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Spotlight on Wangs: Brooklyn Soul Food with an Asian Twist



From a cute walk-up window with bright red shutters in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, soul food gets an Asian spin at Wangs, a casual counter-service joint serving Korean-style wings, fried chicken, and southern-fried favorites.

Growing up in Southern California among a family of avid home cooks, Wangs’ Executive Chef and Owner, Sara Nguyen, had a passion for creative cuisine from an early age. Moving to New York City after high school, Nguyen attended the Institute of Culinary Education and trained under world-renowned chefs like Thomas Keller at Per Se, a three-Michelin-starred New York interpretation of The French Laundry.


After appearing on the popular television show, Top Chef, in 2007, Nguyen worked alongside fellow Top Chef star, Chef Dale Levitski, at Sprout, an acclaimed Chicago favorite.



But NYC was where the young chef’s heart remained and she eventually returned to the Big Apple. In 2014, the California-native-turned-New-Yorker, opened Wangs, Nguyen’s first independent venture, where she came up with an inventive way to serve up succulent Southern Fried Chicken with the flavors of her Vietnamese heritage.


Bringing an Asian spin on chicken to Park Slope’s Union Street, this off-the-radar joint dispenses “Wang’s Wings” from a takeout window flanked by a few outdoor picnic tables and a modest counter. Customers come from all over the city for the restaurant’s signature dishes, generously-sized Korean-inspired wings and juicy fried chicken that can be eaten straight-up or tucked inside a fresh baguette, bánh mì style.



The southern-meets-Asian flavor theme extends to the side dishes as well with black sesame seeds topping the red bliss potato salad, Chinese sausage flavoring the collard greens, sesame aïoli elevating the corn-on-the-cob, an out-of-this-world corn bread served with salted scallion butter, fries with sesame aioli, and macaroni and cheese with gochugaru bread crumbs.



TOP FIVE MENU ITEMS

  1. Wangs: Fried Korean-style jumbo whole wings

  2. Popcorn Chicken: Marinated in buttermilk and black pepper

  3. Fried Chicken: Southern-style marinated in southeast Asian spices

  4. Fried Chicken Sandwich: Served Vietnamese style

  5. Fried Chicken Salad: Popcorn chicken, watercress, and fresh herbs.


Locally-sourced chicken, brined for 24 hours, Wang’s juicy, succulent, and well-seasoned fresh poultry fare is prepared and served up from a kitchen about the size of a large closet. But the tiny space offers huge flavor, with Nguyen keeping the focus on sourcing quality ingredients and earth-friendly packaging, and always providing fast and friendly service.


Wang’s signature Korean-style fried chicken wings, available “hot” and “not-so-hot,” are crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, drenched in a special sauce, and sprinkled with black beans, green onions, and slices of red chili peppers—a combination that’s both mouthwatering and addictive.



When asked how she navigates her way through challenging times with soaring food prices, a tough labor market, and a multitude of unusual situations, Nguyen was quick to report, “We were lucky to have actually thrived (in 2020) because we were one of the few restaurants in the neighborhood that stayed open right from the beginning.”


“It was great because people who never heard of us before were getting to know our food,” she added, “and most of those customers are still regulars today.”


When it comes to putting in the work, this executive chef’s job description extends far beyond the kitchen. When asked what her “secret sauce” to her success is, she offered, “I work 12-15 hours some days and I never ask my staff to do anything I wouldn’t or don’t do." From cleaning the bathrooms to taking out the trash, "I think it’s important to show your employees that you’re not afraid to work as hard as you ask them to work.”



With the regular football season kicking off this weekend, the chef is rolling up her sleeves getting ready for her busiest time of the year.


“We do a lot of business in the spring and summer with take-out. People love to come grab some wings and go sit in the park. But the football season is our busiest time of the year.”


Customers can’t seem to get enough of Wangs’ crispy double fried Korean-style whole wings with Vietnamese style hot sauce and banging cole slaw, perfect for the Sunday football games. Just be sure to pre-order early as they sell out quickly!


A neighborhood gem, guests are welcome to bring their pups with them to this dog-friendly hangout.



Offering take-out, delivery, and a few outdoor picnic benches (that get pretty crowded on summer weekend,) it’s the type of fast food every neighborhood needs.


Looking to the future, she hopes to eventually open a full-service restaurant with a large kitchen that will act as a hub for kiosks all around the city.


“It would give me a chance to get creative with a wider variety of dishes.”


Marketing for Wangs is all grass roots, promoted on social media (@WangsBK,) by local influencers, and through word-of-mouth from the community.


A tongue-in-cheek play on words, Wangs gives Wings a whole new meaning---served fresh and delicious every day---with a touch of humor on the side.



WANGS

671 Union Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY

718.636.6390

info@wangsbk.com



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By Eileen Strauss



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