Scout’s Grill Chicken Wings

Aaron Holliday has merged chicken wings with flavor profiles from Mexican cuisine and his Southern California roots

By Mike Kordenbrock
Chicken wings with “Mas” mayonnaise aioli sauce from Scout's Grill in Columbia Falls. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The overarching ethos of Scout’s Grill is community, that much sought-after and sometimes elusive fellowship built around the act of sharing. Which is why so much of the menu at Scout’s Grill is meant to be passed around. The new eatery is located on the Scout + Gather campus in Columbia Falls, where cross-country ski trails meet miniature golf, and where summertime holds the promise of fresh air and live music. It’s there in the grill’s dining space that community can form around the opportunity for shared plates, shared experiences and, when it comes to chicken wings, well, shared rules.

That’s not to say general manager Aaron Holliday is a chicken wing extremist. It’s just that he has some firm convictions about how the chicken wings at Scout’s Grill should be enjoyed. 

We might as well get the tough news out of the way: Holliday doesn’t offer ranch or bleu cheese with his wings. 

For wing lovers, the news may come as a bit of a shock, but Holliday is firm that the wings at Scout’s Grill aren’t meant for those popular dipping sauces, and he doesn’t want people to use them as a kind of flavor security blanket. He’s not afraid of diners’ tastebuds having a ranch-free run-in with his wings. If these were your standard buffalo wings, Holliday wouldn’t take issue if someone chose those most ubiquitous of Montana dressings. But these aren’t buffalo-flavored wings. 

So, what kind of wings are they? 

Before answering that question, one should know a little more about Holliday’s life. 

Chicken wings with an al pastor sauce from Scout’s Grill in Columbia Falls on Jan. 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

For the last three years Holliday operated a food truck, called Senor Montana Taco y Mas, which was frequently parked at Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply in Columbia Falls. But before Holliday got to Montana and started making his way in the food truck business, he was one of the millions of people living, working, and eating, in Southern California. 

“I think at one point in my life I was like half carne asada fry,” Holliday says, laughing.

It’s those flavors and foods from the formative chapter in his life, in Holliday’s case, the ones heavily influenced by Mexican cuisine and cooking traditions, that were incorporated into the menu first at Senor Montana, and now at Scout’s Grill. It’s there that Holliday’s revolution against ranch and bleu cheese began with his refusal to carry sour cream. 

“I was operating my taco truck and I never once had sour cream on it, only because I knew that everybody would want sour cream. I want you to taste the guacamole and the salsa and the sauce. If you just dump it in ranch, it tastes like ranch.” Holliday says. “It was almost like a badge of honor.”

Beyond his principled stance on the Scout’s Grill wings, Holliday also takes pride in making things fresh whenever possible. In the case of the nachos, or nacho fries, eaters are dealing with house-made tortilla chips topped with fresh guacamole, fresh salsa, house queso, onions, cilantro, Holliday’s signature aioli-based “Mas sauce,” and fresh queso fresco. The guacamole, made daily, is a combination of tomatillos, avocados, serrano peppers and lime juice. 

Even the cheeseburger, a quarter-pound creation of the smashburger variety, comes with a slight twist that throws it back to Holliday’s roots. The burger comes topped with pickled jalapenos (Holliday assures that the pickling, which of course is done at Scout’s Grill, takes some of the bite out of the peppers), and the freshly sliced tomato comes dusted with Tajin, the popular Mexican seasoning that brings together chili, lime and salt flavors. 

Tacos come in carne asada, pollo asada, beer-braised beef barbacoa, baja fish, and portobello mushroom varieties, with each served on a 6-inch corn tortilla and topped with fresh guacamole, onions and cilantro. The citrus and garlic-marinated, grilled, and chopped beef of the carne asada tacos comes with salsa roja. Achiote, a vibrantly red spice paste that comes from the annatto tree, is used alongside citrus to marinate the pollo asado chicken, which is grilled and chopped and served with salsa verde. The shredded beef filling for the barbacoa tacos is braised in a liquid mixture of beer, garlic, onions and dried chiles. 

Scout’s Grill chef and general manager Aaron Holliday in Columbia Falls on Jan. 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A Baja Caesar salad and a taco salad are available, and vegetable lovers can also order blistered shishito peppers, a mild, but occasionally spicy, style of pepper with an almost nutty flavor that can be grabbed by its stem and eaten nearly whole. Scout’s shishito peppers are tossed in roasted garlic and garlic oil, topped with seasoned smoked sea salt, and served with Mas sauce.

And yes, for dessert lovers, there are freshly fried churros available with spiced chocolate dipping sauce.

But back to the wings. Holliday’s pride in the wings starts with their character. They are not scrawny wings with more bone than meat. Nor are they of the fatty, flabby variety that have a way of slipping through fingers and sliding off teeth. 

The wings at Scout’s Grill are of the larger variety, but still satisfyingly firm. There are five flavor options, and each draws from Mexican flavor profiles and sauces, and the wings are served with a smattering of pickled veggies on the side, and topped with queso fresco and cilantro. The al pastor wings are bright red with a peppery, citrus flavored paste-like sauce based on the ingredients used to flavor al pastor tacos. 

The salsa roja flavored wings are coated with a sauce made from an infusion of peppers and spices that would typically go into a salsa roja. Similarly, the salsa verde flavor is made using the ingredients, like tomatillos, that would usually wind up in a salsa verde. In each case, Holliday says the peppers, aromatics, and vegetables that go into the two salsas are roasted and pureed before they reach their final form atop an order of Scout’s Grill wings. 

The Mas sauce wings are made with a sweet citrus aioli sauce that became so popular at Holliday’s old food truck that he began selling the sauce in bottles. The tomatillo y chile de arbol sauce is built around roasted tomatillos and chile de arbol. It’s the spiciest flavor Holliday offers, and one that pairs particularly well with a cold drink. He encourages eaters to give the wings a good squeeze of lime before diving in. They’re not so spicy as to destroy tastebuds, but after a slight delay a potent burning sensation makes its presence well known. Three or four bites in, Holliday says, and you may be dabbing your eyes a little bit. It’s in those moments that the true price of the ranch-free experience becomes clear. But the flavor is well worth the burn.

The Details

Description: Six to eight jump fried chicken wings served with an original recipe sauce and topped with crumbled queso fresco and cilantro. Sauce options include al pastor (medium), Mas sauce (medium), salsa roja (mild), salsa verde (medium), and tomatillo y chile de arbol (hot). 

Price: $14.00

Location: Scout’s Grill, 27 Scout Lane, Columbia Falls

More information: www.campscoutandgather.com