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Bayou Hot Wings 

Ian McNulty on a new quick lunch and game-day takeout joint

click to enlarge Allen Nguyen and Kyle Makepeace opened Bayou Hot Wings. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
With the NFL's regular season now safely upon us, a lot of fans will say they were never worried at all. But you don't hear such bluster from Allen Nguyen and Kyle Makepeace. As contract negotiations dragged and there was talk of a truncated season, they were sweating it.

  That's understandable. The two twentysomethings opened Bayou Hot Wings in May near the Tulane and Loyola campuses with the hopes their business would hit its stride as the fall semester and football season began. Chicken wings aren't technically a seasonal food, but there's an undeniable — and for some, almost instinctual — surge in the demand that coincides with football season.

  Despite a tense summer, things have worked out pretty well after all, and Bayou Hot Wings is ready for prime time. This is a small wing shop essentially serving handmade fast food with enough unique touches and endearing character to stand apart. This is a place, for instance, for people who consider a few pairs of fried frog legs awash in garlic-Parmesan butter with a side of sweet potato fries and a longneck bottle of Mexican sugarcane Coke to be their happy meal.

  Nguyen and Makepeace take the time to marinate their wings, and they make their own sauces and dressings, from a chunky, lemony remoulade that makes a better fire extinguisher than traditional blue cheese, to a roster of wing sauces that range from teriyaki sweet to incendiary.

  The standard bearer here is called bayou sweet heat, and its main ingredient, Crystal hot sauce, is a tipoff that it's more tangy than hot. Step up a level and the peppery bayou beast proves very hot, though still more thrilling than painful. But beware of the hot sauce the kitchen reserves for its "beast challenge," a spice tolerance contest that comes with a detailed legal waiver. I won't go near it, especially not after seeing terrifying photos of past contenders, who look like bloodied zombies smeared red with sauce.

  Wings are the stars, but part of the fun of eating here is pairing the sauce menu with other local goods — like the respectably sized shrimp, bits of fried alligator and frog legs. I don't have high expectations of a burger from a wing joint, but this one is surprisingly solid, with an irregular patty cooked to a crisp edge. Steak fries were limp and rather plain, and their best use is being a starchy sop for really spicy wings or as something else to dunk in the sauces. Order a Hubig's paie and they'll offer to drop it in the fryer, crisping it and heating it through.

  Bayou Hot Wings is a nice-looking place, but it's very small and offers just a narrow, cramped ledge for people opting to eat there. But for wings that hardly matters. Just as football time is prime wing season, prime wing habitat is back home in front of the TV.

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