My first time visiting Regents Pizzeria, a semi-recently relocated and simultaneously revamped bar and restaurant in La Jolla’s UTC area, I came expecting one thing and one thing only – killer pizza. The place had a reputation, not just for authentic New York-style pies, but what I heard were the best Chicago-inspired deep dish numbers in all of San Diego. And I was not disappointed. I’ve become a particular fan of the flaky, eggy, incredibly saucy Second City variety. But even with as incredible as they are, they aren’t an automatic order for me, as Regents has a lot more to offer, a two-sided menu full of things that not only sound but also taste amazing, including polenta fries, shishito peppers and, Lord help us all, a bacon plate.
Something that draws me in like a moth flittering around a camping lantern is Regents’ selection of wings, as I am a fan of spice and chile peppers. Like most with my affliction, it’s both the thrill and the flavor of different chilies that makes delving onto the Satanic side of the culinary world so much fun. I think a lot the reason why heat seekers appreciate ingredients that the majority of the planet (probably smartly) avoid is because we are able to discern the different taste-sensations each pepper brings, no matter the heat level. The folks at Regents get that and pride themselves on offering a variety of different wing sauces that incorporate different peppers and taste quite diverse.
I liken eating wings at Regents to going through a flight of single hop IPAs. Each incendiary fowl appendage lacquer is similar in that it is hot, tangy and messy, but the ingredient at its core lends specific flavor. The jalapeño is vegetal, the habanero is tropically fruity and the Scorpion pepper…OK, it’s just hot, but before it scorches your taste buds you can pick up some earthiness and an almost berry-like fruitiness. Classic Buffalo and more exotic styles like the habanero honey orange (the recipe for which is included below) are also available, providing something for a fire eater’s saner friends to enjoy.
There’s even a modified “wing” option for vegetarians, or those who just want something other than chicken wings and drumettes—Buffalo cauliflower. I’ve seen this dish pop up on more and more menus of late. And thanks to my wife’s love of cauliflower, I’ve sampled it several times at other spots. Each time was a disappointment.
Cauliflower is a tricky vegetable to fry and doesn’t carry much inherent flavor, so the odds of this dish working are slim. Yet, just like with the wings, the Buffalo cauliflower at Regents is a hit (and this recipe is also included for you to enjoy at home).
The key, says operating manager Cary Reutter, is using tempura batter and something near-and-dear to him—Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. No artisanal, house-made, fawned-over sauce with a dozen secret ingredients destined to be taken to the grave, just the store-bought, mass-produced, vinegar-based stuff they use back in the Buffalo wings namesake city of origin. Did I mention Reutter is from Syracuse? It explains why he gets that, for Buffalo wings, it pays to stick to what works.
Another thing I forgot to mention—Regents has a top-notch beer list and overall program. They keep a certain number of spots on the beer board designated to certain styles and rotate as many locals and standout outsider breweries’ ales and lagers into them. Part of the reason is so they can easily and effectively pair their dishes with quality beers. I’d like to tell you the perfect beer to pair with one of those Scorpion wings, but once you’ve gone that far and signed the required waiver, the pairing part kind of goes out the window.
Yield: 4 servings
canola oil for frying
1 cup store-bought tempura batter mix
1/3 cup water
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
½ cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
4 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into sticks
4 ribs celery, cut into fourths
blue cheese or ranch dressing
Preheat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit in an electric fryer or heavy stock pot. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the tempura batter and water together until smooth, making sure there are no lumps. Dip the cauliflower florets in the batter, allowing excess to drip off. Add the florets to the oil in batches, and fry for 3 minutes or until golden-brown. Remove from the oil and drain the florets on a plate lined with paper towels. Add the hot sauce to a large bowl. Place the florets in the bowl and toss to coat in the hot sauce. Serve immediately with carrots, celery and ramekins of blue cheese or ranch dressing.
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Honey Habanero Orange Wing Sauce
2½ cups orange juice
1 cup room-temperature citrusy craft beer (preferably local)
½ cup honey
2 habaneros, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
1 Tbsp orange zest
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp water
Combine the orange juice, beer, honey, habaneros and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor. Process until all the of ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water to form a smooth slurry. Gradually whisk the slurry into the orange juice mixture. Cook the sauce until it reduces and thickens to a glaze consistency. Remove from heat and use or store, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 10 days.