Nation's Restaurant News, a restaurant-industry magazine, runs a whimsical bit every week: It features a "clever, funny or bizarre restaurant name" as "Name of the Week." Winners have included operations the likes of the Barking Frog and Thai One On. The column is good for a chortle, and the eateries get the added honor of having their addresses published. Yippee, free publicity.
Here in South Florida we have several restaurants that would qualify for the honor, including places like the Dog House (sells hot dogs) and Catch-22 (seafood). But my current favorite contender is Wing-N-It, a two-month-old eatery in Sunrise that offers -- you guessed it -- wings.
The thing is, NRN doesn't screen the restaurants to see if they deserve the plug by virtue of their fare. So the editors might actually choose Wing-N-It for the "Name of the Week," but they would have no way of knowing how apt the appellation really is.
In other words the folks at Wing-N-It seem to be doing just that, and they're not Pull-N-It off, either. Clever or funny is a good-enough tactic for getting customers in the door, but no eatery should aim to categorize itself that way during a meal. And I'd have to say that the repast we recently did not enjoy at this "neighborhood raw bar & sports eatery" was not only bizarre but frustrating.
Service was partly to blame for this fiasco of a dining experience. Our waitress started off pleasant enough, but her cheerful attitude evaporated as fast as morning dew. We asked her what kind of raw oysters were served. "I don't know," she glared, pencil poised on her pad at the ready. Clearly she wasn't going to go find out, either. Without belaboring the point, her more obvious transgressions included never removing the dirty dishes from the table, then instructing us to make room for the next course. She also made us practically beg any passing server for more beer, wine, whatever.
In all fairness, responsibility for the farce doesn't rest on her untrained shoulders alone. Wing-N-It is cavernous, a high-ceilinged space outfitted with more sports memorabilia than Don Shula's. The problem lies in the layout and the choice of dining room furniture -- the blond pine booths have such high backs and are so deep-set that patrons tend to disappear in them. Plus the noise from all the television sets, video games, and pool tables can mask the call of a rapidly sinking diner. Our particular server seemed to have too many tables to cover in too disparate sections of the room, not allowing her time to come back and, say, take our dinner order, let alone inquire why we barely touched the appetizer of fried calamari, which was so tough and overcooked we could have played Ping-Pong with the pieces.
Proprietor Lester Bowser needs to get in the game and do some coaching here. If you're going to offer pinot grigio by the glass, instruct the servers not to call it "pinto grigio," as if it were a bean, a pony, or a subpar '70s automobile. If you're going to run specials like all-you-can-eat wings every Thursday night, make sure someone asks the diner if he'd like more wings once the initial serving is finished. Tell the cooks not to fry and re-fry the French fries until they wither, and try to replace key lime pies more often -- the rubbery slice we had for dessert was starting to draw away from the crust and inch in on itself. My sister-in-law, a key lime pie fanatic who will down just about any representative example of the pastry, wouldn't even touch it.
Above all, don't make claims you can't keep. Wing-N-It's mission statement, published on the menu, reads: "Our goal is to produce quality food and great times at affordable prices." Well, prices are good. But the barbecued baby back ribs unequivocally were not. Yes, the meat did fall off the bone, but that's because the pork was so slippery with fat the ribs were naturally lubricated.
The quality of the beef also played poorly. The "classic burger" had more gristle than an offensive lineman, but the flavor was at least satisfactory. On the other hand, a blackened prime rib sandwich was simply inedible. I couldn't tell if the meat actually was prime rib, because I couldn't find any flesh among all the pockets of fat. The exterior of the meat (I use the word loosely) was crusted not with spices but with burned stuff from an unclean grill. Likewise the sandwich was not topped with the menu-billed "onion rings" -- a term that intimates the filling is layered with the beer-battered onion rings Wing-N-It sells for a starter -- but rather rings of sharp red onion. Had I been the waitress, I would have been concerned that my patron had left her entire sandwich virtually untouched. But she just sighed sullenly and asked if I wanted a takeout box. Um, no. Thanks.
We had wanted to sample the island conch chowder and figured we would get the opportunity if we ordered a main course, which is preceded by the selection of soup or salad. No go. Our waitress just slapped down salad. But hey, we got to pick the salad dressing, sort of. "What do you have?" we asked.
Shrug. "You name it, we probably got it." (Good thing beers are listed on the menu.) In the end we were thrown a greasy Thousand Island, obviously prepackaged in a plastic tub before the shift began. She didn't even take off the lid.
Fortunately I can't complain about Wing-N-It's wings. Though not exactly birds of paradise, the chicken wings were healthy enough, nicely crisp, and appropriately zesty. The same sauce flavored the Buffalo shrimp appetizer to lesser effect, given that the shrimp had apparently been left to fight their own way out of the deep-fryer.
Listen, I don't expect white-glove service in a joint. Nor do I want high-end fare. The fact of the matter is, I love bar food and fried, junky stuff as much as the next Dolphins fan. I find the items served in these places comforting, an effective remedy for too much gourmet dining. In fact I actively seek out eateries that specialize in wings, my guilty pleasure of choice. But Wing-N-It might be better off being renamed A Wing and a Prayer. Because that's about all it has going for it.
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