Chef Joe Trez is not the man you expect to see walking out of the kitchen with a tray of chicken wings and hot sauce.
Tall and thin, wearing a tidy Wing Man apron and faded jeans, he personally delivers trays of crispy French fries covered in aioli and Parmesan cheese, ribs and delicately fried chicken wings to rustic farm tables at his new Cotati restaurant.
But it’s a chef coat that’s been his daily uniform for years, rather than an apron.
“This is my first casual place,” he says, a little shyly. An alum of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon restaurant in Yountville, his path has been one of carefully composed plates for high-end restaurants and wineries in Napa after attending culinary school.
The Charlotte, North Carolina, native says he veered to the humble chicken wing — a staple of lowbrow bars and fast-food joints — because he couldn’t find the kind he craved. Most wings in Sonoma County, he says, were pre-made, frozen and smothered in Frank’s Hot Sauce.
“I couldn’t find any good wing places, so I decided to start my own,” says Trez.
He’s been a familiar face for several years in the food truck scene, operating throughout Sonoma County and San Francisco.
When a former deli space became available off East Cotati Avenue, he spent months reworking it to become both a commissary kitchen for his food truck and a casual family-style restaurant with his signature wings, eight taps and a lengthy list of beers ranging from $3 PBRs to local ales, stouts, ciders and hard seltzers.
Most surprisingly, he also has an impressive (but small) hand-picked list of favorite small-producer wines including Quivira sauvignon blanc, Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee and Paul Hobbs Malbec.
“We don’t sell a lot of wine, but I figure if people don’t drink them, I will,” he says.
It’s the wings, however, that are his bread and butter. Fried in oil, he uses local chicken for his bone-in wings. So-called boneless wings are fingers of chicken breast breaded in panko.
There are also vegan “wings” of tempura-battered cauliflower that are every bit as delish as the regular wings.
Sauces are truly what set Wing Man apart. Each is made in-house and served on the side so as not to get the wings too soggy (plus it’s a lot less messy).
Some are more of a dare than others, with Orange Fury topping the list of burn-your-face-off sauces. Made with Carolina Reaper peppers, the hottest pepper known, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a stomach lined with steel before embarking too far on that journey. Double Dog Dare You is an extra-hot Buffalo sauce, and Atomic Fireball is for those who simply like a good tongue burn.
More approachable are the more-flavorful-than-fiery sauces like Spicy Green Goddess (medium heat jalapeño), or “Crazy Uncle Kim,” a Korean-style chili sauce that’s only got a hint of heat.
If you’re mild rather than wild, Southern Brother, a Carolina sweet mustard sauce, is especially tasty with boneless chicken wings. There’s also Tokyo Town Teriyaki with soy sauce and a hint of sweetness. Housemade ranch sauce is a lovely sunset orange, made with a touch of smoked paprika.
Don’t Miss: Don’t limit yourself to wings alone. Porky’s Revenge is a heckuva sandwich made with root-beer braised pulled pork, spicy slaw, pickles and bacon with smoky barbecue sauce ($10). Truffle Parm fries are a good way to go if you’re doing the whole fry thing. Just ask for a little extra sauce.
On Fridays, Wing Man has fall-off-the-bone ribs with just the right amount of crispy bark and tender meat inside.
Wing Man is at 101 E Cotati Ave, Cotati, 707-794-9464, wingmanfoodtruck.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday. Lunch and dinner Friday through Sunday. open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.