“Atlanta” fans and residents identified with the FX show’s scene in the Original J.R. Crickets so much that many people didn’t even bother to notice a slight inaccuracy.
When the hilariously off-kilter character Darius (portrayed by Keith Stanfield) opens the restaurant’s signature white box to reveal his order in episode two of the first season, a bright white light illuminates his face. He tears up. Perhaps from smelling the hot wings or maybe because the thought of devouring the Buffalo wings makes him emotional.
Either way, the exaggerated scene is an accurate depiction of how most Atlanta natives feel just before they bite into the crunchy Buffalo wings from the restaurant.
But Darius’ “lemon pepper wet” order isn’t actually on the menu.
There are lemon pepper wings and Buffalo wings, which can come with extra sauce — a sauce so good the restaurant ships bottles of it to customers outside of state lines. But “lemon pepper wet” is definitely not among the nine wing options on the restaurant’s menu.
The waiter in the episode casually mentions as much during the scene, although it’s so brief it is understandable that fans might have missed it.
Since Darius teared up over the wings on television last fall, countless customers have walked into the franchise seeking the same order.
This month, J.R. Crickets is officially adding “lemon pepper wet” to the menu.
From what restaurant personnel can gather from their 35 years of experience running a Buffalo wing establishment, “lemon pepper wet” is just lemon pepper wings with extra “sauce” (or butter). Their version of "lemon pepper wet," though, features lemon pepper sprinkles added to traditional buffalo wings.
The newest addition to the menu is a slight homage to the quirky television series that arguably cemented the restaurant’s place in Atlanta culture.
However, metro Atlanta dwellers have been seeking out the giant smiling peanut dressed as a cricket in Midtown since it first opened across the street from the Varsity on Spring Street in 1982.
Founded by Buffalo native Paul Juliano, J.R. Crickets and hot wings weren’t always as intricately woven into the fabric of Atlanta. At that time, general manager Joel Carr says, the restaurant was more of an oasis for Northerners in search of Buffalo wings.
The pair’s first foray into getting the city hooked on the Buffalo style of chicken wings was when they worked as managers during the time Taco Mac first added them to their menu. Their boss at the time was also a Buffalo native.
Juliano decided to branch out and start a restaurant of his own shortly after. He was only 22 years old when he opened the Original J.R. Crickets.
It was a tall order for a young man without much of a plan, but he enlisted the help of his childhood friend, Carr, and never looked back.
Tens of millions of wings served and 12 locations later, J.R. Crickets has had a resurgence of sorts, although it’s always been a “destination restaurant” for metro Atlanta residents and tourists. Carr said it’s not uncommon for people to head straight to one of its locations right after touching down at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. But recent accolades and their appearance in “Atlanta” and Fox’s “Star” have ensured that the Midtown location on North Avenue rarely has a slow day. The restaurant moved to the North Ave. location after a fire destroyed their original building on Spring Street in 2013.
“I was really surprised with how long the (‘Atlanta’ scene) was that was shown on TV,” Juliano said, noting that “Star” also filmed at the flagship location, using the same table as “Atlanta,” although the Fox show didn’t prominently highlight the business.
Stone Mountain native Stephen Glover, brother of “Atlanta” creator and star Donald Glover, co-wrote the episode that features J.R. Crickets, a restaurant he says he would treat himself to as a “broke college student.”
He knew the restaurant didn’t have a “lemon pepper wet” item on the menu when he wrote the episode, adding that the wings he is referring to in the episode are more commonly associated with the American Deli chain. Formed in 1989 at South DeKalb Mall, American Deli has become another staple for locals looking for great Buffalo wings.
“We just thought it would be funny to see somebody get hooked up at J.R. Crickets by getting that option that isn’t even really available,” Glover said of the scene via email. “That would be like the best of both worlds. The box glowing just helped sell the feeling of how magical that would be.”
Glover added that he tries to eat at J.R. Crickets whenever he’s in Atlanta. Carr mentions that the writer was just in the Midtown location watching the Atlanta Falcons lose to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl about a month ago.
Despite the fact that J.R. Crickets has been in business for 35 years as of February, it is business as usual for Juliano and his employees. They’re working on getting new menus by the end of this month (ones that will reflect the addition of the “lemon pepper wet” option). They’re also currently accepting applications for their annual scholarship that will award one deserving Atlanta University Center, Georgia State University or Georgia Tech student with $2,500.
Eventually, Juliano says he might post something on social media to commemorate the milestone. But celebrating isn’t a major priority.
The media attention that the restaurant has drawn in recent months has seemingly come out of nowhere, but Juliano knows it’s a testament to the quality of food and customer service that he’s been able to deliver consistently throughout the years.
“We’ve just always gone about our business pretty quietly,” he says.
He founded the Original J.R. Crickets 35 years ago without much of a plan. All he knew was he wanted to deliver great Buffalo wings.
Perhaps that simple formula will allow the Atlanta staple to thrive for another three decades.
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