Texas Land & Cattle – Arlington, TX

These wings were an unexpected surprise in an otherwise fairly generic "pseudo-Western" steak house chain along the lines of Longhorn or Lone Star.  The rest of food was good, but the wings wereaboe average. 

They have a pleasant smoky flavor and are clearly actually smoked using, you know, real wood and stuff.  THe skin is tender and somewhat crispy for smoked wings, and the sauce is spicy, balanced with some nice sweet BBQ flavor.  The only two issues is that the wings a bit puny, and the sauce is salty.  However, I would have them again if I found myself at the restaurant in the future.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

United BBQ – Providence, RI

United BBQ is a small little restaurant on the East Side of Providence that does mainly take out – they have only a few tables and some bar stools that allow you to eat on a ledge looking out the window.  However, they do some authentic barebcue, as evidenced by the visible smoker and the penetrating smell of real wood being burned. 

For wings, they offer two variations: one with a traditional buffalo style suace and one with with their spicy BBQ sauce.  Both have wings that have been smoked, not fried.

Whenever you have smoked wings, they run the chance of being fatty and/or having tough skin.  In fact, I've had some pretty gross barebcued chicken wings.  However, United does a good job with theirs, cooking them until the fat is rendered out, and keeping the skin fairly tender.  It isn't crispy like a fried wing of course, but it also has more flavor, thanks to the smoke and rub. 

I tried the spicy BBQ variety, since I know what buffalo wing sauce tastes like.  The sauce lives up to its name – it is a very sweet, but nicely spiced sauce.  It won't blow you away with heat – if you're a chile or pepper-head, this may not be your choice – but it does have a lot of flavor and it is two staged, with the sweetness hitting you up front, but the heat coming in after and lingering for a bit.

Overall, these are some really good wings.  Not the best barbecued or grilled I've ever had, but maybe they would be better with the buffalo style sauce.   I wouldn't object to trying them!

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Anchor Bar – Buffalo, NY (Update)

I previously reviewed the Anchor Bar, but a short business trip gave me the opportunity to revisit this mecca of buffalo wings.  I stand by my original rating, though I will expand upon it based on a few more years of wing experience.  I think the key to the success of the Anchor Bar's wings is that they are fresh – nearly all wings are frozen now, and the Anchor Bar's wings have the juiciest, tastiest chicken meat I've ever had at any restaurant.  The skin is perfectly crispy but the meat retains all of its natural juices.  I guess when you fry millions of wings a year, you get really, really good at it and you have the supplier pull to get super-fresh chicken wings.

A new item on the Anchor Bar's menu is Buffalo Chicken Soup.  The best way to describe it is to think of a New England Clam Chowder with chicken and buffalo flavors instead of clams, bacon and potato.  It is very, very thick and creamy – perhaps almost too much so; it borders on gelatinous.  It could also use just a bit more heat in my opinion.  It is a very intersting concept with some potential I think.

Bones Grille – Lansdale, PA

I had been to Bones Grille once before and wanted to try their smoked chicken wings, but couldn't that last time.  This time I didn't have to worry about messing my shirt up before a meeting, so I went for them.

The description on the menu says they are "appled brined chicken wings, dry rubbed and slow cooked in the bones hickory pit."  I couldn't pick out any particular apple flavor in the meat, but it was tender and juicy.  The wings were plump and good size and well cooked.  When I first looked at them, I was afraid that there couldn't be any crispiness to them at all, but there was.  My biggest issue with the wings is that they were slathered in a sauce that was nearly all sweet and no heat, and for a "smoked" wing, there was really no smoke flavor to speak of.

Overall, it was just kind of lackluster, but not bad. 

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Bar Louie – Foxboro, MA

It took us over a month to pull it off, but my friends and I finally got together to have our annual Christmas dinner and exchange Christmas presents on January 12.  Since we were coming from all over, the new Patriot Place shopping center provided a convenient central point for us to convene.  Bar Louie also seemed like a logical choice for dinner, since it offered a wide array of option and not too expensive.

Bar Louie features an eclectic American-style cuisine menu, filled with comfort foods that have been infused with a few regional and international flairs.  The decor is classic American sports bar meets classic American steakhouse with a little TGIF and Applebees middle America thrown in.  We started with a few appetizers, including "Buffalo Calamari" and Szechwan-style chicken wings.

First the calamari – yes, I know it isn't chicken wings, but it is deep fried and slathered in hot sauce, so I'll just keep it brief: it was quite good, with tender small pieces of calamari in a crispy batter tossed in a spicy buffalo sauce.  Pretty straight forward, with a heat that was good but not overpowering.

The Szechwan wings were sneaky – they arrived the table looking like innocent soy-glazed fried wings, and as you're eating them, they have a pleasant heat and lots of flavor, including everything you would expect from a Szechwan flavor wing: soy, ginger, etc.  However, the heat builds.  It is a "late heat" that doesn't fully hit you until after you finish the wing and sit there contentedly, as you slowly realize that the slight heat is turning into a stronger burn.  It makes for an interesting and flavorful wing.  Being a chain-type place, the wings are standard size and are well-cooked. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Abington Ale House – Abington, MA

Once in a while I like to take a break from the traditional buffalo wing dish and try something else that is buffalo wing inspired.  I did so twice on a recent trip to the Abington Ale House.

First up was their Buffalo Chicken Dip, a cheesy dip with hot sauce and chunks of chicken served with tortilla chips, carrot sticks and celery sticks.  It was good in a comforting Velveeta-sorta-way.  Basically it was Nacho cheese with some hot sauce and chunks of chicken in it, which isn’t too bad of an idea.  I wish it had been a bit hotter though.

Then I went for the complete buffalo chicken meal and had their Buffalo Chicken pasta.  This was penne pasta with sauteed chicken pieces, tomatoes, and a spicy cream sauce.  Unfortunately, it fell far short of my expectations.  The sauce was thin and watery and just wasn’t that great – not enough spice, not enough creaminess, and relatively bland chicken.  It didn’t help that when I asked the waitress for more hot sauce, she brought me a bowl with more of the sauce the pasta was in.   

If they reduced the sauce some more and/or thickened it with some roux, added more hot sauce, served it with grilled chicken instead of the bland lightly sauteed chicken, then  sprinkled some blue cheese crumbles on top to finish it off, they would have a winner.  As it is, it is a watery chicken scampi with hot sauce instead of garlic. 

Wendell’s Update – Norton, MA

Wendell’s is one of my favorite places for wings, as mentioned over a year ago.  I’ve been back several times since and they have been consistently good.  It has been interesting spreading the word about Wendell’s – most people seem to love it, but every once in a while, you come across someone who doesn’t quite "get it."  Sometimes they weren’t prepared for the long wait for the food, but more often, they don’t care for the wings.  The most common thing you hear is that the wings are "too crispy," which is a befuddling complaint.  Maybe there’s more people out there who like fatty and flabby wings than I ever would have thought.

Anyway – I like Wendell’s so much that I chose it as my birthday dinner destination this week.  I had my usual 3.25 wings with some additional Sissy wings on the side, which are among my favorite wings ever, even if they aren’t spicy.

This update is really thanks to my friend Eric (Erock) who went up a few notches on the heat scale and went with the "Extra Spicy."  The difference between the levels of heat is obvious when you have some "Regular" "3.25" "3.5" and "Extra Spicy" all lined up.  The Regulars look like a pretty traditional Buffalo wing sauce – a creamy sauce that is a fairly light red in color.  The 3.25 and 3.5 wings go a few shades darker and there’s a maroon colored oil floating around in it – clearly there’s too much hot pepper oil to be absorbed by the other ingredients in the sauce.  And then the Extra Spicy are the color of that oil itself – a much darker color, closer to entirely maroon.  It isn’t quite as spicy as the color indicates, but it IS a significant step up from the 3.25 or 3.5 wings.  What is nice is that Wendell’s doesn’t sacrifice flavor for heat – the same base is there, providing a flavorful backdrop for the hot sauce.

After numerous visits to Wendell’s and having leftovers for the first time that I reheated the next day, my thought is that they are creating a base wing sauce of margarine, garlic, and onions that is cooked and pureed until it turned into a mush.  That makes the sissy wings.  Everything else from there is simply differing levels of peppers and pepper sauce added to make it hotter.  I base this upon reheating the wings, which caused the sauce to separate, and leave behind the pulp-like base of the wing sauce. 

Boneyard Barbecue – Seekonk, MA

Recently tried the new Boneyard Barbecue & Saloon in Seekonk, MA.  The entire experience was a disappointment, which I chronicle in my Yelp.com review, but of course, here we’ll just be discussing their wings.

The wing selection looks promising: over 20 sauces, some of which sound extremely interesting.  Several of them are marked as "award-winning" sauces as well.   After much consideration, I went with an order of wings in their "award winning and "signature" house sauce and an order of tenders in their buffalo ranch sauce, a combination that is usually a favorite of mine.

Let’s start with the wings: fairly large in size and well cooked.  But coated.  Ugh.  Why serve coated/breaded wings when you’re going to cover them in sauce?  You just end up with soggy skin and soggy breading.   The sauce itself was very interesting though – it starts off sweet and ends with a healthy dose of heat.  I wasn’t able to quite place the sweetness – I think there was some honey in there.  Possibly some mustard contributing to the heat as well, which would help explain the delayed heat.  It is a remarkably complex sauce on an unfortunate choice of wings.

The tenders were also coated, but it appeared to be in a different manner than the wings and they held their crunch a LITTLE bit longer than the wings.  However, the sauce wasn’t nearly as much of a hit as the house sauce, primarily because the "ranch" portion of "buffalo ranch" was underwhelming, leaving it tasting more like just a toned down creamy buffalo wing sauce, rather than adding a deeper dimension of flavor.  I detected a distinct mustard tone to the sauce as well.  Arizona Ranch from Quaker Steak & Lube these ain’t!

Like all the food at Boneyard, the wings left me disappointed but not completely horrified.  They weren’t undercooked or bad tasting… they just aren’t executed very well.

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars

Hard Rock Cafe – Orlando, FL

The Hard Rock Cafe is obviously closely related to Planet Hollywood, at least in concept – take a part of pop culture and exploit it in a restaurant setting, creating a destination venue.  However, not only has the Hard Rock had greater success in America and Internationally, but the restaurants simply execute their themes and food better than Planet Hollywood.

Case in point: their wings… the HRC Hickory Smoked Chicken Wings with Classic Rock sauce came as part of the Jumbo Combo we shared at our table.  While not the best wings I’ve ever had, they blew the Planet Hollywood wings away.  They have a more interesting sauce with a greater depth of flavor and a pleasantly light smoked flavor to the meat.  More sauce and crispier skin would have made them better, but they were satisfying as is.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Planet Hollywood – Orlando, FL

Planet Hollywood is a weird chain that has struggled through the years and has only a few left in the United States – only five of their 18 restaurants are in North America.  Apparently people elsewhere are more obsessed with Hollywood than we are, which is scary considering how obsessed American are.

Anyway – as one of our appetizers, we got buffalo wings.  Nothing to get excited about here.  They weren’t bad, but they weren’t particularly crispy, unique tasting, or different in any way.  The skin wasn’t very crispy and the sauce was more hot than flavorful.  If I ever went back to Planet Hollywood again (and based on the average meal we had and the sheer chaos of the restaurant, I can’t say I’ll be rushing back), I wouldn’t get them again.

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars