Lou Handzel, a carpenter and sometime-bartender, has eaten well in Seattle. "Seattle's a really good restaurant town," he says. But what the city can't seem to get right is its chicken wings.
"Everybody tries to make it fancy, like everything needs to be infused," he says. "It's just simple hot chicken."
Every Monday, Handzel makes his version of wings for the crowd at The Alki Tavern. He deep-fries alongside Adam Price, an Altoona native who inaugurated the weekly tradition nearly four years ago. "I had a vision," says Price, who sells about 1000 wings a night.
"When I started out, I was barbecuing them," recalls Price. His current set-up entails three turkey fryers, a table and a canopy, since he works just outside the tavern's front door.
"Rain, hail, sleet, whatever, we're out here," Price says. "We're like the post office."
Price and Handzel sometimes trot out different sauces for regular customers, but tend to stick to the basic butter and hot sauce blend. "We pretty much just make it edible with one sauce anyone can eat," Handzel says.
The resulting wings are better than edible. The skins are nicely crisped, and the chicken is cooked past the rubbery point where so many Seattle wing-makers stall. The sauce has an appealing swell of heat: While it's not enough to make spice-acclimated lips tingle, eaters who gravitate toward mild sauce can take pride in finishing a 12-wing portion. Serious wing fans won't stop there.
Wings are typically a Monday-only proposition at Alki Tavern. But this Saturday, the bar's celebrating Wingfest, an informal gathering of neighborhood wing cooks.
"It's not a wing-off, just a bunch of people getting together," Handzel says. "We're going to be frying a whole bunch of chicken."
There's an enormous trophy that might be awarded. And various talked-about sauces might appear. What's certain is Alki Tavern's faithful will be there, eating wings and drinking beer. (If you're planning on joining them, it's worth noting that the Tavern's a cash-only establishment.)
"This is the home for the working man," Handzel says.