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Deciding on who makes the best wings on the North Fork is no easy task.

It ultimately comes down to the type of wings you crave, I suppose. Phil’s, for example, has a char-grilled take on Buffalo wings that’s hard not to like. If it’s something a little different you desire, the Crescent Farm duck wings at American Beech will not disappoint.

But when I think of wings in Riverhead or Southold towns, there’s one place that leaps to mind as a true classic, a legendary haunt for fried chicken, and that’s Spicy’s BBQ in Riverhead. 

I was on my way to lunch at a different spot nearby the other day when I spotted Spicy’s out of the corner of my eye and immediately took a u-turn. Old faithful awaited and I couldn’t pass her by.

The magic in a Spicy’s chicken wing is in it’s simplicity. It’s a naked wing, fried to a golden-brown crisp and served with a side of the longtime restaurant’s sweet and spicy house sauce. A small order comes with 10 sizable wings for $9. You can add on to your order with a number of small sides all under $1.50 ( I went with corn bread and cole slaw.)

On the surface, it appears that whatever they’re doing at Spicy’s is repeatable, but somehow, in my estimation, other restaurants haven’t been able to match the texture of their wings. They’re perfectly salty and greasy,  but they somehow manage to not get overly soggy — even with takeout. (A couple years ago my folks began picking up Spicy’s wings and shrimp cocktails from nearby Buoy One to serve at their parties and it is a superior combo.)

Spicy’s established its first location under the name Spicy’s Birdland in Riverhead in 1978 before opening in Bellport nine years later.  According to a 2002 New York Times story, the 100-year-old Kullman diner car housing Spicy’s in Riverhead was previously used as a fruit stand, meat market and doughnut shop.

I’m glad that for the past 40-plus years they’ve been selling chicken instead. After all, it might be debatable who makes the best chicken wings on the North Fork, but there’s no denying that Spicy’s is a major part of that conversation and a true classic.