Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chicken And The Sea

After my recent trip to the Windsor Pub to try out their burger, I made the decision at some point to try out the place located right next door, Wing House, the next time I was craving chicken wings. As I've mentioned many times before, I picked up the love for a good wing during my college days when we would make weekly outings to the Euclid Tavern for $0.10 wings and pitchers of Busch beer served in gallon-sized glass apple juice bottles. Sauce choices back then were pretty simple: regular, hot, BBQ, and atomic. My, how things have changed.

Located at 1300 East Tallmadge Avenue, Akron, OH 44310, the Wing House can be reached at 330-630-0960. While there wasn't a website available when I visited the Wing House, since then they have acquired one.

Not knowing what to expect, I decided to try them out at a "safe" time. I pulled in the parking lot around 5:30 PM on a Friday night and was greeted with this sign:

The entrance, rather than being road-facing, is actually on the left side of the building:

As I walked from the brightly lit day into the dimmed and subdued lighting of the establishment, my eyes quickly readjusted to take in my new surroundings. To the left were a series of free-standing tables. Directly beyond the tables was a well-lit bar with rows of liquor bottles. Several female bartenders were working to fill drink orders. Directly across from the door were a series of wooden booths. To the right, on a dais, was a series of typical bar activities including pool tables and dart boards.

I noticed that while the bar was only one quarter full, the racial and ethnic diversity of the other patrons let me know that this was not the kind of place that catered to only a select demographic. I decided to sit down at a booth across from the entrance. The menu, held upright in a small plastic inverted-T, seemed to offer a pretty wide variety of food for a place that looked slightly better than your typical dive bar. Then again, the Euclid Tavern back in my halcyon college days was also a dive bar and I craved those wings on a weekly basis, so I figured I'd be open minded. Here was the front of the menu:

And a shot of the back of the menu:

Clearly there were a multitude of categories from which to choose; however, I was here for the wings. One of the employees, a manager if I had to guess, walked by my booth twice in about five minutes. He obviously noticed that I was sort of looking around and he stopped to ask me if I had ever been here before. He explained that the Wing House is not a full-service restaurant and that if I wanted to place a food order, I normally needed to go up to the bar and order and then wait for my name to be called. The food would then appear at the food counter at the rear of the bar near the pool tables.

As I started to get up to place my order, he actually called over one of the bartenders who wasn't busy to help me out. I asked her a few questions about the wing sauces and learned two very important facts. First, you can't split sauces across an order of wings unless you order fifty, and then you only get two choices. Second, the "Atomic" sauce was definitely the hottest sauce on the menu. Knowing that I could be playing with fire (literally) ordering the hottest sauce in the joint, I also decided to order a different wing sauce that I could use to temper the spiciness of my other wings. I decided on "California Gold."

After what seemed like a long time, although in reality it was probably closer to fifteen minutes, my name was called through the loudspeaker. I walked up to the food counter expecting to see a person ready to present me with my food. Instead all I saw was a lonely tray with two cardboard containers of wings on them:

I returned to my booth and prepared to dig in. The Atomic are on the left and the California Gold are on the right. I decided to start with the California Gold first thinking that if the Atomic were truly righteously spicy, I wouldn't be able to taste anything else after eating them. The California Gold were "wetter" than the Atomic, so I tasted the sauce pooled in the bottom of the cardboard tray first using my finger. The sauce reminded me of sweetened BBQ sauce that had a bit of ketchup and mustard added to it. The sweetness felt like it came from honey or molasses. The menu advertises that they make their own sauces daily. If I was a betting man, I'd say they were probably mixing pre-made BBQ sauce, ketchup, and yellow mustard and a sweetener of some kind to take the edge off of the mustard flavor. Regardless, it was a nice sauce.

I then picked up a drummette and bit into the flesh. The chicken skin had clearly been fried, but the skin was still a bit rubbery and not crispy. Unfortunately, most chicken wings in the area are served this way and while passable, certainly isn't my favorite version. As I was chewing the chicken meat, a very unusual flavor sensation hit my palate. I began to discern the flavor of seafood. Thinking that maybe there was something unusual in the California Gold wing sauce, I tasted the sauce again by itself and the seafood flavor was clearly absent.

I finished my first wing and decided to try the Atomic. I bit into the wing only to discover the exact same "fishy" flavor. It wasn't like I was eating a piece of fried fish, but the savory element was definitely there. The much drier Atomic chicken wings didn't have any extra sauce in the bottom of the cardboard tray for me to try, but the sauce was obviously much stronger and spicier than the California Gold had been and the fish flavor was still coming through. I re-checked the menu and sure enough, several fried seafood products were offered. I came to the initial conclusion that clearly the oil used in their fryers was too old and had picked up the flavors of fried fish which was then infused into my chicken wings.

When I returned home, I contacted a number of my foodie friends who informed me that certain oils, such as Canola, have high levels of unsaturated fatty acids (also known as linoleic acids) and break down under high heat and acquire a "fishy" odor and flavor, even if what's fried in it isn't fish. That's why high temperature frying is normally done with peanut oil or vegetable shortening. They don't break down as quickly given the high heat conditions. And according to Accim's Razor, the simplest answer is probably the most accurate. Since the menu didn't advertise "trans fat free oils" being used to fry their products, it was probably vegetable shortening. More than likely, it's been a while since they changed the oil.

Besides the fishy flavor, I should also comment on the Atomic wing sauce. I needn't have been concerned that it would be too spicy. Depending on when I need to blow my nose during the meal is usually a good indicator of how spicy the wings are. This particular meal required a nose blow only after I finished all twelve of my wings and proceeded into the clean-up phase. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say that the spice level of these wings was only about a 6. The flavor was decent, with most of the burn happening at the back of my throat.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. For a place that names itself the "Wing House," you'd figure they'd have stellar wings. While the wings were a nice size, the flabby skin, anemic wing sauces, and most objectionably, fishy flavor of these chicken wings were a big turn-off for me. They do have $0.25 wing nights on Tuesdays, so if you really are interested in trying them out, at least it won't break the bank. Considering that at normal menu prices, six wings cost $4.50, or $0.90 per wing, the Tuesday option is the way to go. Sadly, the only thing that the Wing House's chicken wings really made me crave was a side of tartar sauce in place of the traditional blue cheese as a dip for my wings.

Wing House on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

BONNIE K said...

I went to the Wing House near me (the one in Bedford) once and we waited an hour for our wings to be finished. And we asked several times. So we won't be returning there.

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