Recently, The New York Times food writer Pete Wells excoriated Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant. Service? Crap. Food? Horrific. Booze? Undrinkable. Concept? Insulting. The review is a joyful read for any of us who roll our eyes at the inclusion of the Olive Garden in a discussion of Italian food or recoil at an innocent suggestion of grabbing lunch at Applebee’s. I am one of those people. I judge others easily and sometimes harshly based on such things.
So it is with great shame and a true Catholic sense of guilt that I must confess something. I ate at Buffalo Wild Wings on opening day and enjoyed it. Loved it, actually. The snob in me wants to do a Fieri-esque roast of the place. But the endorphin-fueled, chicken- and beer-loving gal in me just won’t let it happen.
B-Dubs, as it chummily calls itself, has all the makings of a jerkwad hangout. It’s loud, brightly lit, and full of young college men wearing too much Axe body spray. The wait staff is trained to be perky and make friendly suggestions (“Chili con queso is my favorite sharable” can be heard ten times in an hour as the waitresses greet new tables). Waiters abbreviate the names of menu items to suggest that they’ve worked in this chummy bro-hole for years and developed an insiders’ lexicon even though it’s opening day. There are so many TVs as to be seizure-inducing, and in the midst of this, the waitress drops off a trivia console to “join the game!” It’s an exercise in idiocy to try and read the trivia question on one of the 50 screens, discuss possibilities with your tablemates with a mouth full of chicken, and press a tiny button on the controller in between licking wing sauce off your sticky fingers and chugging a 22 oz. beer. It is overwhelming. And it is amazing.
The meat that comes to the table may be sliced from chickens crammed twenty to a cage in a giant creepy warehouse. They probably had a terrible life. It’s certainly not organic. And It’s most definitely not local. The zing in the Asian Zing sauce is likely sourced from a flavor factory in New Jersey. I know all of these things thanks to people like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. And I feel ashamed writing their names in the same story as the word “B-Dubs.” As I sit at the table, these thoughts run through my mind. I wonder how I even got here, why I chose to give my money to a chain and what the reality behind the aggressively attractive menu is.
But then I take a bite. The wings are pitch perfect. Juicy and firm with a skin that crunches and resists the bite just enough. The sauce is in perfect proportion to meat and is spicy but not too spicy. The flavors are varied. The Caribbean jerk wings have a touch too much clove, but they balance perfectly when followed by the spicy garlic wings. I feel giddy.
The powerful rush of serotonin triggered by the sugar, salt, and fat has superseded all guilt and doubt. I am a happy slob with wing sauce on my face. And I’m not alone.
B-Dubs is not just a chain—it’s a trend and way of life. The lighting, TVs, beer, and perky staff are all part of the trick. Americans, and maybe others, crave the façade of a neighborhood joint and the assumed camaraderie that comes with it. Think of the slogans: Olive Garden’s “When you’re here, you’re family”; Applebee’s “See you tomorrow.” Perhaps when we lack true communities that come with breaking bread and food we trust served at a communal table, we are happy with marketing slogans.
When my friends and I finish our 50 or so wings and giant beers, I don’t think about it like that. It’s hours later when the indigestion hits that I really consider what it might mean, and whether or not that rush is enough to go back. I bet it is. It’s powerful stuff.
by Bridget Egan