WALLINGFORD — At Knuckleheads, a culture of experimentation starts with owner Anthony Morgillo.
“He doesn't hold any of us back from trying out, testing any ideas that we have,” head chef Paul Bell said.
Morgillo has no formal training in cooking but has learned by experimenting in the kitchen, often in the early hours of the morning.
He opened Knuckleheads, 80 Center St., nine years ago after working in construction, auto-body and bartending.
“When you're in high school and it's like three in the morning and you're getting hungry, you're like, let's see what we can do,” Morgillo said.
The late-night sessions have continued and are often the catalyst for new menu items.
“We slow-cooked pastrami just because we were bored,” Morgillo said.
Most of the time one chef will say “we should do this” and a “feeding frenzy” begins with them all trading ideas.
The experiments often turn into weekly specials— like this week’s gator po’boy for Mardi Gras. They are often inspired by holidays and return annually, like the Heartbreaker Burger for Valentine's Day and the “Irish Car Bomb Burger” for St. Patrick’s Day.
The Heartbreaker is a burger topped with bacon, pepper jack cheese, house-smoked brisket, coleslaw, and spicy barbeque sauce.
For St. Patrick’s Day, a Guinness-glazed burger topped with Irish porter cheddar, Irish cream aioli, bacon and Jameson-flamed sauteed onions on a pretzel bun will be available.
Bell, who has worked at Knuckleheads for roughly six years, said the Caesar dressing is his favorite thing they’ve made, but pointed to a white chicken chili and kimchi burger too.
Sometimes — like in the case of the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich or the Bang Bang Cauliflower — the specials will stick.
“If it gets an overwhelming response when we do it as a special, we keep it,” Bell said.
Next door in the bar area, head bartender Anthony Dorsey started a new cocktail menu last year for the summer. Knuckleheads has long been known for its large selection of beer.
Dorsey was inspired partly by a chili-infused honey that Morgillo makes, and created the “Metal Maker,” a sour and slightly spicy drink he says is great for any time of year.
A new spring and summer cocktail menu is currently in the works.
To find out about Knuckleheads’ specials, follow their Facebook page, @knuckleheadsct.
Knuckleheads is open 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed Monday.