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December 22, 2010

The Taste Bud: Cumberland wings are like chicken crack

Normally I try to look for cheap eats and out-of-the-way places for Taste Bud subject matter. An ongoing, nearly insatiable craving, however, prompted me to stray from that formula this time.

The fix I needed? Chicken wings. The purveyor of said fix? Cumberland Brews.

Sure, everyone knows about Cumberland, which is revered for its beers, atmosphere and above-average pub fare (gotta love the bison burger). But when someone says to me, “Hey, Mr. Taste Bud, where can I find the best wings in the city?” I often will start with Cumberland Brews. For anyone who is a wings addict like I am, this stuff is like crack.

Cumberland opened in the summer of 2000 at its cozy location at 1576 Bardstown Road, early on boasting just one wing sauce to go with its signature brews — a mild but full-flavored Jamaican jerk sauce with a refreshing hint of lime. After I tried the wings once, I was hooked. A few years later, Cumberland added spicy buffalo-style wings, which soon emerged as my favorite on the menu.

Just a couple of years ago, honey chipotle wings were added to the mix. Now, while this was quite a delicious development, in recent months Cumberland also got away from the minimum-10 format ($8.95) and enabled a diner to get these wings five at a time (for $4.95) — meaning it’s a lot easier to mix and match, if slightly more pricey.

This may not sound like a big deal, but when you walk in knowing there are three flavors waiting to scratch your itch, but you’re looking at buying a minimum of 30 wings to make it happen — well, it can turn a good boy bad. But now? I just five-five-and-five it, and I’m good to go.

I talked my good friend Sara, whom LEO readers know as the Bar Belle, into meeting me on a recent Tuesday evening for Throwback Pint Night ($2.75 pints all day!) and some hot grub on a cold winter evening. It did not disappoint.

Our friends Shawn and Britany also joined in the fun, and I ordered five of each flavor to share with the table. One of the great things about chicken wings is that, sort of like an American version of tapas, they’re made for sharing: Everyone gets to sample different styles and choose their favorites. It sparks conversation, and it can be downright team building. (I really should suggest this to my boss.)

The crispy, delicious wings arrived in three separate bowls, dripping in Cumberland’s signature sauces. I immediately leapt for one of the spicy buffalo drummettes, for which I ordered a side of blue cheese dressing (ranch is the norm at Cumberland), and it was just as good as promised — plenty of black pepper amping up the spice in the hot-sauce-and-butter mix. Delicious.

Sara and Shawn favored the honey chipotle wings, which start off sweet but finish with a bit of heat. “There’s a surprising kick,” Shawn said. “It sort of catches you off guard.” Britany pointed out that the chipotle pepper seeds floating in the leftover sauce — which, by the way, is perfect for celery dipping — tell the tale.

But the Caribbean jerk wings are still the ones with the most going on, it seems. The blend of spices certainly engages the buds, and the Bar Belle went so far as to say, “It’s like putting a Yankee Candle in your mouth.” Hmm. Regardless, Shawn and I agreed we could pick out plenty of cumin in the mix, and one would figure thyme and allspice enter into the picture as well.

Sara insisted the buffalo-style wings were nothing special, but that both the honey chipotle and Caribbean jerk wings were “unique.” (This prompted Britany to comment that, due to the definition of the word “unique,” such a statement is inherently flawed. I love my friends.)

As for me, it’s all about expectations. With each tasty wing I tore into, I was ready for a specific kind of flavorful pleasure. For the intense heat-lovers, there isn’t much in the Cumberland wings, but if you’re after fine flavor with enough spice to assert itself, then you’re in luck.

And the truth is, I could stick with just one flavor if I had to — but since I don’t, I won’t. All I know is, sometime in the very near future, I’m going to need another fix.