For me and my partner 2009 was the year of the chicken wing. A side effect of our impending parenthood dictated we ate a low carb diet so we became regulars at Buffalo Wild Wings aka BW3 (I know that’s not their name anymore but deal with it, I’m a creature of habit) and Quaker Steak & Lube. While our carb restriction has eased since the kid came into the world, we still pick up the occasional wing and have now included Madison’s newest wingery, Wingstop. So in honor of 2009 it seemed like a good idea to do a little comparison.
The key to a good wing for me is the meat and how it’s cooked. It should be pretty hard to fuck up a wing but if you’ve ever sampled Pizza Hut’s version you know it can be done. Quaker has ok meat quality. I often find wings with little to no meat and their boneless wings are simply grilled chunks of breast meat that are visually unappealing. BW3 also is inconsistent with their traditional wings all though I’d say the quality of meat in their boneless is excellent. Unfortunately their boneless wings are often over breaded. Wingstop came out on top for both traditional and boneless. The traditional wings are always meaty and the boneless have good quality meat with the perfect amount of breading. The amount of sauce on both is perfect too as BW3 is too inconsistent (over and under sauced) and Quaker’s traditional are often over sauced.
Runner Up: BW3
Last Place: Quaker
Wingstop is limited to eight sauces which doesn’t make it much of a fight against the numerous offerings of both Quaker and BW3. I’ve only sampled two sauces at Wingstop, and the Cajun sauce with dry rub is perhaps my new favorite in town. That being said their limited list and my own inexperience with said list leaves them at the bottom of this category with an incomplete. Quaker is solid in the sauce area but not spectacular. The Arizona Ranch is a unique sauce that I’ve never had anywhere else. The Buckeye BBQ is a good hot BBQ sauce but certainly not destination dining worthy. The Blazin’ sauce at BW3 is my favorite of the super hot variety and their spicy garlic is my partner’s favorite. I’ve probably worked my way through about two thirds of their sauces and the only negative experience I had was with their Parmesan Garlic (which should have been evident in retrospect).
Runner Up: Quaker
Sides and Other Menu Items
Wingstop smartly limits their menu and in doing so is able to focus on cooking those wings just right. I’ve only sampled their skin on fries but they are excellent and have a nice spice mixture served over them. Their coleslaw is supposedly equally as good but I haven’t tried it yet. BW3 has both potato wedges and circular “chips” that are usually pretty good. Again the various BW3 kitchens seem to have a problem with consistency but when they’re good they’re good. Their other menu items do not fare as well. The burgers are overcooked with buns that are too pronounced. Their ribs are a crime against BBQ enthusiasts everywhere and are way overpriced for their subpar meat. Quaker on the other hand has an extensive menu that is executed professionally and has exceeded my expectations over and over again. Their steaks are all grilled nicely and have good flavor. The burgers tend to overshadowed by their toppings but are still well done. While I usually prefer thin onion rings, their traditional “fat” ring is one of the best in town. Their salads are also done well with good fresh produce. The only negative is their fries which are pedestrian at best and lack seasoning.
Runner Up: Wingstop
Last Place: BW3
I wonder how the execs at BW3 feel about becoming the poster child for every restaurant service jab I’ve heard over the last year. Even though they have their to-go bags inspected they constantly fail to accurately bag up an order. Likewise their table delivery in house is similarly troubled. “The customer is always wrong” seems to be their motto. Take for example an experience I had this summer. I was calling in our weekly pregnancy take out order and was told by the staff that since it was 49 cent wing night I could only order take out in person. I asked why and was informed that it would not be fair to put my order ahead of someone dining in. I agreed and said I’d be happy to wait but that I’d rather wait in the comfort of my home as opposed to their hard stiff chairs by the door. Again I was told this wasn’t a possibility. I explained that I’d been ordering wings from them about once a week for almost nine months and that their food had been a savior for my pregnant partner. Apparently this loyalty meant nothing to them. When I asked to speak to the manager I was hung up on. When I called back and spoke to an assistant manager I was hung up on again. Calls and emails to both their corporate office and to the head manager were never returned. In short BW3 lost me as a loyal customer that night. This is just one example but I’ve heard enough similar stories from friends and associates to know this a trend. On the complete opposite side are Quaker and Wingstop. Quaker also has a cheap wing night and I’ve never had a problem getting take out from them. In addition they are always happy to accommodate special requests. Wingstop clearly knows they’re the new kid in town and are putting their best foot forward. They’ve been giving out free samples of their sides to folks and their staff shows great patience with new customers. They have counter service only but their servers are more polished than the wait staff and bartenders at BW3.
Runner Up: Wingstop
Epic Fail: BW3
Final Verdict: If you’re looking for purely a wing experience I’d rank them 1) Wingstop, 2) Quaker and 3) BW3. If you’re looking to dine in I’d rank them 1) Quaker 2) Wingstop and 3) BW3. While I’m sure 2010 doesn’t hold as many wings for me, two of these three places have certainly earned my repeat business and the third will still probably get some if only out of habit and curiosity.