Fulfilling an overdue quest for smoked wings

Many, many months ago — OK, it was more than a year — my friend Angie abruptly IM’d me on Facebook and told me she was in the midst of eating some fantastic smoked chicken wings at a place called JR’s Pub in New Albany.

She told me I needed to get there as soon as possible. Apparently, she was trying not only the hot sauce but the “fire department” sauce as well.

“The fire sauce just made me snot uncontrollably,” she wrote. She suggested trying the hot “so you can taste the smoke.”

Unfortunately, she said, she was going to an event that night that required her to fit into a specific dress. “Otherwise,” she wrote, “I’d sit and enjoy beer and wings all night long.”

Why in god’s name it took me so long to get over there, I’ll never know. But I finally went last week. And JR’s was closed. My heart (and stomach) sank. I had literally had that little place at 826 W. Main St., situated on the way to Horseshoe Casino, on my to-eat-list for that long and simply hadn’t found time to make the trip across the bridge.

But the place had been renamed Fieldhaus, and it was clearly open, so I said, “What the heck?”

Guess what? The smoked wings remain, along with a basketball theme that includes a hardwood floor that resembles a basketball court, a scoreboard in one corner of the main room and tap handles that are basketball trophies.

The place also is owned by the same group that owns Old 502 Winery and Falls City Beer, so all of those familiar products are available at the bar. Nice.

But back to the wings. The sauce names seem to have changed, for one thing, which worried me a little. But when I asked the bartender if they were still smoked wings, he answered in the affirmative, and it was on. (Apparently, roughly half the old JR’s menu remains.)

The available sauces are Tangy Buffalo, Sweet Honey BBQ, Hot & Spicy Buffalo, Jamaican Jerk and Pineapple Habanero; I opted for Hot & Spicy. I wasn’t disappointed. First of all, the presentation was surprisingly nice — I figured they would come in a basket with wax paper, but the wings (four drumettes, four wing pieces) were lined up in a row on a white dish that normally would be used for sushi.

And immediately the smoky, spicy smell hit my olfactory. Before I could even begin to salivate, I dug in, and the flavor was just what the aroma promised — smoke meets spice, but not an overabundance of either. And the crispy exterior gave way to juicy white meat.

The bark on these things was such that eating the drumettes was akin to being at a tiny Renaissance Festival. You get the smoky char, and once you crunch your way through, the flavor of the chicken sinks in, all while leaving your fingers and hands sticky and lickable. I felt like mini Henry VIII or something.

I will say that I didn’t think much of the watery bleu cheese that accompanied the wings. I will also say, however, that these particular wings are probably better off straight up. They were tasty to the point that my taste buds were offended that the experience was over so quickly. And while they were spicy, I am happy to report I did not snot uncontrollably – my snotting was moderate.

Yeah, it took me too long to heed Angie’s advice and make my way to Fieldhaus (nee JR’s). Here’s hoping you won’t wait so long to heed mine. •