What's Good Here: Desperado times, Desperado measures 

Appetizers are my lifeblood. When I go out to eat, I often construct entire meals out of apps, opting out of burgers or pasta in lieu of mozzarella sticks and an onion ring tower. The appetizer designation implies that these are little more than glorified snacks, but in practice, I'd argue, appetizers are among humanity's greatest culinary achievements. The circumstances under which one eats them—ravenously hungry, awaiting the main course—perhaps contribute to the regard in which I hold them. All I know for sure is that by the time my actual meal has arrived, my hunger has more often than not been sated.

Plenty of appetizers—think jalapeno poppers and li'l smokies—make my mouth water just imagining them, but the most tantalizing of all apps are chicken wings. The ideal snack-turned-meal, wings are at once versatile and almost irreducibly simple. The base is the same—fried chicken—but wings can be rendered into dozens of different styles with the addition of a variety of sauces. They're bite-sized, require no utensils and, best of all, it's fairly difficult for a competent kitchen to screw them up.

And one Missoula eatery far exceeds the median. Desperado Sports Tavern, located at 3101 South Russell Street, serves up some of the most delicious wings I've had the pleasure of enjoying in Montana. With plenty of beer and wine choices and a rustic, athletic-centric decor, it's exactly the kind of place where you'd want to spend an afternoon watching SportsCenter.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PARKER SEIBOLD
  • photo by Parker Seibold

If you've lived in Missoula for more than six months, you probably already knew this. Desperado is known far and wide for the quality of its poultry, and has the distinction of winning the Indy's "Best Wings" award roughly a gazillion times. But for years after moving here, I was completely unaware of its existence until one night, starving at home with less than $50 in my checking account, I discovered the wings I craved were less than five minutes from my house. I placed a pick-up order and waited impatiently.

The wait was worth it. Desperado wings have all the winning attributes: They're fried to a delectable crisp, dressed without excessive sauce, and have an excellent meat-to-bone ratio. I'm particularly partial to the Desperado's barbecue sauce (mild, with just the slightest tang), but the tavern's crowning achievement is the "sissy sauce," a toned-down take on the also-delicious—but hot!hot sauce. The sissy sauce packs all the flavor of the best traditional hot wing sauce without the overwhelming heat that makes people like me stick their tongues under running faucets. And price-wise, you're looking at $13 for a plate that will fill you up until midday tomorrow.

Some of us go to restaurants in search of a refined dining experience. Others relish getting our hands dirty, and have little patience for conventional wisdom regarding what constitutes "dinner." For us, Desperado's wings couldn't be a better fit.

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