Jack Rose Dining Saloon and Smoke & Barrel, two Adams Morgan restaurants, have launched ghost restaurants specializing in wings in recent weeks. Since the start of the pandemic, restaurants have experimented with selling crowd-pleasing dishes that stand apart from their standard menus to capture new customers. First it was cheesesteaks, and now it’s another game-day staple.
For Smoke & Barrel, District Wings is both a survival strategy and something owner John Andrade says he’s had in his back pocket for a couple of years. “The time was never right,” he says. “The urgency wasn’t so urgent. Then this happened.”
Andrade owns Smoke & Barrel and Brookland Pint in the District and Meridian Pint in Arlington. He says sales have been hovering around 40 percent of pre-pandemic levels. “It’s so terribly unfortunate,” he says. “Now with patios closing, I think it’s going to get pretty dire. We need everything we can get right now.”
District Wings has only been operating for a couple of weeks, but it’s already gaining a loyal following and boosting revenue. “The virtual menu concept is such a brilliant endeavor in general for an existing restaurant,” Andrade says. “I don’t need to make rent off of the wings, I just need to have a little extra so we can make it through these extremely challenging times. For someone like myself, $1,000 to $2,000 bucks in overall investment makes it very easy and palatable.”
Andrade attributes the success of his ghost restaurant to the “near scientific approach” Chef Dan Minsker takes when making wings. “When he started doing all of the test drives, I fully understood,” Andrade says. “Wow, this is even better than I could have hoped!”
The menu includes traditional chicken wings, boneless chicken wings, and vegan chicken wings made out of soy protein that can be slathered with 13 sauces including sweet chili, Old Bay, and Caribbean jerk. If heat is a draw, there are five levels of fire starting at one-alarm (mild) and escalating to five-alarm (do I really want to finish this?). They’re sold in increments of five ($6.99), 10, 15, 20, 30, 50, or 100 wings ($100.99). Orders come with carrots and celery, and customers can tack on sides like fries, onion rings, cheese curds, and chips and queso.
He was skeptical at first, but Andrade says Minsker’s queso wings are a must order. “I imagined taking a chicken wing and dipping it into a big nacho cheese can at 7-Eleven,” Andrade says. “[Minsker] was like, ‘Trust me—they’re really good.’ It’s a very light glazing of our queso.”
If customers aren’t in the Smoke & Barrel delivery zone, District Wings also operates out of Brookland Pint. So far the restaurants have been handling deliveries themselves after receiving orders via ChowNow, but Andrade says they’ll soon appear on Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub. District Wings is open daily from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Andrade adds that the profit margin on wings is advantageous, especially if customers order 50 or 100 at a time. He noticed that Jack Rose up the street just debuted a wing ghost restaurant as well. “They’re going a different route,” he says. “A bit more plush if you will. I watch Shark Tank a lot.”
“These are not going to be your college bar dollar wings, but they are really good and worth the price,” says Jack Rose Dining Saloon General Manager Brittney Roberson. She was instrumental in working with Chef Russell Jones in introducing the Jack Rose Wing Club on Nov. 11.
“We, like most restaurants in the city, did delivery early on [in the pandemic] through the third-party apps and didn’t find great success with it,” she explains. “I think it just comes down to the fact that certain foods travel better than others via delivery and there are certain things you want at home … You’re looking for something comforting that you can’t make yourself.”
The whiskey bar has always served bourbon-glazed wings with honey, habanero, and apricot relish, but its new ghost restaurant serves six other flavors. Fried wings come coated in a Cajun dry rub, a Korean-inspired sauce made with gojuchang, and classic Buffalo. Grilled wings are dressed with harissa and herbed feta, Carolina barbecue sauce, or a Thai peanut sauce. They’re sold by the half ($12) or full dozen ($24).
Jack Rose Wing Club sold out the first two nights and orders have been streaming in ever since. “We’ve gone through as many wings as we usually go through in a month,” Roberson says. The Carolina barbecue sauce grilled wings are the most popular. “Russell is from South Carolina. He’s always going to make sure anything associated with Carolina is super well represented,” Roberson says.
Pair the wings with a South Carolina-inspired snack called “raw fries.” They’re shaped like chips and land somewhere between crispy and chewy. Roberson digs them. “They’re a messy, delicious concoction,” he says.
Order from the Jack Rose Wing Club Wednesdays through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. Delivery is available on Caviar and DoorDash or for pick-up on Tock.