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Heinnies wings are best as an appetizer, not the main course

On Facebook I subscribe to the group, “I Grew Up In Elkhart, IN.” Now, I didn’t grow up in Elkhart, but since I’ve lived here for the last 12 years I am intrigued by the information and pictures people post.

I’ll admit that I still feel like an outsider peeking into the past lives of the people who lived in the town while growing up. But, I think it is safe to say that if an outsider has lived in Elkhart long enough to be able to flawlessly navigate the Elkhart city roads and find Heinnies Backbarn Restaurant, they should be considered an honorary lifetime Elkhart resident.

When I moved out to Elkhart, one of the first questions I asked some of the natives (besides where can I find some good wings) was where can I get some good prime rib. The guy I asked said “Heinnies.”

My response was something like, “No, not that kind of prime rib — I’m not looking for a strip club.” He laughed and assured me that Heinnies was an owner’s name and didn’t refer to someone’s “backside.”

It then took me a couple of years to actually find the place, as it’s located by pretty much nothing. Granted, it is only a couple blocks off S.R. 19, but it’s on a road that no one drives by unless you are intentionally looking for or going somewhere in that area.

The lucky people who do find it will be treated to a hidden gem surrounded by a mostly industrial area.

There are two parts of the building. The older part is a typical bar with old news clippings and a bunch of racing collectables on the walls. The back family dining area is the “back barn,” with high ceilings and wooden structure support. The place feels large and open even though they have wood panels separating the tables to provide a more private dining experience.

And, of course, on weekends there is prime rib. 

As far as the steaks go here, I’ll be perfectly honest. I have heard people critique Heinnies in both very positive and very negative ways. I have had my own experiences and I believe you have to realize that this place serves up some of the juiciest steaks around, but it isn’t a Ruth’s Chris, St Elmo’s or something like that.

Every once in a while you will get a steak that has a little too much grizzle or is overcooked. But, this place is still a million times better than our area’s chain steakhouses. I never seem to get a decently cooked steak at chain steakhouse, and end up paying an arm and a leg for it. 

I consider it a culinary travesty that on a weekday night at the chain steakhouse there are so many people that it takes an hour wait to get a seat — but the wait at Heinnies for a family of four on a Friday is, like, ten minutes.

I’ve chosen Heinnies a couple times for my birthday dinner and after visiting this time (especially with all the wings I’ve been eating lately), I’ll probably choose it again this year. Even if we have to celebrate a few days early so I can get that 11-oz. filet special.

So let’s talk a bit about the wings here.

I ordered a six-wing appetizer before the main course. I usually do not recommend ordering wings as an appetizer, and I am constantly annoyed that wings are usually relegated to the appetizer portion of the menu at most restaurants, but here they fit perfectly in that role.

The wings are not anything special or unique. They are served deep fried, naked and with a Frank’s based sauce. On my visit, the skin was crispy and the chicken not dried out. The sauce was applied liberally and ranked around a 2 out of 4 on the heat scale.

Heinnies’ wings aren’t “jumbo” size, but they didn’t serve you a basket of crumbs, either. The cost was 12 for $12, which yields a CPW of 100 cents. The price, although high, is consistent with an upper-tier restaurant of this caliber.

Instead of doing a full detailed review on the wings, I just did a quick check, and they passed. I kind of just want to make sure that the wings were OK to consume. The main focus should not be placed on them at a place like this.

My advice is to never walk into Heinnies and order up a basket of wings for your dinner. Get something more substantial like steak, fish or whatever is on the special that day.

I would suggest, though, getting the wings as an appetizer. Feel free to order up a basket early so you can munch on a few tasty wings to warm up your palate before chomping into that 20-oz. juicy Clydesdale cut of prime rib.

For more reviews and commentary on the chicken wings of Michiana from Mike Tomko, subscribe to the Taste These Broken Wings email newsletter.

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