Wing and a Prayer

Hit by the shortage? We have substitutes

By Jenny Elig
As if the past two years hadn’t yielded enough turmoil, 2021 has found us in the middle of a chicken wing shortage. To be fair, it’s kind of an everything shortage, with kinks in the supply chain and demand outstripping what suppliers can provide.

“[Suppliers] can’t keep up. I’m sure it’s all because packaging facilities can’t keep up,” says Shale Creek Brewing owner and brewer Mike Baker.

And while the shortage may not have hit us immediately, we’re now in peak social snacking season.

Now, don’t get it clucked up: If these restaurants typically have chicken wings on the menu, they are still serving chicken wings. But if you want to try an alternative, you’ll find enough snackable, saucy substitutes to keep you sated on the southside.  Here, a few examples.

Breaded Cauliflower with Buffalo Sauce, Arni’s, 1691 Curry Road, Greenwood. (317) 881-0500,

Maybe you were never one for meat on the bone. Maybe you want a meat alternative. Maybe you’re not a fan of chicken. These are all good reasons to try the breaded cauliflower at Arni’s.

It doesn’t hurt that these bite-size pieces, which have been on the menu for a couple of years, have a big crunch appeal.

“They taste good, and they work with virtually any sauce or seasoning,” says Arni’s owner Kurt Cohen. “They’ve got a nice crunch. They’re a little lighter. They’re vegetarian friendly. There’s a perception that they’re a little healthier, although breaded and fried items are not healthy.”

Breaded and fried and tossed in a hearty selection of sauces ― barbecue, Korean barbecue, Jamaican jerk, sesame teriyaki and a spicy dry rub ― these cauliflower “wings” are served with ranch or blue cheese dressings to offset the sauce’s heat.

“They’re amazing, really,” Cohen says.

Try them with a cold beer. Cohen suggests a brew from Quaff On if you want to keep it extra local.

Authentic Belgian-style Frites, Taxman Brewing, 13 S. Baldwin St., Bargersville, (317) 458-0210,

At Taxman Brewing, most gastronomic matters bear a Belgian influence, from owners Nathan and Leah Huelsebusch’s time living abroad. Appetizers are no exception; here, they are social. They “are something you can come together with your friends and share,” Leah says. “Especially if you come in super hungry.”

The Huelsebusches found that chicken wings were coming in inconsistently sized, so much so that they made the tough decision to pull wings from their menus. But that’s OK, Leah says. The thing that makes the item special isn’t the wing itself. “It’s the sauce that it’s in,” she says. “I think that’s why our frites would make a good substitute because, like a wing, they are a vessel for the sauce.” Plentiful during their time in Belgium, the frites are a standard at Taxman. These sturdy, hearty frites are blanched the day before, then rest overnight in the cooler. They’re fried, then fried again, both times in pork fat. This process allows the oil to absorb into the potato while also crisping the outside. These potato beauties are served with your choice of one, two or a multitude of seasonal sauces. Pick from garlic aioli, mild or spicy fancy, curry ketchup, Qualified mustard, mild or spicy barbecue or Frisco sauce. The sauce you choose, such as the Qualified mustard, might be infused with one of Taxman’s brews.

Speaking of beers, you have a wide array of options at Taxman. This season, try pairing your frites with the Tax Holiday Belgian Strong Ale.

Jalapeno stuffed onion rings at Shale Creek, 178 W. Jefferson St., Franklin, (317) 868-2200,

Shale Creek owner and brewer Mike Baker loves chicken wings. “I’m a wing guy and have been for many, many years,” Baker says. “I think they just go great with beer.”

So, who better to suggest a wing alternative than a true aficionado? Although chicken wings and boneless chicken wings (more on those later) are still on the menu at Shale Creek, Baker suggests the jalapeno stuffed onion rings.

Picture this: a slice of onion, filled with cream cheese, regular cheese and jalapeno, then hand-battered and fried. Served with ranch or bistro sauce, these rich treats are a wintry indulgence well met with a pale ale, e.g., the Shale Pale Ale or Without a Paddle India Pale Ale.

But perhaps you want to stick with the bird. We get it. Shale Creek’s boneless wings might tick the box.

“For our boneless wings, we use a really juicy thigh that’s house smoked and hand-breaded,” Baker says. Order breaded or naked, with your choice of nine different sauces, most of which are house made. Pair them with the above options, or the Downtown Cocoa Brown, Creekside Cream Ale or German Hefeweizen.

And as always in times of turmoil, Baker knows that community patronage is key.

“Hang with us. We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get back to normal,” he says. “Even today, my thighs and wings were both out of stock. But typically, by the time my order ships, they’re back in stock. It’s out there. Most people are very understanding now.”

Buffalo Shrimp at The Willard, 99 N. Main St., Franklin. (317) 738-9991,

At Franklin’s historic The Willard, “appetizers are an opportunity to share,” says owner Tony Priola. The holidays are bustling at The Willard, and fortunately for Priola, the chicken wing shortage hasn’t been an issue. But when looking for a prelude for your ribeye sandwich, pizza or award-winning breaded tenderloin, maybe you’re winged out and want to try something new. You have choices. “Our menu is pretty large and has lots of options for many different taste buds,” Priola says. Served in mild, hot, extra hot, teriyaki, sweet chili sauce or garlic Parmesan, the buffalo shrimp caught our eye.

If you opt for a spicier sauce ― and some people do ask for the extra hot, Priola notes ― pair it with a pilsner. “It’s a light drink, one of those easy-to-drink beers,” he says. “I personally wouldn’t want a dark heavy beer with a hot sauce type of flavor.”