Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The final flight...

So, to round out the wing wanderings, I went back to both "Wings Over...", a multi-location franchise, and "The Chicken Bone Saloon", a local joint in Framingham. What follows is mostly a re-print of my review from last year, since not much has changed, and my findings remain the same.

You can find out more about the “Wings Over…” franchise at their website. Since it began in Amherst, MA (long after my departure), I should be inclined to like it. Back when I was stalking the mean streets of Amherst (with some brass knuckles and a sock filled with a few rolls of quarters), the only choice was “Wings Express”, which was down a small alley behind the stores on North Pleasant Street, just around the corner from that bastion of fine Mexican dining…Taco Villa!

The “ambiance” of ‘Wings Over…” is like the ambiance of an airline hanger. Convenient, since they somehow try to confusingly incorporate an airplane theme. It is very industrial, and the Framingham location, located in an old car dealership, is mostly take-out with extremely limited seating. Thankfully, we employed the patented “stand over the people and make them uncomfortable” technique. However, I’ve seen fraternity house kitchen tables after a toga party that were cleaner…I felt bad for the girl working clean-up.

The few times I’ve been, I’ve ordered the “Cajun Blackened” and the “buffalo”. The Cajun is a dry-spiced wing, as opposed to the sopping wet wings you get at most places. The cajun wings were fried, then re-spiced and grilled over a flame, I think. There was a good ratio, 50/50 of “flats” or “wings” to “drummies”; they were tasty and meaty, and I give them good marks. Other than the limited seating, I recommend “Wings Over….” I also liked the buffalo sauce, but I admit I’m not rushing back, but mostly because there’s so little seating.

While still holding on to fresh memories of Wings Over Framingham (and probably the wings themselves), I was enticed to go to The Chicken Bone Saloon (aka “The Bone”), less than a mile from “Wings Over…”. The Bone has been there for years…I remember going there once, when I felt tougher. It’s in an area of Framingham that is literally “on the other side of the tracks” and if you went, you went down two steps, physically, and socially (I know, I beat this joke to death). Glad to say, while still a bar room, it is much more family-friendly, and becoming so popular that they’ve opened a second seasonal location right near Fenway Park ( and now closed…apparently, not as popular as I thought). Check out The Bone here!

The Bone has a very extensive menu…reminding me a bit of the Anchor Bar, both in choices, and décor. After much consideration, I ordered the “garlic hot” (which is traditional hot Buffalo sauce with added garlic) with a side of “thermonuclear”; Sterling got boneless wings with traditional hot Buffalo. With nervous anticipation, we opened the to-go cartons, and were duly impressed. The aroma was sublime and they were still scorching hot and fresh. First impressions: these really held up well in take-out containers, and they were very appetizing looking. Second impressions: very meaty and fresh. What was especially impressive was that the skin was still crisp even though they were doused in sauce-that can be hard trick to pull off, and they did it well.

Other impressions: the ratio of flats to drummies was not aligned. In an 8 piece order, I had 3 flats and 5 drummies (must have been from Chernobyl chicken!). Doesn’t much matter to me, since I like both parts equally, but I just thought it would be even. Also, “The Bone” tosses in a tremendous handful of carrots and some celery, whereas “Wings Over…” just gives a couple pieces of celery (and what do you do, if you’re like me and hate celery?). Also, “Wings Over…” gives you a food service container of blue cheese dressing, about the size of a shot glass with a hermetically sealed foil cover. “The Bone” gives you a cup twice that size (the size of a kid’s beverage), filled with chunky blue cheese dressing…advantage “The Bone”.

To be the champ, you gotta beat the champ…locals who claimed the Bone was on to something were right, “The Bone” wins, in quality of packaging, crispness after saucing, quantity of veggies, and menu choices. That’s not to say that “Wings Over…” isn’t good-they are, but even with a tie in wing quality, the tie has to be broken with the veggies, packaging, etc...

Honorable mention- Sichuan Gourmet with locations in Billerica, Framingham and Brookline. You can’t think of a fried chicken wing without thinking about Chinese food. The ubiquitous wing has been part of Americanized Chinese Food since Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy…Sichuan Gourmet has taken that wing to a new level.

Sichuan is the place to go if you like traditional Sichuan cuisine, which basically means “spicy”. While they offer regular wings on the menu, they also offer the mysteriously named “Spicy Fried Chicken Wings”. We’ve been ordering these ever since Sichuan opened, and they are fantastic. These are entirely different from a Buffalo wing. They are fried, then tossed in a garlic-chili oil, then garnished with hot green peppers and scallions. Wow, absolutely delcious, but like an inferno in your mouth. Do not eat these if you have a canker sore, or had dental work, but when you eat them, the endorphins do take over.

No doubt, my mother has stopped reading this by now. But if she happens to still be reading at this point, don’t worry, my next food venture is into salads (yeah, right!).

Now go out and eat some wings.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flying high...

Caution, the photos you are about to see may be real, and delicious...

In addition to the Burrito Battle, I also embarked on a sister-quest: Wing Whirlwind…in my mind, you can’t go wrong washing down burritos with some deep-fried buffalo wings.

My methodology for wings was a little different than for burritos. I will discuss and compare wings from wherever consumed. The process for making wings is the same whether at a sit-down restaurant or a barroom-you take chicken wings, fry them, sauce them, and serve them. Takes the same time and basically follows the same procedure. No place was disqualified.

There are a couple of camps for wings…drumettes vs. flats, breaded vs. plain, bone-in vs. boneless, blue cheese vs. ranch. I visited a boneless chicken farm in Pennsylvania once, and it wasn’t pretty...poor little bastards.

I like both the drummies and the flats, and I like them without breading…au naturale, if you will. And I like it on the bone. The boneless “wing” is really the ugly stepchild of bar food. Too many places, almost all on my list, use a breaded boneless cutlet that has been flattened to almost non-existance, and coated in a thick crumb coasting…pretty much right off the Sysco truck. The exception-the Chicken Bone in Framingham which uses a fresh hunk of chicken that they hand-bread.

The buffalo wing battle for supremacy could go on all day and night. It seems that everywhere thet sell appetizers there is some version of a chicken wing. Having eaten hundreds of wings for you, hungry readers, I can honestly say, unlike burritos, that could eat hundreds more. There is something tasty, yet unfilling, with wings. I could eat them until the boneless chickens come home.

Without further ado, here is a list of places where I ate buffalo wings, with comments (of course)…

Uno’s-this place always surprises me in that these franchises can pull off their food as well as they do. Uno’s has different burgers and the usual pub food, as you all know, but they have a very pleasant wing. The offer a “Wing 3-Way” (I suppose a rooster’s dream come true), but in reality, it’s nine buffalo wings with a choice of three wings with 3 sauces each. I usually just stick with the buffalo sauce, but recently tried some with buffalo-garlic romano. Delish, but stand back.

Acapulcos is a Mexican restaurant chain with locations all over Massachusetts. They serve a wing for an appetizer, which is quite substantial an order, but I wouldn’t call them buffalo wings. The wings are heavily breaded, no sauce, and fired to a crispy brown. They are tasty, and very crunchy, but without sauce, it’s just fried chicken.

British Beer Company-not terrible, but not impressive for a place that bills itself as a pub. What better pub food is there than a buffalo wing. At a place like this, the wing better be very good, but here they are just ok, but not very large or meaty.

Truants in Woodstock, NH. This is a barroom’s bar, with a dining room in the lower level. The wings were ok, but not excellent. As my son says, a bar has to know how to do wings, and if there’s anyone who should know about barrooms, it’s a 14 and a half year old boy.

Common Man in Lincoln, NH, with other locations statewide. We ate dinner in the pub that night. The pub was a great environment…unlimited cheese and crackers, sitting on couches or easy chairs. There is a giant stone fireplace in the pub, and I can imagine that during the winter, a roaring fire where they can have virgin sacrifices. Besides home-made potato chips, all I ate were wings and these were great wings…meaty, fresh...highly recomended.

Moat Mountain in North Conway, NH. As you readers of my earlier posts know, I love the Moat Mountain Smokehouse. I always have a decent meal there, and these wings did not dissapoint. They were excellent, especially the spicy honey chipotle version

Buff’s Pub in Newton Corner, Massachusetts. This place has the reputation of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. Any buffalo wing train has to stop at the Buff’s Pub station. I can tell you that the wings did not dissapoint-the wings were hot, meaty, and covered in finger-licking goodness. Unfortunately, while close to the top of the wing food chain, the “boneless” wing was a pedestrian processed cutlet off the back of a food service delivery truck. Buff’s Pub was “almost, but not quite”.

Firefly’s with multiple locations locally. Any regular reader or listener knows that I am not a fan of their food. Their bbq is blasé’, to say the least, but they do make a nice wing. The wings are not fried, nor served buffalo style, but they are humongous…like Chernobyl Chicken wings. They are smoked, then grilled a little to char them up. Served with buffalo sauce (and other sauces from the condiment bar) I give these high marks, though the rest of the menu isn’t executed nearly as well.

Whole Paycheck-though their burritos are nearly perfect, their wings on the food bar are terrible. Wings on a steam table are impossible to keep hot or remotely fresh…I say walk on by.

Speaking of walking by, I urge you never to order the wings at the Union Street Bar and Grill, Newton Centre. Without a doubt, the worst wings I had during this quest. The were very slow to come out of the kitchen, and even though they were ordered as an appetizer, they came out after all the other food hit the table. They looked good, and they appeared hot, but one bite, and looks were very deceiving. The skin was rubbery, and the flavor had an off-putting taste. I offered them around the table of 8 other hungry people, and everyone declined. Not a good sign. They were so bad that I posted on Facebook my warning about these from the table, with picture. Their other food might be good (and I say “might”, because I also had to return my salad since I had ordered it without the hair “garnish”). It was a bad day overall for Union Street.

Almost like going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, no trip to the buffalo wing holy land could be complete without a trip to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. I almost got chills as we walked in, but that could have been because it was August and they had the air conditioning on…For me, eating at the Anchor Bar was almost as cool as meeting Thurgood Marshall, since the both had a lasting impact on America, in their own ways.

The Archor Bar claims to be the inventor of the Buffalo wing. Since they are located in Buffalo, I have to give them credit for being the first place in Buffalo to sauce their wings, but you can’t tell me no one ever thought of putting sauce on a piece of fried chicken before 1964??? Nevertheless, I have no complaints about the Anchor Bar wings-hot, meaty, saucy, and the “original”.

The leads us to the two other joints local to me. I reveiewed these a few years back, before I went on the “Wing Wander”. I found that nothing had changed, and the earlier comments still apply. I offer you an edited version of that post tomorrow…