Every year on the 4th of July, I head down to the USA. Even though I’m a Canadian citizen, I spend so much time in America that it’s become a second home. Independence Day is a special day, and Americans have always been exceptionally welcoming to us joining their festivities. This year, we took a fireworks boat cruise in the Thousand Island area on Uncle Sam Boat Tours, aboard the appropriately named SS Freedom. The only way this could have been any more American is if Rocky IV had somehow found its way into the evening mix.
Before the ride, we stopped in Watertown, roughly 30 minutes south of the Canadian border for dinner. Buffalo Wild Wings is a major chain restaurant, with nearly 1200 restaurants worldwide. Generally speaking, I’d be on the lookout for something a little closer to the community, but I have a long history with Buffalo Wild Wings. I first discovered them about a decade ago, when they were listed on the Forbes list of Top 200 Small Businesses. This was clearly a company on the rise, doing all the little things right. The wait staff was decked out in football jerseys, with about a hundred TVs at any given location, playing directly to the wing and beer crowd. If there was any sport worth watching, these guys were making sure you did it there. Since then, the stock price has more than quintupled, and even though the growth has leveled off a bit, the business has remained profitable, grossing nearly a billion dollars in sales, and taking home about 6% net profits.
Years ago, I visited with my friend Shaun, and he decided to compete in their Blazing Wing challenge, given 5 minutes to take down a pound of their most vicious colon burning menu creation. He did it, and was given a t-shirt to commemorate the day, even though I’m fairly sure he didn’t walk straight for a week afterwards. More recently, with a half dozen Angry Orchard beers and a couple of pounds of wings in my gut, I got to celebrate my beloved Patriots winning Superbowl XLIX at a location in Clearwater.
Part of the appeal is that while it’s a mass produced effort, they do what they do well. Anytime we cross the border for groceries, you can bet we’re going to stop at Buffalo Wild Wings just to pick up a few of their sauces. There’s nothing more American than a success story, so this was our dinner stop.
While we mulled over our dinner choices, we were not only assigned a waitress, but a Table Captain too. The Captain was named Rob, and he was armed with free beer and sauce samples. This was plenty for us to take a liking to Rob. Rob didn’t give us a choice for samples; but I have to assume a Table Captain is well versed in the business of sauce, giving us four to try: Medium (which is a fairly standard vinegar based hot pepper sauce), Thai Curry (the best thing on the whole menu … it’s got some serious kick, but it’s loaded with great Indian spices), Strawberry Sriracha (a seasonal blend … even though it was ok, I’m not sure how I feel about a strawberry based hot sauce), and Blazin’ (created deep inside the pits of hell, and even the one drop I put on my tongue caused me to spontaneously combust, and quite frankly I’m lucky to still be alive).
I ordered a Small order of boneless wings, which are just breaded pieces of chicken breast. I love traditional wings, but given that we were headed out on our boat date afterwards, I weighed the risks of getting messy, and took the fork and knife route instead. With two sauce options, I went with their Asian Zing, and Mango Habenero. The Asian Zing was great, tasting like a good spicy stir fry. The ginger was the dominant flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering, balancing well with the other components. Mango Habanero was exceptionally spicy, and probably an overreach on my part, as the burning was stronger than anything else. I should have stuck to my favorites; but nothing ventured nothing gained. The other thing I need to remind myself is that this is America, and “Small” meant “far too much food”. The “Snack” size is 6 wings, and that would have been plenty. I wound up only able to eat 8 of my 12 wings.
My wife tried the Grilled Chicken Buffalitos, which was basically a glorified soft taco with your choice of sauce. She went naked on this one, and was happy with the dish. She upgraded her side from fries to fried cheese curds, still remembering the amazing fried cheese curd poutine she’d had from Golden Fries days earlier. With all due respect to PopCurds, who manufactures the treat in our region, Buffalo Wild Wings take on them is better. The breading is lighter, and the crunch is better. These were heavenly. The waitress also erred and brought fries, but those are the kind of mistakes I can appreciate.
All in all, the meal was a deliciously satisfying way to celebrate the independence of another country. Buffalo Wild Wings is a model of consistency – good bar food at reasonable prices. Sometimes, that’s all you need.