"When I was first looking for a location, I didn't even want a place with a kitchen." It's not what you expect to hear from the owner of a bar which has become more famous for food than its drinks. When Bronx-native Jay Carlucci bought the Dew Drop Inn in 2006, "I just wanted a neighborhood bar, I wasn't even looking north of White Plains." One major reinvention and many smaller renovations later, the Dew Drop is a linchpin of both the restaurant and social scenes in Derby, and a regular top three finisher in every list of the best wing spots in Connecticut.
"It was rough then, but it was definitely a local hangout, a neighborhood bar." His vision was to take the concept and make it better. Within the first few months every light beer was taken off the menu, and Carlucci heard about it: 'You're crazy, you didn't make money in the valley selling new beers.'
"In 2008 I burned all the menus, all of them. I hated what we were serving."Carlucci started serving food ad hoc as he devised the new menu. "People would come in and I'd ask them what they wanted. If I had it, I'd go back into the kitchen and make them, one by one."
Around this time a representative from foreign beer importer B. United of Oxford dropped by. A craft list which had formerly mostly been larger craft domestics like Hooker, Blue Point, and Sam Adams grew to include top flight exotics from Belgium, Italy, and Japan. Against the predictions, valley residents kept showing up, and in larger numbers.
The Dew Drop's current form is the cumulative result of five renovations - one every year since 2012 - and it still retains the neighborhood feel. Motorcycles line up in front, cars quickly fill up the parking and overflow into a lot a few yards uphill on a street appropriately named Park. At peak hours you can wait an hour for a table or a spot at the bar, where twenty craft beers are on tap, and almost everyone is there for the wings.
Dew Drop's wing menu can be loosely grouped into four categories: dry, wet, loaded, and dessert. Yes, there are dessert wings, yes, you should try them.
I always like to establish a baseline, so I started with the Naked wings. These are unsauced, unseasoned, and instructive as to what you can expect with the other varieties. The Naked wings are meaty and sizeable - the skin is uniformly crispy, with the fat rendered down and the meat staying juicy. They've obviously never been frozen, and come with the usual side of blue cheese and celery sticks.
Hot wings are the other obligatory yardstick, and Dew Drop's appear in an unexpectedly dry form. This isn't a dry rub, but a thinner sauce which delivers all the familiar Buffalo punch without the usual thick coat of opaque orange. The sauce sticks to the wings, but they look clean and stay crispy. Dew Drop's massive wing menu means you can have your order Hot, Honey Hot, Honey Hot BBQ, and other, more masochistic permutations. One of my favorite sauces is a lovable mutt of different styles called Cajun Taco Butter.
My eating companion, who shall go unnamed, chose the moment the first order arrived to tell me she doesn't eat wings. The Truffle Oil & Parm wings may have made her a convert. These are also of the drier variety, and arrive dusted in finely grated parmesan cheese. The pungent truffle oil works it magic on the chicken with the cheese as a counterpoint, and the crunchy skin adds both texture and flavor. Dew Drop also serves Truffalo wings, with truffle oil added to their Hot sauce.
The wetter wings come drenched in sauce. This is often a base sauce smothering the entire order, with a more artful drizzle of a secondary sauce to add both flavor and visual appeal. You're going to need a lot of napkins, and Dew Drop servers are generous with them.
Kickass Bayou wings are covered in a bright orange sauce flecked with spices, and are what you might call gumbo-spicy. They're less caliente than the Hot wings, and deliver a different experience in mode and flavor. I enjoyed these quite a bit.
The Jim Beam BBQ wings are both coated and drizzled with a smokey sweet sauce, the depth of which far outstrips what one usually expects with BBQ wings. General Tso's wings are coated in the universal take-out sauce. I wasn't blown away, but they are exactly what they say they are on the menu, and this unquestionably better quality chicken than you'll get at the local buffet.
Some of Dew Drop Inn's wing varieties are what I called "loaded." A plate or iron skillet shows up and your table, and grabbing a wing takes some excavation. Many of these come with bacon: cooked, chopped, and dropped on top with a heavy hand. I tried the Blue Cheesy Bacon wings, which were drizzled all over with the blue cheese dip usually served as a side. The heat from the freshly cooked wings melted the chunks of blue cheese and altered the sauce itself. The chicken, cheese, and smokey, salty bacon are an obvious winning combo, and Dew Drop almost inverts the process of eating them by serving their hot sauce on the side, since the regular blue cheese dip is already on the wings.
There is a Nacho variety, a Parm Butter Bacon Garlic, and one actually called Loaded, but I honestly don't know what's on that one because I missed it until I was reviewing the menu for this post.
Which brings us to dessert, in the form of Dew Drop's famous peanut butter and jelly wings. I was taken aback the first time I heard of these wings' existence, but I am here to tell you today it works. They're salty and sweet, and the peanut plays well with the chicken. That cup of white dipping sauce on the side? That's not ranch, it's marshmallow Fluff. It's weird and wrong, but you like it, like a pool jet on your bathing suit area.
This dish changes a man.
Not The Wings
"People are so focused on the wings, they can forget we have other food," said Carlucci. "But we have people who come just for the burgers, or for steak night." This last is every Thursday, when USDA Prime ribeyes are $5 off, and come with a salad and another side, like curly fries or onion rings.
The Avo Burger actually has "AVO" spelled out in mayo on the underside of its top bun. Jay made sure to point this out.
"He loves doing that," quipped a passing server.
The bun itself is toasted and had brushed butter baked into its shiny, golden top. The burger was a loosely ground medium rare, and tasted steak-y. It would have been good on its own, and was topped with bacon and the avocado which gave the preparation its name.
Groups or particularly dedicated single diners can order a small mountain of nachos which include the same cheese blend, plus diced tomatoes and lots of chopped red onion and cilantro, all topped with a large serving of bright, fresh guacamole. A few points: the guac was particularly good, and added more red onion and cilantro. The chips appeared to be grocery store Tostitos rounds (and it's up to you if that's a knock against them or not), but they held up well, and I didn't find any soggy ones. Mushy nachos ruin everything. My only problem with these were the jalapenos, which appeared to be canned or jarred and pre-diced. They tasted more like the fluid they were canned in than the peppers they were. This was a major drag on the flavor every time you got a few on a chip, and the entire dish could be hugely improved by ejecting them into space and replacing them with fresh chopped jalapenos.
In several visits, I've never been to the Dew Drop without seeing at least one order of their tots on the bar or a tabletop, with hands darting in from different directions like the precision movements of robots on an assembly line. Loaded Tots are sent from the kitchen baked in a pile on a skillet, covered with the cheese blend and a great deal of chopped bacon. They're a powerful snack accompaniment to a session at the bar, and come with a side of ranch dip for extra effect. Pair this with a few high gravity beers and bid an enthusiastic aloha to cheat day. It's not like you're here for the health food.