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. 

Wing Dipper Review

A few months ago I was sent a sample of something called The Wing Dipper.  I’ve been meaning to try it out for a while now, and this week, the magic combination of wings and remembering to bring the Wing Dipper finally worked out!

It is meant for dipping the wing into the blue cheese dressing that accompanies most hot wings, but I actually used it for dipping it into more wing sauce.  I have to say, it works quite well. The unique shape fits the wing perfectly.

The next day, when eating my leftovers, I used The Wing Dipper for its original purpose, and it again worked quite well. 

Its a clever little thing that any wing-focused restaurant should be using instead of the Frontpageinusestupid little round dishes.  It makes sense and probably results in less waste for the restaurant, as the customer can make better use of their blue cheese dressing. 

Ideally, I’d love to see a restaurant get really clever with it and offer a wing sampler: a basket of dry, cooked wings with several sauces for dipping.  I’ve been to a number of restaurants that have multiple wing sauce offerings and had a difficult time deciding, especially when there is something really different that I’d like to TRY but not necessarily eat a whole order of.  It works for beer and wine – sampling flights – why not wing sauces???  How much fun to not only try a few sauces, but perhaps be able to adjust your own heat as well or share a basket of wings with people who have different tastes and spice tolerances?

Please note: I expect royalties for this idea, but will gladly take them in exchange for wings!   

Thinking About Wings

I recently exchanged emails with my cousin Matt, who is also a wing aficionado, and we got to talking about "crispy wings."  He asked for a clarification about what I mean by that, and I came up with the following:

When I – and other wing reviewers – refer to "crispy wings" we are talking about the skin.  Not unlike good barbecued chicken, a hot wing should be cooked enough that the fat which lies under the skin of the wing (either section – the wing or drumstick) has been rendered out, leaving a nice crispy skin.  You This can be a delicate balance: you can go from "crispy skin" to "crispy chicken" to "burnt" relatively quickly.  But when you do get a well-cooked wing, you should have meat that comes off the bone easily, is still moist, with chicken skin that is crispy and not flabby and/or soggy.  At least that’s what I think. 

The crispy skin seems to also provide a barrier of sorts against the sauce making the wing soggy.  That’s why I don’t get wings that are breaded and then served with a sauce.  Typically you have about 30 seconds before the sauce penetrates the breading and makes for a soggy, disappointing mess.

This then led to me thinking about how do I actually judge wings.  I don’t have a formal "point scale" but if I did, I think this is what I would use:

Wing rating guide (100 Points = Perfect Wing)

Size of wing – Are they very small and puny or large and plump? Too large for sauce for good sauce to meat ratio
10 points

Texture of wing – Is it 100% cooked through so that it is tender and juicy? Or is it overcooked and dry or undercooked and tough?
30 points

Texture of skin/exterior – Is the skin crispy and the fat rendered out, or is it fatty and flabby? If breaded, is it crispy and flavorful or soggy and bland?
30 points

Quality of sauce – Overall flavor? Spiciness? Spiciness vs. flavor – is it too hot to taste anything else? Is it an original tasting sauce, or just another Frank’s Red Hot and margarine? (not that there’s really anything WRONG with that) Quantity of sauce: are they floating, a bit on the dry side (leaving you wanting more) or just right?
30 points

I don’t know if I’ll start using this officially on this blog, but I wanted to give everyone an idea of what I’m thinking about when I review wings.

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. 

Buffalo Wild Wings – Wildmessages.com

Last week I was contacted by someone at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant (or rather, their agency) telling me about a new promotion that they are running.  Yes, people actually find this site and want me to tell all of you wonderful readers about things.  Apparently I’m an influencer.  That makes me quasi-somewhat relevant in some manner.  I think.

I wasn’t going to give them a plug at first, but then I checked out the site and it is pretty cool and who am I to stand in the way of encouraging more hot wing consumption?? Check out wildmessages.com, and if you wind up going there, let me know how it is… there is one a few hours away from here and I’m going to try to get there to try it out sooner rather than later.  I’ve never had them, so I can’t vouch for them, but one would hope that they are good, since, you know, it’s what the restaurant seems to be based around!

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

T.G.I. Friday’s Ancho Chile Wings – Everywhere

I had high hopes for these wings.  Just read this description: "Our buffalo wings are tossed in Ancho honey-glaze.  Served with a side of green chile sour cream sauce."  Mmmm…. ancho and honey.

Unfortunately, they just didn’t live up to expectations.  They weren’t bad.  But they weren’t very good either.  The flavor was a bit strange – really couldn’t put my finger on it.  They weren’t that spicy and they weren’t sticky sweet.  They are very middle of the road and therefore kind of uninteresting.  Looking back, it may be the fault of the Ancho itself, which has more of paprika flavor and I shouldn’t have gotten so excited.  Chipotle honey glaze… now that would be interesting!

However, the wings are a virtual mouth party compared to the "green chile sour cream sauce" which tastes like leaky sour cream with flavorless little green bits in it.

Friday’s needs to take a clue from its own "Wicked Wings" that I reviewed just about a year ago.  I’ve also had their buffalo flavor and they are quite good.  This was a miss for Friday’s.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars