Think there aren't any restaurants open late in L.A.? Residents who work late beg to differ. Jimmy Pardo took us to his regular post-set spot -- though he doesn't go as often as he used to...
The long nights of hard living that come with being a young comedian trying to make his bones lends itself to, perhaps, not the most exquisite or healthy cuisine. It's late night burritos at taco trucks and hot wings at places like, well, the Hot Wings Cafe on Melrose. Your normal, casual, no-frills, brightly-lit, televised-sports-in-every-direction wings place, this was one of the regular late-night haunts for comedian Jimmy Pardo a few years back. While the stability that comes with a family and regular gig - nightly opener for "Conan" and host of the podcast Never Not Funny, who are putting on their third annual 12-hour fundraising marathon on the day after Thanksgiving, for Smile Train - has cut into the frequency of his wing binges, I got him to accompany me there after a UCB set to relive old times, talk about what makes the perfect wing, and burn his mouth to a cinder. But in a good way.
Rick: So, this used to be one of your old hang outs. Why here?
Jimmy: [Comedian] Mike Schmidt and I would come here after sets at The Improv because it was open late. It was like our Broadway Danny Rose. We knew this place was open so we'd come here instead of Denny's or Mel's Diner. And nine times out of ten we'd stay here until they told us to leave. We'd just come here, eat, sit, talk shop for hours. Oh, and talk about fantasy baseball.
Rick: Oh yeah?
Jimmy: We even tried to do a draft here once. We used to do it in my apartment, but at some point it was getting too big.
Rick: How far did that get into the planning process?
Jimmy: Not far. They wouldn't have had a phone for us to talk with the guys in Chicago. Oh, and they wanted to be open for business and not have seven guys take up their entire restaurant.
Rick: What's the normal crowd like?
Jimmy: You know, we're here on the early side of late night. But you never really knew if it was going to be a family of Mormons or gunplay. You didn't really know what was happening. You look around today, and it's just normal people coming out for food. But sure, there used to be a little danger element to it.
Rick: At night around here, there is this weird danger element.
Jimmy: Sure, but if you go two blocks that way there's movie stars and mansions. And of course you always have to deal with that line at Pink's. You don't know who's hanging out over there.
Rick: Coming from Chicago, how do you think these wings stack up?
Jimmy: They're good ... um, but is Chicago known for wings?
Rick: I didn't think so, but on a Yelp review for this place some guy said, "I'm from Chicago and I know wings."
Rick: "And ... this place is alright."
Jimmy: Well, I wrote that review. Actually I like BW3, the chain. The best wings I ever had, oddly enough, was in Chicago. A sports bar called Champs down in Orland Park.
Rick: I've been there. I never had the wings though.
Jimmy: They were phenomenal. Actually, they may have been the first wings I had. And then after that I was on a hot wings kick. I was getting drunk and wanted them every chance I got. "We're going for wings, right guys?"
Rick: What makes a good wing?
Jimmy: My dad describes a good wing as one that just kind of disintegrates in your stomach. It's so hot and spicy that your body doesn't know what to do with it so your body just destroys it. And that's the perfect way to put it. You can tolerate eating it, but then two seconds later it's burning your mouth to a cinder. But then you enjoy it. I'm not making sense, but ...
Rick: There's a pain and pleasure thing.
Jimmy: Yeah, pain and pleasure. Divinyls. They had a song about it. Also what makes a good wing is a decent quality chicken. It's not mall chicken, where it's rubbery and gross.
Rick: I've been playing in this softball league and we go out for wings after the game in North Hollywood, and it's not nearly as good as this. The batter around it gets so hard that it's tough to get to it. There's like an armor around it.
Jimmy: Where do you go?
Rick: We go to ... some local place, I can't remember the name.
Jimmy: Is it Champs? On Burbank Boulevard?
Rick: Not Champs. It's more west, like Van Ness.
Jimmy: Oh, Champs on Burbank Boulevard! I'm the guy who refuses to listen.
Jimmy: My wife and I stopped in one night a few years ago, and it was one of those deals where it was late I just had to have some wings. She's a vegetarian, so she had a grilled cheese or a tuna melt just so I could have this nonsense.
Rick: How do you talk a vegetarian into coming to a place called the Hot Wings Cafe?
Jimmy: "Hey, maybe they'll have something for you? Please come with me, I want hot wings?" Honest to God, I was obsessed. And here in LA, there's not a lot of great hot wings places.
Rick: Seems like I'm getting a lot messier than you.
Jimmy: Well, you got barbeque.
Rick: Is that it?
Jimmy: And I'm a gentlemen.
Rick: Is there a good way to eat wings?
Jimmy: Good question, Reporter Rick. I don't think there is, I think you just have to ... don't you just love the guy who talks about this realistically? "You know what, you just have to dig in? You have to not worry about it getting on your hands! You have your wipes there off to the side, so just go for it!"
Rick: It's like a sports radio call-in guy.
Jimmy: [in thick Chicago accent] "Yeah, we go to Champs, Johnny. They got the best wings der."
Rick: So how did those stack up to the old era?
Jimmy: It was delicious. Did you enjoy yours?
Rick: It was great. The Barbeque was good. Nice and mild. It didn't affect my taste buds too much so I could actually eat something else in the next 12 hours if I wanted.
Jimmy: My mouth is burning to a cinder. I'm glad I didn't go with the Extra Hot.
Rick: Why haven't you had wings in the past however-long?
Jimmy: I went on a diet.
Rick: This can't be good for that.
Jimmy: No. But, you know, everything in moderation. I just can't do that. I'm amazed I got the eight-piece today. I would've gotten the 16, or two different small ones to get two different flavors. But that's ridiculous. Eight is plenty. But, you know, when you're here, and it's late, and maybe you're a little tipsy and here for the long haul until they close ... it's like having a stack of peanuts in front of you. Except they're hot wings. Burning your mouth to a cinder.
Rick: And it takes a little more concentration to eat hot wings.
Jimmy: Just a tad.
Hot Wings Cafe
7011 Melrose Ave, 323-930-1233
[Photos by Eric Spiegelman]
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