my pleasant surprise.
I’m going to go ahead and tell you right out of the gate the presentation was 3/5. I mean if we’re being honest this is going to be the norm for most wing places, unless you’re at a pricier spot (or a much cheaper one) because it’s really not hard to throw some wings in some wax paper in a plastic basket and have it look not bad. That said, the wings here came in some red-and-white-checkered wax paper in plastic baskets and didn’t look bad. Our celery and blue cheese were served in a separate basket, and the guy threw in an extra ranch (in case we wanted to try it out.) With the exception of the Sea Salt (which was totally not a sauce,) all the wings looked thoroughly coated, but the baskets remained nice and neat.
We didn’t learn until after we had eaten that this place actually does use Frank’s as a base for its Buffalo sauces, which was a pleasant surprise. BC said it was a “fine classic sauce, [but] a little heavy on vinegar.” SA called it a “normal buffalo” with “good spice.” I’ll admit I was little awestruck to find out it was made with Frank’s, because I had pinned it as a classic store-bought ‘Buffalo’ sauce. I did enjoy the flavor, however, despite the fact that it also had a little bit of (not at all unpleasant) saltiness I hadn’t been expecting. If you want a medium wing, you can’t go wrong with these guys, and they fly right in with a reasonable good score of 3/5.)
For such an exciting name, we were hit with a pretty familiar flavor. Almost immediately we recognized it for what it was. SA: “An enjoyable sweet BBQ sauce [with] great spice.” BC thought it was a “spicy version of honey BBQ.” They weren’t wrong. This was definitely a spin on the classic BBQ sauce most places serve, but it was a little sweeter than I’m used to. It was, however, coupled with a nice touch of heat that pulled that sweetness back and made for a really good turn on a sauce that other places sometimes get lazy on. For the clear care they put into crafting their own BBQ, I happily pin a 4/5 on these.
This wasn’t the only time that opinions split on wings here, but they very much did. BC “didn’t love” these, he said they had a “different flavor.” SA said they had the “BEST flavor” and had a “nice heat [and] subtle BBQ flavor.” Now, with the exception of the scorchingly hot wings I always eat at least two wings of each sauce to get a good read on them, and for these I definitely needed the second one to really get a bead on them. The heat here is great. Distinctly hotter than the medium wings, but with so much flavor packed into each bite. While definitely a BBQ derivative, this is one of those sauces that highlights something that so many places in the North forget, which is that every region in the South has its own BBQ flavor and there are some subtle but vast differences between them. True to its name, this Georgia Red focuses much more on crafting an enjoyably hot yet unmistakably tomato-heavy BBQ with only a hint of the sweetness of other sauces (and I dare say there was a hint of Vidalia onion in there.) It’s with ease that this subtle and complex sauce punches out 5/5.
I tried a new thing here, in which we actually broadcast ourselves eating the hottest wing live. Feel free to watch us here (caution, there is some NSFW language in the video:) (Also my brother kept accidentally covering the mic. sorry.)
To give it the full write-up, we go first to SA. “Very hot!” he began. “Great flavor. Slow, strong burn” and “very salty.” BC agreed, calling calling them “hot but edible with blue cheese and time.” As you may or may not have seen in the video above the first thing to hit me was the saltiness. It was extreme. Once the salt wore off, there was some nice flavor left over, and heat that continued to build. As I said in the video, the heat really peaked in the 2-3 minute area, but stuck around for quite a while. It wasn’t until around 5 minutes that it finally started to dissipate, but in that time it reached a great but ultimately bearable heat. I would order these again (to share) but it probably wouldn’t be my first choice. Despite the good overall heat and flavor, it’s the overwhelming salt at the front that dips the X-Hot down to a 2/5.
These deceptive little buggers. SA couldn’t wait to hate these wings, saying they had a “simple, unimaginative flavor. No creativity, only salt. Table quality salt.” BC “Thought they were going to be terrible” but had to ask himself “why do I like these so much?!” While not really written on the card, SA did a total 180 on his opinion of these. If I had to hazard a guess, the fact that they did use real sea salt (Morton’s fine-ground sea salt, which looks like table salt) won him over. Though he kept calling them “unimaginative,” both BC and I pointed out that none of us could think of another place that served wings this way. In reality, by lightly salting these fresh out of the frier, it dries the skin immediately, bringing out the natural flavors and giving it a satisfying almost cracker-like crunch, while the insides stayed nice and moist. By using one simple ingredient, TLC showed how you can elevate a plain wing into something amazing, and given how much we talked about the sea salt over the next few hours I’m sort of left with no other option than a 5/5 here. Yes, it really was that good.
There were way more hits than misses here, and this place serves a bevy of different sauces, so I would expect that this holds true across the board. If they re-tool the saltiness in their Buffalo sauces, I’d be happy to reconsider, but I am still happy to give the sauces an overall 4/5.
The wings here were the exact way I always expect wings to be. Not huge, but not small. Nice crispy outsides without the crunchiness you get from being overcooked. While they could have been a little bit more moist, they were anything but dry. My only real complaint is that of the 35 wings we ordered, it seems like we got one flat (two-bone) for every four drumsticks. Given that all three of us there were fans of the flats (and let’s be honest, they are the tastier wing, more meat, less gristle, and so easy to get everything off the bone) this posed some problems. We did still manage to eat all but one of the wings, so it wasn’t that much of a problem. You get exactly what you expect out of a wing here, and there is nothing wrong with toeing the line at an admirable 3/5.
The Hot Take
TLC may be new to Raleigh, but I hope they stick around. While our experiences here were a little bizarre, it didn’t stop us from getting wing-drunk on some really great wings. My brother said it in the video above, but I wanted to mention here that one of our major reasons for choosing this place was the TLC challenge sauce, which according to the guy on duty was actually a plain, un-sauced wing, which left us all baffled. Like, we kept asking if he was sure because it just seemed so unintuitive that they’d name their plain wing a challenge. While not exactly approaching perfection, it’s this kind of joint that really kindled within me the passion I have for wings today. With a variety of delicious (though some a little less-so) sauces, a great PPW, and a friendly staff (I’m so sorry I don’t remember the guy’s name, he really was incredibly friendly and a great cook) you would be hard pressed to leave here disappointed, and I’m proud to be able to hit a random spot in my home state and pin a 4/5 on its wall.
There were a lot of sauces we didn’t try. Sorry again for not having a whole lot of funny links this week, but as we up the production levels (that FB live video, right? Maybe next time I’ll learn how to actually embed it in the page.) it gives me a little less time to find silly links for random words or phrases. Maybe a nice consolation prize is in order, like a video of me drinking the Bison Bar’s famous Bison Bomb, while being so tired I managed to look bored the whole time?
As always, the Weekly Wing Wreview and MaxFun.nyc are not affiliated with Maximum Fun or its associated products or brands. But we’re pretty big fans.