Monte Carlo — the restaurant — is situated in the shade of an historic building and offers a patio paradise in the heart of the North Loop. At its edge, a fountain gurgles softly and in the distance is the hum of a neon sign. Servers are dressed in crisp white shirts with black ties and long, black aprons. The Monte Carlo harks back to an era when the ladies wore gloves and the gentlemen knew how to appreciate a dry martini over a long lunch. On a summer afternoon, it’s possible to spot several of those V-shaped glasses filled with clear liquid, opaque with frost, and adorned by a couple of olives, but the dish you’ll see set before all the diners is a basket of chicken wings.
The oldest continually running restaurant in Minneapolis might seem like a strange place to encounter great fried chicken, but that is exactly what they are serving. The idea behind these so-called “Beijing-style” wings ($12) comes from owner John Rimarcik, who has been running the spot for over 30 years. “I didn’t like a sloppy wing,” Rimarcik explains. “I’m also a big fan of Chinese food and the cuisine in general, but it isn’t Chinese five spice or actually an authentic Chinese recipe. These are just flavors I enjoy.” The spice blend is a heady mix of powerful and seductive scents created by mixing 18 different elements. “Some are for flavor, some are for volume,” says Rimarcik. “It’s important when you mix all of the spices together that the blend is exactly the same at the top as it is at the bottom, that way each order tastes the same. I can tell you some of them: cinnamon, red pepper flake, cumin, oregano, celery salt, onion powder… That’s just some of them.”
The wings arrive like something Godzilla would have battled. Huge appendages are wrapped in a shatteringly crisp crust. The white paper napkin that lines the basket quickly picks up the burnt sienna stain of the herbs mingled with grease. The perfume hits long before the first bite is attempted. Soft cinnamon, allspice, and garlic with an underlying sweetness activate the salivary glands. The brown skin collapses with a thunderous crunch into succulent layers of meat. The spice blend is just zesty enough to remain elusive, familiar and balanced between salt and sweet to invite bite after glorious bite.
The Monte Carlo, 219 3rd Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55401; 612.333.5900