Time after time, I find myself going to get wings on Sunday, if not simply because that’s usually when it’s the easiest to get a few people together. I’m not really a huge football fan, but at this point I’m used to the fact if you want to eat wings in a bar on a Sunday, there’s going to be a football crowd for about half the year. It’s fine for a normal person, but makes wreviewing hard if you’re trying to talk. I tried to avoid that this week by heading out on a Saturday… which ended up being the Saturday of Columbia University’s Homecoming. Which is why for this week’s wreview we got take out from…
Lion’s Head Tavern
995 Amsterdam Ave (Morningside Heights)
This week I was joined by my cousins Pete and Sam, whose permission I did not ask for to use their full names. Pete loves hot foods, and Sam loves to try hot foods, and I had been told many times that Lion’s Head had some of the hottest wings in the city, so they were both down to participate.
I’d already known from walking by several times before that Lion’s Head was a college bar. It’s just a few blocks from Columbia, has highly visible happy hours, a huge bar and a handful of tables, and TVs scattered around inside. The walls and ceiling are smattered with various tchotchkes, some related to sports, some related to nothing. This place is not only made to attract loud drunken college kids, but embrace them as well. Probably not my preferred choice of bar, at least not anymore.
College bar, college bar food. Sandwiches, burgers and fried foods. While I was waiting for my order, the food coming out of the kitchen looked pretty tasty, and it’s all relatively cheap, about eight to ten bucks for most of it.
The PPW here is just what I like to see. $1 a wing for 10, 90 cents each for 20. If they offer larger quantities, it’s not on their menu. Like many other places, they don’t split sauces on double orders.
What We Ordered
I was calling the shots on this one, so I opted for the Medium, the Teriyaki, and the intimidatingly named Ass-Burner wings. We took this back to the apartment, where we drank sodas and milk.
Since this was take-out again, you can take the presentation with a grain of salt. After seeing how some of the other foods came out that people were eating in house, I’d love to see how they do wings, but I didn’t see any plates of those while I was there. For take-out, these guys come in the almost ubiquitous foil circle with plastic circle lids. Carrots and celery rest on top of the wings, and it also includes a plastic ramekin of blue cheese. Everything held up great on the walk home, and looked edible when we got there. It’s really all you can ask for with take-out, leading to a predictable but lightly-weighted 3/5.
Sam and Pete were really in it for the hottest wing, but Sam humored me by at least trying the other sauces and adding his thoughts in, which in this case was three words: “Teriyaki is sweet.” To be fair, Sam is an 11-year-old kid and is usually a picky eater, so this may have been his first run-in with teriyaki sauce. He wasn’t wrong though. The Teriyaki definitely had a nice sweetness to it, as well as a distinctively flavorful soy and hint of ginger. There wasn’t any heat to speak of here, but as an alternative to BBQ (which I’ve been getting a bit burnt out on lately) it was great. After trying all three, I couldn’t help myself from going back to these time and time again. For it’s pleasing tangy sweetness and addictive flavor, I have to give these a 4/5.
Sam was a bit more wordy on these, saying they were “great, and [have] a good heat.” Again, I totally agree. These are not a buffalo wing, which I can always appreciate and was a delightful break from the last few weeks. The heat was a little below what I was expecting, but it lingered pleasantly and built with each bite. It had the tell-tale red pepper flavor and tang that didn’t get masked with overpowering heat. For most places, it’s hard to make a medium stand out of the crowd, but they’ve succeeded admirably here. While it doesn’t achieve perfection, it does score a saucy 4/5.
On the Ass-Burners, my compadres had a little bit more to say. For Sam, “when I started eating [them] my mouth started shaking. They were delicious, but it felt like a bunch of tiny needles were stabbing my lips.” Pete was a little more verbose, starting with “The nose and initial finger-licking had a powerful naga bite, I’m coughing already. The meat and blue cheese dressing balance it and leave a strong but not overpowering burn on the tongue. The heat builds to pain as usual.” When I was placing my order, I was encouraged when the bartender paused after my order to ask if I was sure I wanted the Ass-Burner. That said, I don’t think these were necessarily the hottest wings I’ve had, but they were certainly the most painful. I took one bite, and the heat kept building… and building… and building. For three minutes (I had my stopwatch.) The heat started to even out there, but like Sam, I felt like my entire mouth was having horrific acupuncture. Not just on the surface, but the literal insides of my tongue were in absolute anguish. It stayed this way until about minute 5 before it began to finally cool down, a process which took a while. The problem I had with this sauce was that it was basically just heat for heat’s sake, which I’ve always had trouble endorsing. I do like the thrill of having my mouth be subject to arson, but if there’s no flavor to accompany it it’s just masochism without reward. The flavor of these is… well it’s not great. Beyond the spice it just tasted a little burnt, despite the wing being not actually being overcooked. Whatever points it wins for heat, it sort of loses for the lack of any real taste to talk about. All said and done, it isn’t really advertised as anything but hot, and it does deliver on the heat, but being nothing other than hot burns a hole for a 3/5.
The Ass-Burner may have been a little lackluster, but its sloppy sauce siblings do a good job of picking up the slack, lifting the overall sauce to a 4/5.
The wings here are pretty darn good. They’re fairly average sized, fried just right, and are proportionally meaty and tasty. There isn’t much that is superlative to them, but there’s nothing I can complain about either. The meat is juicy, but doesn’t quite fall off the bone, the skin is cooked exactly how I like it (which is just a step or two below crunchy, sorry crunch boys, but I do like your way too!) When I think of bar wings, this is basically the exact image I conjure in my head. It may not be sexy or stylish, but it’s a great if average wing at 3/5.
The Hot Take
Again, I think getting wings to go is not the ideal situation under which to review them. I will almost definitely return to the Lion’s Head and give them another shake (or just eat more wings for fun.) They start with a good baseline of a wing and have some appetizing flavors to dress it up in, or you can order the Ass-Burner and watch your friends squirm and lick the blue cheese right out of the ramekin. The wings are wonderful, the price is right, and if you just wanna drink with your friends and sober up on wings, the Lion’s Head does it right, roaring in with a 4/5.
What we didn’t try: Mild, Hot, Nuclear, and BBQ.
While technically you are allowed to take 11 year old kids into bars that serve food for lunch, I recommend not doing it at college bars when there is a college event taking place. Expect to see Sam popping up again whenever we get around to doing a proper wreview of one of my go-to local wingspots.
If you’re a fan of the random links throughout, I apologize that they’re missing this week. They’ll be back, I just have deadlines and the content is a little more important.
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