The Legend of “Dirt”
The history of chicken wings in Connecticut really began to take foot in the early 1990’s. While buffalo wings were actually invented in 1964 just one state over, they really didn’t become a sought-after menu item until about a decade after Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings began franchising in the 80’s.
In 1991, Tom Kennedy of TK’s American Cafe in Danbury was perhaps the first to make wings the headline item on his menu (with multiple flavors), it was also around that time that J.Timothy’s in Plainville carved out its own piece of CT wing history by inventing the “Dirt Style” wing.
While J.Timothy’s only serves five flavors of wings to this day, the restaurant sells more chicken wings than any other in the state and thanks in great part to “The Legend of Dirt.”
Back in 1990, J.Tim’s ran “Bucket of Wings” night’s on Wednesdays and sold roughly 20-25 orders of five-pound buckets of buffalo wings per week, along with Rolling Rock ponies. It caught on as a Wednesday night thing. After about a year, they were selling nearly 100 buckets on Wednesdays. And then the “Dirt” wing was born and everything took off.
J.Tim’s (as it’s called by Wingaddicts nationwide) was already serving wings as an appetizer on its vast menu, when the boys from the restaurant’s softball team (in the Plainville town league) began hanging out at the bar after games. The team was made up primarily of 21-25 year olds, most of whom worked at J.Timothy’s. Barry, the pitcher, was the oldest of the group at around 35 years old and the rest of the players affectionately nicknamed him “Dirt.”
Indoor smoking had been recently banned, and Barry (Dirt) would have to go outside to smoke his cigarettes in between his conversations. Word has it, Dirt was also quite a talker. While outside, Dirt’s wings would get cold. He’d always ask, “can you go throw them back in and get them hot for me again?”
They’d throw them back into the fryer, sauce them up again, and say “Give Dirt his wings back.”
Soon, the others were saying:
“I want wings like Dirt.”
“I want my wings like Dirt.”
“Can I get my wings like Dirt?”
At first, because they knew him, they’d just throw them back in the fryer, but as Dirt Wings became a thing it became an actual “cooking process.” No longer is it just fry, sauce, fry and sauce again. Not only would that be extremely expensive as far as the amount of oil a restaurant would use, it would also damage the fryers.
People want to do it that way, well good luck,” quipped Rino Oulette, J.Tim’s beverage manager who was there when it all began 31 years ago. “It’s a lot more complicated than that now.”
* We know, but will not reveal their secrets. Wink.
Management recently discovered some notes from an early 1990’s meeting when the restaurant was considering discontinuing the Dirt Wings. People were ordering Dirt Wings like crazy, but they were far more labor-intensive, took longer to prepare, and were a lot more expensive to make. Somewhere along the way, call it fate if you will, the plans to stop Dirt Wings ended.
Today, J.Timothy’s sells roughly 400 tons of wings each year, 75% of those are buffalo dirt style wings, and a full 90% or roughly 720,000 pounds are “Dirt Style” chicken wings.
You can find “Dirt Style” or “Dirt Wings” on menus all over the world, as restaurants are trying to duplicate the meteoric success of J.Timothy’s. There’s actually a restaurant chain in London called “Dirty Wild Wings.”
But the true Wingaddicts know the truth. Dirt wings aren’t named after dirt. They’re not named because of their color or appearance. They’re not named after their cooking technique. It’s not a special rub. No, the famous Dirt Wing from J.Timothy’s, which as sold in the tens of millions, is named after the pitcher on the softball team, Barry. Because (at 35) he was as old as dirt.
Necessity is the mother of invention.