Fun fact: Although it sounds like it was named specifically to bring out the Scots-Irish influenced, southwestern Pennsylvania linguistic inflection of merging the short “a” and “o” vowel sounds, the borough of Blawnox (or blaww-knawwxx) was originally called “Hoboken” before being renamed for its resident businesses, the Blaw Steel Co. and the Knox Welded and Pressed Steel Co.
This fact is made more fun when it’s told to you by local documentarian, historian and gusta-torian Rick Sebak, and even more so, when it’s told to you by aforementioned local treasure while eating award-winning wings from the town that’s made to say in Pittsburghese.
And if you’ll pardon the humblebrag, that’s pretty much what happened at the inaugural King of the Wing competition held this past weekend at Hop Farm Brewing Company in Lawrenceville.
It came as little surprise when known stalwarts like Fat Head’s, Big Shot Bob’s, Sidelines and Sunny Jim’s (among others) either won or placed, but the least familiar of this group of 16 wing warriors, little Nox’s Tavern and Grille (in Blawnox, of course), created a buzz among judges and captured one of the highest overall scores.
Opened in 2014 by veteran North Hills bartenders Brittany Schaffer and Jennifer Carrozza, Nox’s took home the hardware in the exotic category for their Butter Mesquite wings, which exploded with flavor but are deceptively simple: perfectly fried and crunchy wings, buttered and given a mild, slightly sweet mesquite rub.
Their namesake “Nox” sauce was a runner-up in the mild category and is equally simple — only three secret ingredients — and delicious. Those two and 18 other sauces ranging from sriracha lime to jalapeno cheddar to BBQ Thai round out the wing selections at the modest pub with a handsome wooden long bar and nice back patio a block off Freeport Road.
The standard salads and sandwiches are on the menu, but the house specialties are the steamed hamburgers. Initially this conjured images of bad high school cafeteria fare and bingo-armed lunch ladies using an ice cream scoop to make spheres of ground beef on a stale bun.
Quite the opposite. Served with nicely made house chips, the generously proportioned half-pound patties were juicy and held a ton of flavor, but with a slightly different texture and grease quotient than your standard grilled variety — an interesting changeup. I had the “The Nox,” which was topped with bacon, roasted red peppers and pepper jack cheese and served with a side of the Nox sauce, and I’d be interested to try some of the other half-dozen on the menu.
Apparently, steamed burgers are Connecticut’s greatest culinary contribution to greater Pittsburgh, just after white clam pizza, and thanks to Nox’s, they can be Blawnox’s greatest culinary contribution to greater Pittsburgh, just after the Butter Mesquite wing.
Nox’s Tavern and Grille: 720 Blaw Ave., Blawnox; 412-794-8233; noxstavern.com.