Winging It 

Forget Buffalo. You'll find Best Wings on Summer.

One of the most noticeable items on Best Wings' menu is the option to purchase 1,000 wings for $735.

"I only sold 1,000 one time, and that was to a caterer," admits Best Wings owner Curtis Chism. The line at lunchtime, however, suggests that Chism knows a thing or two about volume.

You'll find Best Wings on Summer Avenue near East Parkway. Nestled inside a small strip mall near Family Dollar, Best Wings of Memphis offers a casual atmosphere that specializes in getting customers their food in a timely fashion.

After 10 years of being in business, Best Wings has a very tight system in place, making it a popular stop for the mid-city, on-the-clock lunch crowd. Customers come in, place their order, pay, fix themselves a drink, wait a few minutes for their number to be called, and then head out the door. (Customers can also enjoy their food at a leisurely pace in the restaurant's newly expanded interior.)

Chism, who got his start in the grocery business, says he opened the restaurant because he loves to cook. Ten years ago, wings were a new concept in Memphis, and he decided to do something a little different. "There was a demand for it," says Curtis Chism Jr., the owner's son who managed Best Wings until last year when he opened his own restaurant, Onix, downtown. "My dad always says to give the people what they want."

At Best Wings they certainly aim to please. The wings are fried whole and then slathered in (or sprinkled with) your choice of sauce. Customers can choose from hot, mild, seasoned mild, honey-glazed, honey-glazed mild, barbecue, honey barbecue, lemon pepper, and regular salt and pepper. While mild sauce is the best seller, there are fans of every sauce. One customer in particular recommends half lemon pepper and half honey-glazed. "It's the absolute perfect combination of sweet and spicy," she says.

Wings aren't the only thing that has people lining up at Best Wings. The fried catfish is arguably even more popular than the chicken. "People love the breading because we make it from scratch," Curtis Jr. says.

Another trick at Best Wings is to cut the catfish filets into smaller pieces to reduce the greasiness. This light and crispy fish gives "fried" a whole new meaning.

click to enlarge Best Wings, located on Summer Avenue, specializes in chicken wings and getting customers their food in a timely fashion. - BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • by Justin Fox Burks
  • Best Wings, located on Summer Avenue, specializes in chicken wings and getting customers their food in a timely fashion.

For those who can't decide between the chicken and the fish, Best Wings offers a Wing & Catfish basket for just under $10 that includes a generous serving of catfish, three whole wings, a side, carrots, celery, two rolls, and ranch dressing.

In addition to the wings and catfish, Best Wings offers sandwiches, burgers, and even veggie burgers. Side items include fries (seasoned and regular) and fried okra. Those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth must try a slice of employee Ms. Rose's lemon pound cake. And, of course, no visit to Best Wings would be complete without a glass of sweet tea.

When Curtis Jr. decided to open Onix, he wanted to do a few things differently. Onix bills itself as a restaurant and lounge and features live music on the weekends. "I like to have drinks and relax, so I mixed this into my restaurant," says the LeMoyne-Owen graduate.

While Onix' menu offers a variety of seafood and other items, one thing stands out: the wings. Curtis Jr. says he serves the same sauces as Best Wings, but his wings are the smaller, Buffalo-style. He also distinguishes his wings by serving them with Belgian waffles. "Once people try the chicken and waffles, they get hooked," says Curtis Jr., who first had chicken and waffles in Atlanta.

"I wanted to do something different," he says, much as his father did 10 years earlier.

While the Chisms have two very different styles when it comes to restaurants, they share the same work ethic. Curtis Jr. credits his dad for passing on his love of cooking as well as his business skills and talent.

"My dad is old-school," Curtis Jr. says. "He can do a little bit of everything, like fixing the fryer when it breaks."

Curtis says that despite having nine employees, he still likes to do the cooking himself three or four days a week. "We really love what we do," Curtis Jr. adds.

Best Wings of Memphis, 2390 Summer, #102 (458-7711)

Onix Restaurant and Lounge, 412 S. Main (552-4609),

click to enlarge BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS

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