Wingstop – Astoria, NYC

Last week marked the grand opening of Astoria’s first restaurant dedicated to chicken wings.  In it’s first week, I’ve been to Wing Stop three times…it’s located dangerously close to my apartment.

Wingstop is a franchise that started about 15 years ago near Dallas, Texas, and claims its decor is an homage to olde time aviation.  Outside the logo & hilarious goose wearing an aviation helmet on the counter, I didn’t get that too much.  But the new place looks good, and the menu looks even better.

Wingstop’s got a lot of things going for it.  First, there’s no sandwiches.  That might seem strange to note positively, but to a wing aficionado, I’m wary of a chicken wing restaurant that serves a million other things.  Focus on what’s important, I say.  Besides wings, they offer only a small selection of sides (the fries are delicious) and a good selection of beer, both bottle and on tap.  And if you’re looking for a place to pre-game before a late bar night, sit down for $10 pitchers, regular price!

Wings come in increments of 8,wisely avoiding resentment of customers forced to order more than they may want (how can some places justify a minimum buy of 12??).  You can order regular or boneless wings, or even do a mix & match between the two.  And every order may be split into two different sauces.  A nice touch.

They make a big fuss over cooking all the wings to order, ‘Never Pre-Cooked!’  I’m not sure how many places are pre-cooking their wings in New York, but I was impressed when the freshly trained and spritely staff told me that my order would be 14 minutes.  That’s when I knew I was going to have a perfetly cooked, crispy wing.

And they were cooked perfectly.  The crispness is outstanding.  The wings aren’t huge, but I’ll take well-cooked wings over undercooked giants any day of the week.

Because I’ve been a couple times, with a few different people, I’ve tried a few of the sauces…and I was surprised by what I liked best.  There are 9 sauces offered on the wings.  I’m surprised there aren’t more, actually…all they do is wings!

At the top of the list above the counter is the Atomic, which is really hot. I was told I should taste the sauce first, but I insisted I’d like it.  And I did, but it really did take me by surprise.  The Atomic sauce is a deep, dark, thick red sauce, dashed with pepper flakes.  It’s got an initial kick, and a creeping heat that doesn’t give up easily.  I love spicy, but the four Atomic wings I ordered were enough.  I’m impressed that the hottest wing is so hot, though.  Too often establishments will shy away from a truly super-spicy sauce in attempt to appeal to milder American taste buds.  Screw that.

The Teriyaki and Hickory Smoked BBQ are very simple sauces.  They’re thick, they’re plain, and they taste like something I could buy at Associated around the corner.  They’re passable, by any means, but nothing much to take note of.

But perhaps they only tasted so plebeian when contrasted with two truly remarkable wings: Lemon Pepper & Garlic Parmesan.  Each of these wing sauces are oil-based, with a light dusting on top.  These wings are killer. They’re so good, I haven’t bothered exploring the rest of the menu yet.  They’ll keep me coming back, for sure.  The Lemon Pepper are wings coated in a lemon oil, then sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Because the oil is so thin (in comparison to a regular wing sauce), the wings remain crispy to the last bite.  The lemon is zesty and tart, and the salt & pepper provide a full, if simple, rounding out to the flavor.  The Garlic Parmesan are coated in garlic oil, then dusted liberally with parmesan cheese.  Again, they’re crispy to the last, and the flavor combination are pure wing art.  Try these two wings on your first visit for sure!

Then we move on to the Original Hot wings.  Wingstop claims it made them famous, but they wouldn’t have lasted on this recipe alone up here in the northeast.  They’re really vinegary, and totally lack the butter necessary to give the sauce any body whatsoever.  I appreciated a decent heat, but the flavor was a little flat.  I won’t be coming here specifically
for regular, good ol’ fashioned classic buffalo wings.

And ultimately, that’s what I’m here to review: the buffalo wings.  So my rating is going to be a little low.  But please keep in mind that the two oil-based wings are enough to make this an unmissable wing destination in NYC.  I hope to see more franchises pop up around Astoria and the rest of the city.  Good luck to the new managers…the neighborhood welcomes you!

RATING: 2 out of 5

Eamonn’s Bar & Grill – Midtown, NYC

I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with Hot N’ Saucy Wings Editor N’ Chief DJ on his recent visit to New York City. Our visit was short, but we had just enough time to catch up over a drink on a late Monday night…and of course sample some wings.

Eamonn’s is a standard Midtown Pub. Thin and deep, with a simple bar running along the left wall, backed by a curt but courteous male bartender. There was a decent crowd for the time, and I wondered how many were out-of-towners staying in nearby hotels, like my companion.

We ordered buffalo wings, hot. They came out surprisingly quickly…though I probably need to chalk that up to time flying amidst good company. As you can see in the picture, the wings were a deep, rich burnt umber. I thought, ‘uh-oh, these aren’t going to be a traditional buffalo wing at all.’ We both took our first bite at the same time, me expecting a sweet, molasses flavor.

And sweet they were…at first bite. But very quickly came a swooshing burst of hot sauce heat. We both froze at the same moment, trying to make sense of the peculiar shift in flavor.

The wings had two distinct personalities, a sweet, thick BBQ flavor and an oil-thin & flavorless heat. Unfortunately, these two flavors never merged in my mouth. Or even on the plate, for that matter; we could see the sauce separating into the two parts I described before our very eyes!

I want to be clear that the wings weren’t all bad. Spicy BBQ, hard to go too wrong. The thickness of the sauce was enjoyable, and the wings, though devoid of any crisp due to the sauce, were cooked to perfection. DJ noted that there were no fatty areas under the skin, which is half the battle of a good wing.

I also enjoyed the small serving. In a city where I’ve grown accustomed to paying $8-10 for 12 wings, minimum, and order of 6 wings is a perfect snack. NYC establishments take note, even this wing nut will refrain from an order when only peckish and faced with a dozen wings.

The bleu cheese dressing was probably right out of a tub, but had the appropriate levels of flavor, chuncks, cooling, etc. Though I could have used much more heat from these ‘hot’ wings…they hardly needed any cooling at all!

So the wings were passable. I’d get them again if I frequented this bar for some reason. But a wing destination, Eamonn’s is not. But it was a pleasure to share them with DJ!

RATING: 2.5 out of 5

Canz – Astoria, NYC

Having moved into a new apartment in the restaurant and bar friendly Astoria, Queens, I thought I’d check out the wings at a neighborhood joint.  That’s the true test of a new neighborhood in NYC.

The closest place, discovered by an internet search, was Canz.  Before we get to the wings, let’s discuss the venue.  According to the Canz website, this Long Island born, two-location, national chain hopeful was founded on the concept that beer drinkers love drinking from cans.  Like, canned beer.  As I do enjoy a canned beer, I love the concept.

That being said, it’s hard to deny the comparisons to Hooters.  The custom tank tops on each one of the independently busty servers and bartenders read, ‘Do You Have A Crush On Our Canz?’  With a bombshell-only selection of staff and the letter ‘z’ replacing every ‘s’ on menu and signage pluralizationz, well…you’ll reach your own conclusions on that one.  If you love that sort of thing, this is it.  If you hate it, you may still want to stop in for a mid-day meal & drink.

And drinks they have.  Canz has hundreds of beers, most of which are canned.  And the draught selection isn’t puny, either.  I enjoyed a can of Pork Slap, a Stone IPA draught, and a Labatt Blue can (on special).  If you live in the area and are on a budget, the weekly booze specials are definitely worth looking into.  And what are those fishbowls behind the bar for?

And, as any beer-centric restaurant should, they serve wings.  The smallest order is 12 wings, but they’re happy to split them up between different sauces (a huge plus).  The offer plain, mild, medium, hot, BBQ, honey BBQ, asian, teriyaki, or their super-spicy, no-refund-allowed, ‘dirty canz.’

I ordered 12 wings, half hot, half asian.  The bartender was really terrific on this slow Saturday afternoon, offering me tastes of beers I had questions about.  After she brought me my wings, she also brought me a side of the dirty canz super spicy sauce for no extra charge.  She was good!

The hot sauce was less red than a traditional buffalo…more of a yellowish, with apparent dark seasoning.  It was smooth, feeling buttery, but without a buttery flavor.  And the pepper base was unlike any I’ve had before in a buffalo wing.  It was very good, and very different.  The closest comparison I can come up with is the wings at Gritty McDuff’s in Portland, Maine.  Could there be cumin in there?  Some other deep and exotic spice?  I’d love some backup on this one!

The hot wings were not really ‘hot’ at all.  The super-hot ‘dirty canz’ sauce had a kick, but would never bring a tear to the eye of a real spice-lover.  The menu really oversold how spicy it was.  The dirty canz flavor, however, was really nice.  The heat is slow, but never overpowers.  It’s thick, smooth, with a full-bodied flavor.

The wings themselves were cooked exceedingly well.  On the larger side, they took a while (always a good sign) and were very crispy.  The thick dirty canz sauce diluted the crispiness on the last wings, but the asian sauce was just what they wanted.

The asian sauce is a simple but well-balanced sweet soy/garlic sauce.  Very thin, the cooks put a lot of sauce on the plate, allowing me to get plenty of flavor on each wing.  I might reconsider splitting a plate between this sauce and others in the future for this reason…asian sauce kept infiltrating my hot wings.

I’m not here to review the asian wings, per se, but they were delicious.  The crisp of the wings held through to the last bite, making them a very attractive option when not in the mood for buffalo.

Is the 'Canz' namesake really derived from their extensive canned beer selection...
...or from somewhere else?

The serving plates are large and long, making the amount of food look more daunting than it really is.  One of the benefits of this is more room for bleu cheese dressing.  Forget the embarrassment of asking an attractive female bartender for a second order of bleu cheese right as the wings are served.  Canz understandz wingz.  The ramekins are huge…rarely do I leave so much dressing behind!  Canz notably also forgoes the carrots in it’s wing crudité.  SO many NYC establishments include carrots on the plate, but really, it’s the cool crunch of celery that’s needed in between and after buffalo wings.  Am I right?

After my meal, my bartender (who was totally cool and smart) showed me the girls of Canz calander for 2011.  She, along with many other servers, are featured.  The average 30-something, art-minded, hip-but-not-hipster Astorian may not go for the atmosphere Canz is successfully pulling off, but the wings will bring me back, even if I have to meet friends elsewhere later.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rathbones – Upper East Side, NYC


I got word recently that Rathbones, a bar/restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, had fantastic wings.  So last week I ventured out on a sunny Saturday afternoon and tried what the menu calls the 'Famous Rathbone Buffalo Wings.'

Although I couldn't find any evidence of the alleged fame of these wings online, they were outstanding.  If you've got friends visiting the city from Tai Pei, and you want them to truly understand what a buffalo wing is, bring them to Rathbones.  Their sauce is what I consider a classic buffalo sauce, and they're cooked just right.  On the other hand, if you're looking for something extra, fancy, or spicy, these might not be worth leaving your neighborhood.

The sauce seemed to be Frank's based, think, and very orange.  Bright orange.  You can see from the picture that they're practically neon.  It's got great flavor, and although it's thick enough for each wing to be liberally slathered with flavor, it's not too buttery.  So the sauce, in that regard, is a win.  Where the wing looses points is on spiciness.  It had no kick whatsoever.  I guess the recipe takes into account that a diner won't want to be distracted from the football game by some pesky spice.  With no other options for degrees of heat, it felt a little like eating a line of starter wings for children.


The wings were perfect, though, when it came to the cooking.  Each one had a defined crisp to the skin, thoroughly cooked and tasty.  They wings weren't small at all, and yet they weren't those jumbo-sized wings that are hard to cook right with any consistency…not to mention reduce the sauce-per-ounce-of-meat level.  And without even having to ask, the dish came with tons of bleu cheese.  More than I even needed, which almost never happens!

Rathbones definitely looks like a great place.  They've got daily happy hour specials, along with sports specials, each week.  If you live on the Upper East Side, I strongly recommend checking out the rest of the menu, as well as downing some 50 cent wings during games.  I would too…even with the lure of a Red Sox bar across the street.

The wings left me satisfied (even the 'small' portion, which is 8 wings for 7 bucks), but I was left with a question:  Once a non-spicy buffalo wing has been done so well, why not try for some other heat options?  And since the wings are 'famous,' and the first thing on the menu, why not try offering some other sauces?  I don't need innovation (although why leave it to chains like Atomic & BWW's?), but when something has been executed so well, I wonder why that has to be the end of a trail.  Why not have an entire wing section on that menu?  I suppose it's a good sign that I'm left wanting so much more…

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Hog Pit – Midtown South, NYC

Hog Pit SignSomewhere where Chelsea meets Flatiron meets the Garment District (otherwise known as Midtown South), lies the BBQ district.  I'm not sure it's ever been called that before, but let's just take a moment to call it that now.  There are eight BBQ places in the immediate area, a piece of evidence that the New York Times was right when they wrote of the BBQ boom of 2007, which still continues today.

The Hot Pit purports itself to be a BBQ destination, but being across the street from popular Hill Country, it's hard to believe they get much of a serious foodie crowd.  The place looks more like a little bar with a pool table, Big Buck Hunter, and a kitchen.

It is also very close to my work, and the prices are right…which means I stop by regularly.  The staff never remembers (this is NYC, after all), but the wings are pretty darn good!

The sauce is the best feature of the wings, with what seems to be a Louisiana-based sauce (or some liquidy equivalent), and not too much butter.  It's got a decent amount of spice, but even the hot ones don't create a burn.

Hog Pit Wings The wings are large, plump, and well cooked.  But here is where we discover the main drawback of the wings: they're breaded.  As nice and as crisp as that first wing is when it arrives from the kitchen, the last 4 are always a total bummer.  Nothing's quite as bad as a heavy soggy wing.

The blue cheese dressing that comes is very good, however…and there's always plenty of it, a nice touch.  Plus the celery is reliably crunchy.  These are always sure signs of a wing place that has hopes of being more a restaurant than just a bar.

So, because of the sogginess, if you're sharing these wings with some friends, go for it…but it doesn't make too munch sense to order them as an entree.  The sauce is worth it, but nothing crazily special.  But as city dwellers know, even this quality, when this close to work, is worth the convenience.  Location, location, location! 

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Original Q Shack – Durham, NC

Barbecued wings are probably the most difficult type of wing to execute well: the cooking process inherently means that there is a good chance of the skin getting rubbery, the meat not being tender, or the whole thing ending up a giant burnt mess. 

However, when it is done right, it results in a wing that is hard to beat.  The Original Q Shack in Durham, NC is one of those places that gets it right.  I had the opportunity to try this place – mainly for the barbecue – on a recent business trip to the Raleigh-Durham area.  The 'que was great, but the wings were downright incredible.  A group of about 10 of us went to dinner that night and the next day at least four of us were still talking about how good they were.

They represent everything that is good about a great barbecued buffalo wing: smokey, tender, juicy, and flavorful.  The layers of flavor that come from smoking the wings makes for a much more interesting flavor: the sauce itself is good, but most of the interesting aspects of it come from picking up the roasted and smokey flavor of the wings.  The sauce provides some fresh pepper flavor and what I consider to be just the right amount of heat for this type of wing: spicy, but able to let the other flavors sing.

If you are: a) a wing fan b) a fan of barbecued wings and c) find yourself in the Durham area, then I would highly recommend going out of your way to get the wings at the Original Q Shack!


Atomic Wings (@ Blue Room) – Upper East Side, NYC


It's impossible to talk about Buffalo Wings in New York without mentioning Atomic Wings.  Atomic is the only restaurant franchise in the city devoted to chicken wings.  They do a hell of a job…although I disagree strongly with some sentiments expressed on their website:

…to a true
connoisseur it seemed criminal that in a city
that has everything, there was not an authentic
Buffalo Chicken Wing in sight.

This may be true if we only consider a true 'Buffalo Chicken Wing' to be made with chickens raised in Buffalo, NY.  The chain boasts using fresh chickens from upstate.  But does the origin of the chicken really make the wing?  And is Buffalo really the home of the finest chickens?

Atomic Wings has 8 locations in ManhattanAn interesting thing about Atomic is that they're a franchise that has two types of locations.  One type is a restaurant with a fast food atmosphere (small, orange walls, no alcohol), but some locations are situated in the kitchen of an independent bar.  So my visit to Atomic Wings this week brought me to a bar called The Blue Room.  The kitchen is a separate enterprise; I was billed separately for my beer and wings.  Good thing Atomic Wings can boast a surprising level of consistency between all of its 8 Manhattan locations!

The Blue Room is located right at the Manhattan entrance to the 59th St. Bridge to Queens (also right next to the massive ski-lift that brings folks to Roosevelt Island).  The bar is small, a pool table takes up a lot of the standing room, and the place smells like hot wings…mmmmm.

Atomic offers several sauces.  The 'Sane' can enjoy Mild, Medium, Hot, Honey Mustard, BBQ, Jerk BBQ, or Teriyaki.  The 'Insane' (like myself) can try Abusive, Nuclear, or Suicidal.  I've eaten at Atomic many times, and for this review I chose Nuclear, their second-hottest offering.

The wings were all choice, with a lot of meat on each one.  And they were cooked very well, quite crispy…at first.  I was a little disappointed when I saw the amount of sauce the day cooks had put on them.  I knew that pleasant crisp wouldn't last too long; and despite efforts to put a few wings in quarantine on the side of my plate, my last few wings were on the soggy side.

The sauce, however, is very good.  It's an absolute standard Buffalo sauce, without any frills.  The sauce is smooth, light, and perfectly piquant.  It really is a nice blend, even if it lacks any particular personality of it's own.  If the goal is textbook Buffalo (and it is), then the sauce is a major win.

As for heat, it's probably time for me to move up to the Suicidal wing, as the Nuclear just isn't spicy enough anymore.  I hate it when the spiciest offerings still aren't enough…it makes me feel like some sort of spicy-food-mutant, which is a terribly lame superpower.  For those of you who enjoy milder sauces, I'd take this with a grain of salt – I'm sure the lower indexes are fine for you 🙂

Coupled with draught Sierra Nevadas at the bar, friendly staff, and a pre-season Red Sox/Mets game on the tube (the good guys won), it was a great low-key meal.  For a wing tour of NYC, I strongly recommend checking out one of the standard-setting Atomic Wings locations.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

The Alchemist – Waterbury, VT

An extremely popular watering hole, The Alchemist is a brew pub that offers up delicious locally sourced food to go along with its amazing hand-crafted beers.  It is a favorite after-work spot of the locals and on a Friday night in the winter when you have end-of-the-week workers congregating along side the incoming weekend skiers, things can get pretty crowded.  Even during the week, it is surprisingly busy for a restaurant in the relatively quiet little town of Waterbury.

Since I work across the street from it, I’ve had the opportunity to sample much of its beer and several of its menu items.  However, until last night, I had never had their wings (I know – shame on me).

I have been missing out.

The wings come from Misty Knoll Farm, a local chicken farm, so they are super fresh, flavorful and juicy. They come in two styles: spicy dry rub or buffalo style.  I haven’t had the buffalo style, opting for the dry rub.  Next time I’ll go for the buffalo style, but they will be hard pressed to top the dry rubbed version.

The dish arrives with the wings arranged around a small container of blue cheese dressing and covered
with a light sprinkling of crumbled mild blue cheese.  As the plate is placed in front of you, the aroma of paprika and spices mixing with the richness of
the blue cheese wafts into your nostrils. The wings are cooked just right, with light, crispy skin that holds the rub perfectly.  The flavor of the rub is a perfect balance of heat, sweet and savory.  Unlike some other dry rub wings, these don’t lose all their flavoring as you eat them, and it doesn’t overpower the taste of the chicken.  I can say that these are easily some of the best “dry-style” wings I have ever had anywhere.

It is right down the street from The Reservoir, which means that Waterbury, Vermont has two locations that start to make it a wing-lover’s destination.

The Reservoir – Waterbury, VT

The Reservoir in Waterbury, VT used to be called Waterbury Wings, so they have a strong wing heritage.  When they changed their name, they also changed their menu to offer a wider selection of food, but it is still a good 'ol pub type of place, with the usual Vermont spin: tons of craft brews and use of local food. 

There are nine different styles of wings offered, mostly consisting of varying levels of heat intensity, along with a Teriyaki style, Chipotle, Honey BBQ, Spicy Honey BBQ and a spicy horseradish.  All of them are available either "crispy" (fried) or grilled.  They also have frequent specials for additional wing flavors.

Their crispy style are quite good, but I have a preference for the grilled option, which come out nicely blackened and flavorful with a nice light rub.  Straight up buffalo style ("hot") is quite good.  The horseradish is interesting, as it is kind of a wet rub style with fresh horseradish, which isn't as hot as you might think.  However, my two favorites are the Teriyaki style, especially served with the grilled wings, and one that they only offer as a special: Southwestern style.  The Teriyaki are served with a thick sweet and tangy glaze that has plenty of garlic and Chinese five spice flavor in it.  They are a mess to eat, but well worth it.  The Southwestern style come highly recommend if it is available – it is a wonderful combination of savory spices, heat and a little sweetness that just sings when paired with the grilled wings.  It would make even Bobby Flay proud!  

My only sticking point with the wings here is that their crispy style wings sometimes come out a little tough – the flavor is great and they are nice and juicy, but the meat itself is a little tough.  Perhaps they are cooked at too high of a temp or just a bit too long. It is a minor quibble, but one that I feel is worth mentioning.  My solution is to go for the grilled version!  Overall, a great place for wings and if you're also into great beer, terrific burgers and fantastic french fries (they might be laced with crack, they are so addictive), then it is well worth a stop for a wing fanatic.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Big Tony’s – Providence, RI

Wings from a pizza place are always a crap shoot.  It is never their expertise, and since you usually get take-out from a pizza joint, there is plenty of opportunity for the wings to get soggy and gross. We got take-out from Tony's while at the house of friends' and they said the wings were pretty good, and we decided to try them.

Tony's solution to avoiding the soggy wing issue?  Embrace it.  The wings arrived practically swimming in sauce.  There was no hope of these wings being crispy, but the skin wasn't tough or rubbery either – basically, the whole skin/meat part just slid right off the bone. 

The sauce was fairly spicy, with a sweet undertone that helped to mellow out the heat and add depth of flavor.  Not unlike Tony's in general, I would say that the wings are worth getting if you're nearby, but not worth going out of your way for.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars