It didn’t matter that we arrived incognito as a small pack of random diners — when we showed up at Maplewood’s newly opened :D-Spot, we couldn’t get Chef / Owner Darin Koch to shut up about his wings. “You’ve got to try the Incredible Hulk green coconut curry wings! Oh, the Black Widow wings are a great choice: The fennel rub on those is intense. And, hey, even though you’re not ordering them, you’ve got to try — and will, in fact, try — our amazing Ginger wings with honey and green chilies. I’m sending some out for you.” (Koch’s background includes a stint at The Butcher Block in Northeast, which launched with a similarly dazzling palette of wing choices.)
When your restaurant’s chef reflexively evangelizes about flavor combinations, scratch-made sauces, and personal favorites, you know you’ve got something legitimately exciting on your hands. Also on your hands: sticky wing sauce, but that comes with the turf.
A couple general notes about the place: The decor is simple and a bit stripped down, a sort of goth dance club-meets-food court ambiance that will probably age well as it gets more cluttered and homey with the passage of time. Also: Generally speaking, all the wings we tried (priced at $10 for 12) were moist and tender. Nothing gristly and tough, and nothing dried out — the basic taste of chicken was on the money through and through.
Now, without further fussing around, and in ascending order of deliciousness, the seven flavors of wings (out of roughly 60) that we ended up trying earlier this week:
Chicken & Waffles: maple brown sugar, creme anglaise, cinnamon, and powdered sugar
One of :D-Spot’s 11 sweet varieties of wings, there was less to these than met the eye. They had a pleasant maple sweetness, but the other elements were softly spoken. Not bad, not crave-worthy.
A balanced rendition of an American favorite, striking a harmony between sweet, heat, and acid. Eminently respectable.
Muay Thai: coconut milk, peanut butter, and chili
Strikingly peanut-buttery without being grossly so — a profound, pleasing, sticky peanut taste backed up by a quiet kick of heat.
Incredible Hulk: green coconut curry
Richly flavored with a bright undernote (lemongrass, perhaps?), this was an indulgent yet exotic choice.
Caramel Delight: caramel, sea salt, and an (optional) drizzle of chocolate
Chocolate caramel chicken wings: You heard it here first. And they worked. The gentle, understated caramel was close enough to a sweet wing sauce to be a natural fit, and the decent chocolate was set off by the sea salt in a way that somehow spoke to the crispy wing beneath it. Totally worked.
Ginger: honey, ginger, roasted garlic, and green chilies
The contrast between the honeyed crispy chicken wing and the bright, clean heat of the chilies was simple and delightful. The ginger note could have been more pronounced, but, hell, these really tasted good as is.
Black Widow: soy glaze, cracked fennel, and jerk rub
You won’t find a deeper, more pleasingly multidimensional wing in the Twin Cities. The depth and balance of flavor on these suckers was truly profound, with a perfect salt to spice to sweet balance overall.
Wing flavors that we didn’t try but will try next time: Kariboo (coffee, chocolate, ancho chili), MN Wild (wild rice, cranberries, beer maple syrup), Frenchy (caramelized onions with a sweetened balsamic reduction), and Pachadi (mango yogurt curry).
In conclusion: We like that :D-Spot is located off the beaten path. We like that :D-Spot has a clever and beautifully designed Web presence that plays Beastie Boys instrumental tracks as background music. We like that :D-Spot is unpretentiously ambitious, combining earnest scratch cookery with comfort food. We like that :D-Spot serves a decent cheeseburger and tasty seasoned fries with harissa aioli. We like that the folks behind :D-Spot seem to be having a blast with their concept. And we sure as hell like eating their wings.
Maplewood, so long as you keep making these wings, we shall return.
BEST BET: Get the Black Widow: its depth and balance of flavor are unparalleled in the Twin Cities.
705 Century Ave N, Suite B
Maplewood, MN 55119
CHEF / OWNER: Darin Koch
HOURS: Mon-Thu 11am-10pm
ENTREE PRICE: $5-12
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No