The clubhouse at the Wilson Harding Municipal Golf Course in Griffith Park is a truly gorgeous setting. Built in 1937 as part of the New Deal’s Works Project Administration, it's a stunning example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, with vaulted beam ceilings, tall arched windows and hand-pegged wood floors. The L.A. Conservancy sometimes uses it for special events.
The golf course itself, a lush expanse of green on the eastern edge of the park, is equally awe-inspiring. Babe Ruth golfed there, as did a young Tiger Woods. These days, Wilson Harding is particularly known for its popularity among the Korean golfing community (in 2001, the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks estimated that more than half of the course’s guests were Asian-American).
But in addition to the coveted tee times and the historic pedigree of the clubhouse, the best reason to visit Wilson Harding clubhouse is a surprising one: the damn good chicken wings.
Listed on the restaurant's menu as “Clubhouse Wings: The Best in L.A.,” the $14 platter of fried chicken and fries might actually measure up to its seemingly outlandish title. They’re juicy, tender and bewilderingly crunchy. Basically, any positive adjective that can describe chicken wings applies to these. They arrive naked, fried to a deep crispy bronze — the better to let the lightly seasoned crust shine through — along with standard-issue french fries, dill pickle spears and a plastic cup of “secret hot sauce,” which tastes a lot like ketchup, Tabasco and chili sambal. A commenter on a Chowhound thread from a few years ago described them as the closest equivalent to "true Buffalo-style wings” in Los Angeles.
The rest of the clubhouse menu is fine but unremarkable. The turkey on the Golfer’s Club Sandwich is a tad dry; the coleslaw, inexplicably, contains a handful of chopped parsley. There are burgers, along with egg rolls, nachos, a Greek salad and spaghetti Bolognese with garlic toast — the type of broadly appealing cultural net you'd expect a golf course clubhouse to cast.
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Unsurprisingly, the main attraction, and the biggest seller, is those wings, closely followed by the frosty beer schooners that golfers suck down after a sweaty round at the driving range (a tall schooner of the house beer, Keystone Light, goes for $6). When I'd heard secondhand from an acquaintance that an L.A. golf course was serving spectacular fried chicken, I assumed that claim was probably biased by the hunger of someone who had just played nine holes, or maybe the number of schooners consumed. That theory proved false.
What is it, then, that makes these wings so good? I asked restaurant veteran Mark Begakis, the owner and founder of Monterey Concessions, the dining operation that won the city contract to operate the clubhouse restaurant in 2001. Begakis says that when he took over, chicken wings already were a popular item, although he did decide to upgrade the quality of chicken used, change the frying oil more often and fry the wings fresh to order, because in his view, "If you use good products, it ends up good. If you use bad products, it ends up as caca, whatever you want to call it.”
Begakis doesn’t believes his improvements alone account for those tasty wings, though — after all, many restaurants in L.A. use quality meat and fresh oil and fry to order. His wager is on the well-seasoned, antique fryer that sits in the clubhouse kitchen. “We serve the same [chicken wing] recipe at another golf course [in Encino], and they don’t turn out as good. I really do think it’s the fryer.”
Wilson Harding Clubhouse, 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Griffith Park; (323) 661-7212, golf.lacity.org/cdp_harding.