The Wings of Angels
3758 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
There can, will, and should be arguments about what "best" means when applied to just about anything in the gastronomic universe: pancakes, tempura, flan, ballpark franks—you name it. So when I write that "Chelly's Cafe at 38th and Nicollet makes the best fried chicken wings in Minneapolis," you're entitled to take the proposition with a grain of salt, and dispute it—after trying the wings, of course.
Even if you disagree with the statement, it's unlikely that you'll be too unhappy about the experience. Chelly's wings ($8.25 for a four-wing dinner with sides) are fried golden with a cornmeal breading that isn't particularly heavy. It's not particularly greasy, either, which is something of a shock—the wings look as though they should each weigh about a pound and half, but they're unmasked as being remarkably light once you start crunching that subtly garlic-kissed breading in your mouth. The meat is succulent and high quality—there's a lot of it, and the proportion of meat to moisture to breading is wonderfully balanced. It's nothing short of a miracle with bones.
There's little on Chelly's menu that isn't a direct assault on the coronary artery, but if you're going to eat something fried and thereby speed your way to the grave, this is a fine place for the undertaking. A fried catfish dinner ($9.25) is another home run, sporting the same inspired breading and frying technique used on the wings, and with an equally deft sense of balance. You get a mouthful of tender, mild, thoroughly cooked fish with each forkful, complemented by just enough breading to keep things interesting.
It seems almost like overkill to say that the sweet potato pie ($2.50) may be the best not only in the Twin Cities but within the known universe, but here it goes: Yes, it is. Surprisingly soft without being whipped or otherwise degraded, the pie has an almost pumpkin-pie-like spice mix going on, at precisely the right volume and balance; you can taste the flavor, but it doesn't overwhelm you. Each bite is a piece of lip-smacking, silken, sweet potato heaven.
Chelly's has been open for only six months, but clearly the cook means business, and the food deserves respect. Like all good fried grub, Chelly's offerings degrade pretty quickly when stuffed into Styrofoam containers, where they marinate in their own heat and humidity. Wings gobbled down greedily in the car, for example, will be somewhat better than damper, cooler ones eaten at home. Better still, stop by and grab a booth—they're open every day but Monday, and they serve a classic American diner-style breakfast Tuesday through Saturday. The staff is friendly, the decor is minimal, and the simple, soulful offerings will treat you right.
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