Tom Douglas, co-owner of Chez Porky's, ate his first chicken wings in his mother's kitchen. She was Italian, originally from Naples, and Douglas remembers loving the wings she made with fresh lemon and garlic.
"We used to eat them up like candy," he says.
At his first restaurant in Kingston, N.Y., Douglas gave free wings to anyone in the bar. "The butcher would give me 20 pounds for free to use in stock," he says. "I'd use some for stock and give away the rest."
All that preceded the chicken wing craze of the past three decades.
But when Douglas opened Chez Porky's 28 years ago, wings were among the first items on his menu. Now, he serves 10 different varieties, with the top four being raspberry, lemon, Asian and Louisiana ($9.95-$10.95 for 10 pieces/$13.95-$14.95 for 16 pieces). They're perfectly crispy, and judging from the plates I saw coming from the kitchen, most folks order them with white rice ($2.45 for a small order/$4.95 for a large). That's because every flavor — Jamaican jerk, barbecue, Buffalo-garlic, salt-pepper-vinegar — comes with plenty of house-made sauce.
If you've lived in South Florida for any length of time, you already know that Chez Porky's is famous for its wings. But Douglas says only one quarter of all guests order them. The rest choose from what may be the biggest menu in town. Douglas figures there are more than 60 items. Along with wings, the menu devotes sections to barbecue, chicken, seafood, steaks and sandwiches. A menu board lists daily specials, and a different menu is available at lunchtime.
Much of the menu has a New Orleans bent, with Cajun mussels ($15.25), Bourbon Street New York strip ($19.95) and blackened chicken ($15.25). But there also several Italian dishes, including chicken parmigiana ($14.25) and shrimp piccata ($18.25).
Douglas calls it a "hodgepodge of Americana."
Meals here are a bargain, since most dinners are served with a simple green salad with house-made dressings. Barbecue dishes also come with two sides. I had very good collard greens and excellent Louisiana rice and beans. Mashed potatoes, rice, baked beans, applesauce and corn are also available.
Caribbean coconut soup ($6.95) is hearty enough for an entree. But the kitchen also prepares a bacon-wrapped shrimp appetizer called Shrimp-on-a-Stick ($7.95), which can be ordered blackened, barbecue or steamed with Cajun-spiced butter. It's salty, but good.
I had the barbecue rib and chicken combo ($16.25), which can be ordered mild, medium or hot. It's great to be asked if you want dark or light chicken. The chicken and ribs were dark brown from the sauce but not overcooked. It was served on a pig-shaped plate.
The big bargain on the menu may be the 12-ounce New York strip steak ($19.95), blackened or char-gilled, which can also be ordered marinated in bourbon-rosemary teriyaki. I'm not sure where else you can eat salad, steak, vegetables, mashed potatoes and rice for this price.
Chez Porky's 70-seat dining room is as comfortable as a neighborhood diner. Mardi Gras posters hang on the paneled walls, and three flat-screen TVs are always on. Many of the tables are of the fold-up banquet variety and covered in oil cloth. The team of friendly waitresses wear shorts and T-shirts. They are some of the most-efficient servers I've met in years.
It's hard to believe that Douglas once had three other locations in Wellington, Coral Springs and Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Now, all are closed, and he has no intention of opening more.
"At 63," he says, "the only thing I'm looking at is my Social Security."
105 S. Sixth St., Pompano Beach
Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Reservations: Only for six or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot