Let's face it: Chicken wings are not very good for you.
But they sure do go good with beer, and they generally fit into one's budget. Which is why we risked life and cholesterol count to rate the wings at each and every sports bar we visited. (Do not, we repeat, DO NOT try a stunt like this yourself. Bad things happen to people who eat too many chicken wings.)
Just for the record: How can any restaurant called a "grill" not offer grilled chicken wings?
And a word regarding celery sticks: Is it too much to ask that any self-respecting chicken-wing-offering establishment provide six to eight pieces of one of the cheapest vegetables on earth? And furthermore, assuming one does stock the crunchy accompaniments, what's so tough about keeping them crisp? Didn't everyone learn from their mother how to freshen up those stalks in a jar of cold water? And how to cut off the discolored split ends?
Here they are, from best to worst:
Shuckers (12 halves/$5.65, 24/$9.95; 95 cents for extra celery and blue cheese): The only place with the good sense to serve grilled wings! Delicious and not at all scrawny, with a tang that doesn't overwhelm that yummy grilled flavor. If grilled sounds too healthy, you can still do the fried thing, with or without batter.
Hooters (10 halves/$5.45, 20 halves/$8.50, 50 halves/$18.95; 65 cents extra for celery): Good-sized and tasty, crunchy outside, moist inside, and not too greasy. And hot actually means hot! (Extra points for providing bottles of hot sauce at every table and serving live celery.)
Jimmy Johnson's (12 halves /$5.25): Nice and spicy, average-sized and just a bit greasy. By far the loveliest to look at: Made with jalapeno Tabasco sauce, the wings are greenish in hue. They're served not with celery but with a portion of decent red-pepper aioli (essentially a garlic mayonnaise) that is orange. Must be a Hurricanes holdover.
Don Shula's (10 halves with celery/$4.95): Tangy, good-sized, not greasy.
Flanigan's (6 halves/$2.29, 12 halves/$3.99, 24 halves/$6.99): Not too big and a little greasy, but very tasty and crunchier than most. Also cheap. But no free celery -- three measly sticks with icky ends and some blue cheese cost 39 cents extra. Add another dime and you get three carrot sticks. Why not just raise the price of the wings?
Dan Marino's (10 halves with celery/$6.95): Good-sized, tasty, not too greasy, but a little pricey.
Clevelander (10 halves with celery/$6.70): Not too small, not too greasy, and rather tasty. But these "extra spicy" wings cost 75 cents more than the plain ones, and they weren't all that spicy. Three sick-looking celery sticks ceremoniously arranged on top of the wings added insult to injury.
Thunder Alley (10 halves with celery/$3.99, 20/$6.99, 50/$11.99): Plump, tasty, spicy, and with garlic if you want it. Good price. But too much grease.
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Key West Fishing Club (12 halves/$6.95): Not at all Buffalo-style as billed. Still tasty in a spicy, Chinesey honey sauce. But rather small. And overpriced.
Hooligan's (8 whole wings with celery sticks/$4.99, 16/$9.50): Greasy, and though billed "with garlic," not nearly garlicky enough.
Lakes Sportsbar "N" Grill (10 whole wings with celery/$4.99, 20/$7.99): The most for your money -- including the grease.
Sport Cafe Chicken wings, no. Delicious handmade mushroom pizza topped with fresh basil ($6.95), yes. What a relief!