If FX’s Atlanta made you order J.R. Crickets’s Lemon Pepper Wet wings, you’re missing out on half the story

While the Midtown mainstay got the name recognition, American Deli was the inspiration. True fans will try both.
Lemon Pepper Wet from J.R. Crickets
Lemon Pepper Wet from J.R. Crickets (with blue cheese, of course)

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

Lemon pepper wet?!” Those three words ushered in one of the most beloved (and most quotable) moments of Atlanta’s first season. As rapper Paper Boi and his friend Darius gazed upon a custom order of chicken wings prepared by a fan, a golden glow radiating from the J.R. Crickets box, each and every Atlantan watching knew we had to have them. But had you actually walked into J.R. Crickets looking to have your own euphoric experience, you might have thought you’d need your own special hookup—“Lemon Pepper Wet” wasn’t actually listed on the menu.

Stephen Glover, screenwriter and brother to Atlanta’s star and creator, Donald Glover, co-wrote the scene and based it on a menu item at fellow Atlanta chicken wing mainstay American Deli. Glover explained to the AJC, “We just thought it would be funny to see somebody get hooked up at J.R. Crickets by getting that option that isn’t even really available.”

However, the morsels of chicken swimming in tangy buffalo sauce, mixed with lemony zest and bites of ground black pepper actually were on the J.R. Crickets menu—just not as “Lemon Pepper Wet.” They were called “Fester” wings, named by a J.R. Crickets cook who found the combination of buffalo sauce and lemon disgusting. “Fester” was added in the early 2000s, and many customers would order these wings as “Lemon Pepper Wet,” according to Nick Juliano, son of owner Paul Juliano. But after the Atlanta scene became a hit, Paul decided to officially rebrand the menu item to the more colloquial name.

While that would do it for any tourist who happens to be a fan of the show, locals will note a conundrum. If Glover, a Stone Mountain native, based the scene on the wings from American Deli, but ultimately chose the setting of J.R. Crickets, which wing will truly satiate that desire first awakened by that scene? The answer is both. To taste one without the other would be to only get half the story. J.R. Crickets bring the experience. American Deli provides perspective.

Lemon Pepper Wet from American Deli
Lemon Pepper Wet from American Deli

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

The wings are actually quite different from one another. In Atlanta, Lemon Pepper Wet wings are only described as having “the sauce on them.” American Deli’s sauce carries the lemon pepper flavor all throughout the wing or drumstick, making every bite a zesty one. A “wet” order simply dumps more lemony sauce on your chicken. J.R. Crickets’s version begin as normal buffalo wings, delicious in their own right, with a heavy shake of lemon pepper seasoning on top. The end result is a flavor that favors buffalo more than citrus. It was good, but American Deli gets the point for sauce. As for the chicken itself, the meat at J.R. Crickets was juicier and fried to perfection. American Deli cooked a mean wing, but head to head, it fell short.

Splitting a 10-pack from each restaurant with a friend will ultimately give you the best look into the creative process that birthed this golden, glowing pop culture phenomena. Just don’t forget to order the blue cheese on the side. Afterward, as your food coma lulls you to sleep, rest well knowing that you, too, are special enough to get your wings “off-menu.” Lemon. Pepper. Wet.

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