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January 8, 2014

Taste Bud: Did someone say Sriracha?

Five or six years ago, I was in Asheville, N.C., and happened into a restaurant that boasted Sriracha wings on the menu. Of course, I had to try them — they were good, but not great. But hey, I figured it was about time someone used Sriracha on chicken wings. I expected a trend.

To my surprise, I’ve rarely come across the concept again, and I have never understood why. Sriracha is one of mankind’s greatest inventions; I first tasted it at Rich O’s Public House in New Albany (now known as New Albanian Brewing Co.), many years ago, and later learned that the chili sauce is good not only on pizza, but also on sushi as well. (Try it on salmon sometime. Wow.) Also, I knew a girl who used it in guacamole. Another wow.

Thing is, it’s a fairly simple concoction made of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. Somewhere between the heat and the sweet lies a sweet spot that few people can resist. And the signature rooster on the bottle and green top are a welcome sight anywhere I sit down to eat.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into Buffalo Wild Wings recently to find, temporarily, a new sauce called Sriracha Sizzle. Generally, I try to avoid writing about chain restaurants, but I couldn’t resist this one.

For starters, I was a tad shocked these even exist. Why? Because back in October, residents of Irwindale, Calif., home of Sriracha maker Huy Fong, filed a lawsuit against the company on the grounds that the factory produced unpleasant odors and caused neighbors’ eyes to burn. In December, a judge agreed, calling the factory a public nuisance. As a result, the California Department of Public Health announced a 30-day embargo against Huy Fong producing Sriracha. Foodies panicked. Would this be the end of Sriracha?

Not yet, because Buffalo Wild Wings apparently managed to get enough of the stuff to create its new sauce. And the new sauce is good.

My first judgment was the eye test — Sriracha has a distinctive bright red color to it; it’s hard to describe why it stands out, but it does. You Sriracha veterans out there know what I’m talking about. Well, the BW3’s wing sauce has that same “pop.”

Next, I took a big whiff, and … hmmm. They really just smelled like regular old hot wings to me. I breathed in again and got the same results. At this point, I was a tad skeptical. Is Buffalo Wild Wings pulling a fast one on me?

Then I took a bite. Back to wow. The classic Sriracha flavor is up front, and yet Sriracha Sizzle is still its own thing. It’s a bit hard to explain, but the Sriracha Sizzle puts the heat front and center and makes the sweetness more secondary than with actual Sriracha.

That said, Sriracha is a fairly intense sauce when used liberally; these wings are almost what you might get if you just dunked chicken directly into a bunch of the stuff. Almost, but not quite. It tasted to me like the Sriracha Sizzle may have upped the ante on the peppers — and thus, the “Sizzle.”

What I liked is that they didn’t, in the process, lose the signature Sriracha flavor. These things were familiar and great on the taste buds, and also came through on the endorphin meter. Pair these wings with your favorite IPA; you won’t be sorry.

Sadly, the sauce is only around for a short time. Maybe. Once in a while, Buffalo Wild Wings will roll out a sauce temporarily, and the response will prompt the chain to add it to the menu permanently. It happened with Thai Curry, one of my all-time favorites. Please, oh, please let Sriracha Sizzle be one of those sauces. Maybe Buffalo Wild Wings can buy Huy Fong and save it from extinction.