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Troy’s Wings on Parade

August 14, 2013

[Editor’s note: In my absence from the Capital Region, I’m still trying to keep the quarterly tours going. Jessica R. stepped up and volunteered to lead this summer tour. What follows is her recap from the experience. Be forewarned, what you read may shock you. But I’ve been through the scoresheets and the excel chart. I stand by these official findings of an intrepid group of eaters who dedicated their time and their bodies to this noble cause. I am the profussor, and I endorse this guest post.]

By Jessica R.

The first thing most participants asked me as we started the Fussy Little Blog’s Tour de Troy Wing on Saturday was, “How did you get this job?” This was usually asked with a mix of curiosity and pity. Well, people have been requesting a Wing tour for some time now. And, having grown up near Buffalo, I know a thing or two about wings. Also, as a Troy resident, I’ll do just about anything to bring people to my city. Ultimately, it came down to wanting to finally settle the score – who has the best wings in Troy.

Although there are many places in the Capitol Region claiming to have good wings, the two that most everyone can agree on are based in Troy – The Ale House and The Ruck. Our group of 10 participants were also fans of these institutions, with 7 choosing the Ruck as the expected winner, 2 selecting the Ale House, and one not being able to choose between the two.

To round out our Tour I selected Bombers, the new comer to town, but known for having good wings in its other locations. FLB readers helped us choose our remaining spots – The Park Pub and The Notty Pine. Unfortunately, when we arrived at The Notty Pine, their doors were closed, even though their website and sticker on the door said it should be open. Someone suggested we fill in the spot with Ryan’s Wake – who just expanded their menu a few months ago. No one seemed to mind the idea of giving this new menu a chance and ending the tour at a bar with a deck overlooking the river, so it was settled.

Before we go further, let’s talk about Buffalo Wings.

A traditional Buffalo Wing is made with a sauce made from Frank’s Red Hot and butter, and served with blue cheese dressing and veggies – usually celery and carrots. For our tour we were looking for this traditional interpretation. Sure, some places might add pepper, a bit of BBQ sauce or vinegar, but you can’t stray too far from this basic recipe and still be considered a Buffalo Wing.

There were several tour stops that seemed dismayed we only wanted medium Buffalo wings, insisting we should try their specialty wing sauce(s) (Park Pub: PB&J, Ale House: Tequila Chipotle). Some of those might have been spectacular, but if you don’t have a fryer and cook who can take a second rate part of a bird and make it into a juicy, spicy, fatty mouthful of happiness, then you can’t (or shouldn’t) move on to a specialty wing. As Burnt My Fingers put it,

“It’s a no-brainer to fry up wings, toss them in melted butter and Frank’s Red Hot and serve them with a cup of pre made dressing. But thought went into that dressing, and more thought into what vegetables are provided, how many of them, and how they are arranged on the platter. That tells you whether they’re somebody actually thinking about the food.”

With this thought in our head, hunger in our belly’s, and Daniel’s FLB sanction on our backside, we headed on our quest.

I don’t think I will be giving away too much right away by saying our group had clear opinions of who should be 4th and 5th place. Almost everyone declared The Park Pub 4th place and Bombers 5th place. For the Park Pub (the value of the day at 10 wings for $7.25), people thought their skin was “nice and crisp”, but that there was “not nearly enough” sauce. (To quote Angelos, “There was sauce?”). The Park Pub did get good marks for their veggies, but some thought their dip varied more towards the Ranch side of the Ranch/Blue Cheese spectrum. Bonus points were awarded for the great atmosphere on the deck, friendly wait staff, and being the only place that provided wet naps throughout the day.

Bombers was the most expensive (10 for $9.99) and least well received. The wings seemed “undercooked”, “fatty, not crispy”, and “slightly chewy”. It seems they had not been cooked long enough or hot enough to render most of the fat. There was also an issue with most of the sauce ending up on the plate rather than the wings – either because it was too watery, or the wings being too wet and under done themselves. Bombers was also the only place to only offer celery for their veggies, and their handmade blue cheese variant got both good and bad reviews for having some of its own south-of-the-border heat to it.

Now we come to the interesting part. The Ale House vs. The Ruck vs. the “unexpected dark horse”; Ryan’s Wake.

Ryan’s Wake (10 wings for $9.75), which we thought would just be a throw-away contender, ended up being the surprise of the day. Although some participants felt the wings could have been cooked longer to get crispier, people really loved their complex sauce. As Cmaxby summed up,

“There’s more than just a traditional buffalo flavor here- whiskey or something- but it wasn’t overwhelming. I think the addition technically should knock them out of the competition but it really worked as a combination of flavors.”

Others agreed, with two people giving Ryan’s Wake their 1st place nods, and 3 others putting them in second place or tied for second. It should be noted that the two people who put Ryan’s Wake in first place for the day were those with the fewest ties to Troy – which to me means they were the most open minded and least biased participants. The Masticating Monkey summed up his first place choice: “The sauce – whiskey and Frank’s Red Hot, Skin is pretty nice, not too limp. Sauce is tasty – blue cheese based.”

Our trip to the Ale House (10 wings for $8.99) was the highlight of the day for most people. The wings were “very big and nice” and “meaty”. Most importantly, people appreciated that the wings were “saucy, yet crispy”. Marion Ross thought they had the “Perfect amount of sauce. Could have used a little more heat, but nice flavor. “ Again, from the quotable Cmaxby; “Defied the laws of kitchen physics: The skin stays crispy for a while while COVERED in delicious sauce…Practically a perfect wing in every way.” The Ale House also got good scores for its “crisp and cool” veggies, but their blue cheese sauce seemed like an off-the-shelf offering (“Ken’s Blue Cheese”?).

Based on our participant’s expectations, this race was The Ruck’s (10 wings for $8) to lose. Unfortunately, it seemed to be an off-hour for their fryer. Overall, people’s comments were good (Skin: “Crispy and plentiful”, “perfect fatty/crispy”, Meat: “Perfectly cooked”, Sauce: “Best so far”, Excellent flavor”), but others found points lacking (“Slightly overcooked”, “Smaller than Ale House”, sauce “was quickly absorbed by the wing due to the overcook”). Several regular patrons, including myself, thought the wings were a bit off compared to their normal glory. One participant noted the she, “Had wings there again later in the evening. If we had been served those in the afternoon the Ruck would have been the clear winner.” Fortunately, the overall Ruck experience was bolstered by the “Perfect” and “Amazing” homemade blue cheese, which “put it over the top” for those who put the Ruck in first place.

Ultimately, The Ale House prevailed over The Ruck. For the category judging only the wing, the Ale House scored an average of 4.3 out of 5, while The Ruck scored 3.9. For the scores of the overall experience including veggies and dip, the two were at a statistical tie: 4.08 for the Ale House and 4.07 for The Ruck, which goes to show just how good that blue cheese is. However, when we look at participant’s rankings, the Ale House is the clear winner – 5 people placed it in first place. Two people chose The Ruck for first place, and 1 person had them tied for first.

The moral of the story is that Troy is a great place to go for wings.

On this outing The Ale House reigned, and The Ruck seemed to have a bad day. Maybe the Ale House’s fry oil was just a little fresher or a little closer to the perfect temperature to change that fatty skin into crispy skin that holds, rather than absorbs, sauce. People have said on blogs before that the Ale House is more consistent than the Ruck, and I kind of brushed that idea off, but it seems to have played out this past Saturday. Honestly, tasting The Ale House and The Ruck’s wings back-to-back made it clear to me personally who had the better product.

Props also go to Ryan’s Wake, for putting out a solid contender in the midst of regional icons. You also really can’t go wrong with the Park Pub, especially if you’re looking for a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere on a great deck.

Finally, I’m throwing this out there for the new Troy slogan: “Come for the ______, stay for the Wings!” #stayforthewings #enjoytroy!

[Editor’s note: Thank you, thank you, thank you Jessica R. Never did I imagine that in addition to leading this ragtag crew around Troy that she would write up the group’s findings. There were quite a few other bloggers on the tour, and you may see some of their thoughts on the matter around the interwebs, like this one on Burnt My Fingers. I have to say that The Ruck broke my heart, but congratulations to The Ale House for pulling out a victory here. I’ll have to go back and give them another try when I return.]

20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2013 9:17 am

    Fabulous writeup, Jessica! You captured the day perfectly. (Well, maybe you went a little easy on Bombers…) And, though I was one of the minority who voted Ryan’s Wake as best, I think the findings and the explanations are rock-solid and can be used by anyone looking to guide their own Troy Wing Experience.

    • Jessica R permalink
      August 14, 2013 12:02 pm

      Thank you! And thank you for participating and wring out your comments!

      • August 14, 2013 1:07 pm

        Yes, thanks for the great write-up! It was a lot of fun and I’d certainly recommend any of the top three to anyone in the mood for wings. (And you can’t go wrong with the outdoor seating on a nice day at the Park Pub…and I suppose Bombers is a good place for getting drunk.)

      • August 15, 2013 2:15 pm

        I couldn’t even consider getting drunk at Bombers. Been to the Troy location twice and twice I’ve been disappointed. Watery, sweet margaritas, marginal to poor food, and rude waitstaff.

  2. -R. permalink
    August 14, 2013 9:42 am

    Fine job Jessica and tour participants; you made me actually want to sample the intriguing Ryan’s Wake wing offering. While I will semi-quietly gloat over the results, which come as no surprise, one really can’t go wrong with The Ruck either.

    • Jessica R permalink
      August 14, 2013 12:03 pm

      I was at the Ale House last night for the Front Parlor Series, and told Bouie to check for this post today. Hopefully he remembers!

  3. Tom permalink
    August 14, 2013 3:06 pm

    Terrible shame that Finnbar’s was left out of this running. Their signature wings are their jameson whiskey wings, along with a selection of other flavors finishing off with their hot wings made from a sambal sauce. I could bathe in their blue cheese thats home made!

    • August 15, 2013 2:13 pm

      See my comment below… I only now just saw “or buffalo style” on their menu in normal face type within the description for “Whiskey Wings”. The menu should be clear about what they offer.

  4. August 14, 2013 5:55 pm

    I wonder if inconsistency is an issue with The Ruck. After living three blocks away for over two years, I finally went there the first time for wings a few weeks ago and found them very underwhelming. The flavor was excellent but they were soggy and lukewarm, like they’d been sitting under a heat lamp for a while. Given all that I’ve heard about their wings I’m more than willing to give them another try (as well as the Ale Houses’s, which is another place I haven’t been to yet – this is what I get for being a recluse), but they weren’t very impressive the first time around.

    • August 15, 2013 2:08 pm

      Consistency seems to be a recent issue at The Ruck. I’m not sure if it’s a staff or temperature issue or what. They’re still good, and I’ve found that in the evenings they are very much consistently cooked, but the sauce heat still varies.

  5. August 14, 2013 9:18 pm

    Wonderful summary, Jess! Apologies I couldn’t be there, but I will have to recreate on my own!

  6. August 15, 2013 1:48 am

    I’m really disappointed to see that Finnbar’s wasn’t even mentioned in this post, AT LEAST as an honorable mention in some way. I haven’t tried their buffalo wings, but the whiskey wings there are great! As a recent college grad who spent my later years at happy hours at the Ruck FOR their wings, and was convinced they had the best blue cheese a wing could ask for, I am eager to say that Finnbar’s wings and blue cheese are right on par, if not better (*gasp*) than the Ruck’s. If you want to talk about attention to detail, and culinary care that goes into making a solid order of wings your missing a prime spot. I’m not trying to put down other wings, but when the biggest difference is how long a batch was left in a deep fryer, we may want to reconsider why we love some of these staples of Troy, and branch out a bit. Seriously everyone, give Finnbar’s wings a try. They are crispy on the outside, and meaty and tender on the inside. The saucy glaze sticks perfectly and is sweet (not overwhelmingly, like other BBQ wings can be). In fact, the sauce they use and method of flambéing (not frying), creates a great caramelization and helps trap the flavors inside. Pair it with the blue cheese, which is a perfect balance of creaminess and chunkiness (not huge chunks your left fighting to get onto your wing at the end, but simple crumbly bits that really give you the blue cheese flavor), and you have an awesome platter of wingy wonderfulness. Oh, and they have veggies too. Carrots AND Celery. Win!

    • August 15, 2013 2:05 pm

      Finnbar’s doesn’t have buffalo wings on their menu. I would have considered adding them (as their food is great) but they need to show that they offer them.

    • August 15, 2013 2:11 pm

      My bad; their online menu lists buffalo style as an “or” under “Whiskey Wings”. I think they need to fix that (and other menu items like it) to better reflect what they offer. I’d apparently read right over it and discounted them from my list of candidates for the wing tasting because it did not appear they offered buffalo style.

      • ajsteiner permalink
        August 15, 2013 3:39 pm

        You’re right. It might have been hard to spot the buffalo at first glance. Not sure if you take suggestions, but why not do a wings tour of Troy that includes all varieties? Buffalo are always a great classic, but there are so many different creative variations now, it shouldn’t be pigeonholed to just Buffalo. Finnbar’s obviously has the Whiskey, Bombers Lemon Pepper Garlic are great, and Park Pub with the PB&J. Troy isn’t just a good place for Buffalo Wings, it’s a great place for wings in general…and other awesome food as well.

    • Jessica R permalink
      August 17, 2013 2:08 pm

      As I mentioned, the whole tour was based around finding the best version of the traditional Buffalo Wing in Troy. Even if we had gone to Finnbar’s to try their version of the Buffalo wing, it isn’t deep fried, which would make it hard to compare to the others, and not a traditional version.

      Bill had even mentioned including Finnbar’s when we first asked for suggestions, but we thought they only had Whiskey Wings, not Buffalo wings.

      In regard to your suggestion, a few other people have come to me with this idea – just walking up to the place and asking them for their best version of a non-traditional wing – so maybe it will happen. My biggest concern is that it’s not really possible to make a direct comparison to a PB&J sauce, Lemon Pepper Garlic sauce, Teriakyi sauce and Whiskey sauce. It comes down to personal preference, not who makes the best version of the form.

      • Sean permalink
        August 17, 2013 4:25 pm

        Jessica I saw the replys and I just wanted to mention that we DO deep fry our wings. We grill them first, leaving the char marks on them, but then deep fry them. Chef Daniel in our menu has traditional buffalo style wings with the “franks hot sauce and butter reduction”. Our singnature whiskey wings are a big house favorite, but we also get lots of orders for our buffalo style as well. Sorry we missed out on the chance to knock your socks off….maybe next time. But thanks for all the kind consideration on yours, Andy’s and Bill’s behalf.

  7. caravan70 permalink
    August 15, 2013 8:15 am

    Thanks for the great writeup, Jessica… much as I would have loved to be on the tour, I was occupied otherwise. Please do let me know should you schedule something soon… I’d love to participate. My idea is this: (and maybe Daniel will go along): The Capital Region has a ton of old Italian restaurants, particularly downtown. Why not organize a tour of these places, and figure out if they live up to their legend? It would probably take two or three days…. one or two each night… but I think I could survive. ;) We can eat lots of cannoli, drink lots of wine, and have a great time generally.

  8. August 15, 2013 8:29 am

    Christ, I just remembered that anytime I leave a question mark in the comments, Daniel is somehow compelled to answer. Just a quick thing to let him know that I was speculating, not asking. :_) But I think I would like to be given leave to organize that Italian restaurant thing. Nothing involving Billy Joel, of course… just your own taste buds, and a possible improvement for Italian restaurants where we lay our hats at home.

  9. Chris VanDoren permalink
    August 15, 2013 11:50 pm

    I would like to point out the absolutely unacceptable travesty of having a restaurant be closed when you show up. The only reasonable excuse I can think of is a place small enough that there is only one chef and he or she is being hospitalized (or nearly) – in which case there would be a person (or sign on the door) apologizing. The Notty Pine should never be considered again for any contest, comparison, or best of contest again.
    I had the same thing happen at other places including my previous go to lunch place – Madison Station in Pine Hills, Albany, except that they closed for a month during the slow season with no sign, no notice, no reopening day. Needless to say haven’t been back and have noted my disapproval on the review sites.

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