Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Going for Toronto's best chicken wings with Irish Socialist leader Joe Higgins

As is the case in many cities I am sure, food and culture writers in Toronto ignore, for the most part, the suburbs. This can be infuriating to business or restaurant owners outside of the downtown, but it does have an upside. Largely unknown neighbourhood gems remain usually easy to get seats at and eat in!

Nowhere is this more true in Toronto than in the case of that delightful staple of the North American sports or sport's bar fan, the chicken wing.

While many like to wax poetic about Duff'sHurricane's and others, the best, certainly of the breaded Southern style variety, for my money, are the incredible jumbo wings at Sloppy Joe's in South Etobicoke. 

Sloppy Joe's is an entirely typical sport's bar, with rather standard decor, big screen TV's with sports on from opening to close, and music that is far too loud after about 9 p.m. (unless a Leafs game is still on). It has a serviceable menu overall, with a notably good Sloppy Joe, and a variety of watering hole favourites like Steak Sandwiches (good) and Calamari (completely pedestrian). 

But where Sloppy Joe's shines, and indeed what truly makes it stand out from countless otherwise identical bars in cities across North America and T.O., are its genuinely spectacular chicken wings. Huge, meaty and perfectly prepared every time, they are served with the blue cheese dipping sauce one expects and the usual side vegetables (except on wing nights...then it is wings and dip only).  The sauce selection is minimal, but that is made up for by how good they are. Honey Garlic, Mild, Medium, Hot and the truly delicious and genuinely fiery Suicide sauce are all well above grade and clearly made in-house.

I note again, the Suicide sauce is the real deal. I love and eat spicy food extensively and rarely have any difficulty with heat levels of dishes. Most Suicide sauces are rather a let down. Not in Sloppy Joe's case!

But don't just take my word for how good the wings are; you can also take the word of Joe Higgins, the famous Irish Socialist Party leader and member of Irish Parliament.

Joe Higgins speaking at the SPO Social at the Imperial Pub
Joe came to Toronto in the spring of 2011 for the founding convention of the Socialist Party of Ontario. In typically Joe Higgins fashion, he stayed at a Ryerson hostel instead of a hotel (he donates a large part of his salary to leftist causes and has pledged to earn no more than  the average Irish worker does), and spoke both at our pre-convention social at the Imperial Pub and gave a terrific talk at the convention itself.

A day-or-two after the convention, my old friend Andy Lehrer called me and said that he was looking for a place to take Joe, and his comrade from Belgium who had also flown over, for dinner and that they were looking for a place that was not at all fancy. No better place sprang to mind than Sloppy Joe's.

They drove out to South Etobicoke and met Natalie, the kids and I in the late afternoon at the bar. Given that it is off the beaten track, we had no problem getting seats, and one never does there early afternoon. Everyone ordered wings and Joe and his comrade got some ribs as well. The ribs at Sloppy Joe's are solid, though nothing special in my opinion, but they both seemed very fond of them. They are, to be fair, very moist, which is often a problem at bars where one can find terribly dry ribs, but the saucing is one-dimensional and indeed there is only one option. A shame that, as they have real potential. 

Sloppy Joe's: The Quintessential Sport's Bar
Both were amazed at the abundance of meat and the lack of vegetables, and, rather correctly I think, noted that this seemed very American. As did the bar itself. As the meal was winding down, Eric from Belgium remarked at how Sloppy Joe's seemed like what he, as a European, imagined a quintessentially American working class bar looks like, and he is right about that. It really is.

When we were leaving I took the opportunity to introduce Joe to the bartender, who I know from years of patronage, and one of the owners. They were, obviously, rather surprised to have an Irish Socialist TD (an Irish MP) over for dinner, and, actually, at first didn't seem to really believe me!

So, next time you are looking to have what are actually Toronto's best chicken wings, do as Joe Higgins did, and come out to Etobicoke. Feel free to call me first. I am always ready for ten Suicide wings and a Corona.

Sloppy Joe's is located at 3527 Lake Shore Blvd W., on the 501 Queen Streetcar line, and is in between Kipling and Brown's Line.They have Wing Nights on Tuesday and Thursday, when their wings are 65 cents each. On Wing Nights expect big crowds!

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