Cleveland's "Wing King" Dishes on Town's Best Fried Flappers

By day, 38-year-old Grady Willrich is a mild mannered barber. But by night, he's a rabidly obsessed chicken wing fanatic with an insatiable appetite for the fried flappers. In fact, around most parts he's known simply as the Wing King.

"I actually have Buffalo sauce coursing through my veins," says Willrich. His obsession can be traced all the way back to his senior year at Euclid High School, when he enjoyed his first whole-wing experience. "My brother Bob got me hooked on whole wings at the (now-defunct) Tap House in Euclid,” he says. "Hooked" is the right word when you consider the fact that he returned to the restaurant five times a week for his fix.

Willrich spent 20 long years trying to duplicate those early experiences. "I still chase the high Tap House wings gave me to this day," he says. "Luckily for me, the owner of Tap House now has Paradise Lounge in Euclid and has the same dry rub, but not the whole wings."

Throughout his decades long quest for the perfect wing, Willrich has developed into this region's preeminent source for wings. "In my early 20s, my brother and I started doing wing road trips," says the surprisingly fit Willrich. "Our first one was to Sharon, PA, to the original Quaker Steak & Lube."

Lucky for us, this wing nut is more than eager to spill the blue cheese on some of his favorite haunts. "I love Skinny's Bar & Grill in Euclid. Their dry-rub ranch with a side of hot sauce and ranch are amazing. I'm also a fan of the wings at Merry Arts in Lakewood. Their dry Caribbean rub is so good. I've recently been digging on Sachsenheim Hall in Cleveland and The Wright Place in Willoughby Hills." He also give props to Fat Heads Brewery and Saloon, whose smoked wings as some of the best he's ever tried.

While Willrich's compulsive chicken affliction is more than enough to earn him the title of "Wing King, his fixation goes well beyond the basket. This guy actually formed a chicken wing-themed band called The Wingtones.

"During every practice the conversation would sway from riff ideas to 'where we goin' for wings after this?'" explains Willrich. "Hence the Wingtones were born!"

Willrich is the lead singer and bassist of the four member band, which plays music that can only be described as Hawaii Five-0 meets Pulp Fiction. With songs like Wing Lizard and Invasion of the Poultry Snatchers, the Wingtones have even managed to cultivate a crop of groupies. "Yes, they are called the Wingettes," boasts the King. "The Wingettes are a great buncha gals. They have been a huge part of the band and are crucial to our stage show. They enjoy wings and surf rock, and dancing in tribute to both."

And what is a Wing King without a chicken wing-shaped bass guitar? "Brandon, our rhythm guitarist, is an art school graduate. He made my bass to look like a chicken drumstick to curb my appetite and keep me focused on the job at hand."

What with all the Wingtones gigs and endless wing joint visits, does this King have room in his life for a Queen?

"I'm currently engaged to be married to the best girl in the world, Sarah Jenkins, in April of 2014," he announces. "My fiancé told me the catering company had never heard of someone wanting wings at their wedding. My answer was simple: No wings? No wedding."

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Jason Beudert

Jason Beudert has had a dynamic career as a leader with The Walt Disney Company, ESPNZone, The Cleveland Indians, and as a restaurant entrepreneur. He is utilizing his twenty years of hospitality experience along with his love for the Cleveland food scene to contribute exciting and insightful food pieces for Scene...
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