A recent Sunday afternoon found me and a friend surrounded by wall-to-wall television sets and enthusiastic sports fans at Johnson City’s recently opened Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar. A lot of the attention during our visit focused on the game between the Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions. Incidentally, the Titans pulled out the win in overtime, defeating the Lions, 44-41.
Upon arrival, a member of the staff showed us to one of the available tables. Both the interior dining area, the bar area and the outdoor patio were quite populated with customers, most whom would have fit into the ever-popular age demographic of 18 to 34. An assortment of tables and booths offered seating and, as already noted, the interior offers a 360-degree view of television screens, meaning customers never have to miss a second of the on-screen action. The red, yellow and black walls, some decorated with the eatery’s winged buffalo logo, displayed framed jerseys from such local sports teams as the Milligan College Buffaloes and East Tennessee State University Buccaneers as well as the Tennessee Titans. Lots of neon signs promoting various brands of beer are also on prominent display.
For those who have never visited a Buffalo Wild Wings, this eatery’s website describes the experience as something of a merger between a traditional New York-style wing joint and a sports bar. It’s also rather noisy — an observation, not a criticism. It’s a great place to gather with friends and root for the favorite team. It’s not a good place if you’re looking for meal-time conversation. Most patrons looked like they were having fun, and the interaction between customers and the staff looked quite casual and friendly.
The staff all dressed in black slacks with yellow and black jerseys depicting the Buffalo Wild Wings logo. Our server, Mary, informed us that she was having a good day — her team, the Chicago Bears, had also won its game earlier in the day.
Buffalo Wild Wings was founded in 1981 after James Disbrow, then living in Buffalo, N.Y., visited a friend, Scott Lowery, in Kent, Ohio. Unable to find a restaurant serving authentic Buffalo-style chicken wings, they decided to open up their own restaurant. They opened their first location in Columbus, Ohio. The eatery has evolved into one of the nation’s most rapidly expanding franchises, with more than 650 locations across 45 states. The chain recently expanded into Canada, as well.
We began our visit by looking over the menu’s appetizers, or “shareables,” which include such staples as Ultimate Nachos and Fried Pickles, as well as Roasted Garlic Mushrooms, Chili Con Queso Dip and Hot Dog Slammers.
We chose to share a Tablegating Sampler, which the menu describes as Traditional Wings “spun in your favorite Buffalo Wild Wings sauce or dry seasoning” accompanied by two soft pretzels and queso, warm pita chips with Spinach-Artichoke Dip and Bacon and Cheddar Stuffed Jalapeño Pepper Bites.
The only other decision involved with ordering the appetizer was choosing a flavor for our wings. The sauces include such flavors as Sweet BBQ, Teriyaki, Parmesan Garlic, Honey BBQ, Spicy Garlic, Jammin’ Jalapeño, Asian Zing, Caribbean Jerk, Thai Curry, Hot BBQ, Hot, Mango Habanero, Wild and Blazin’ while the seasonings include Salt & Vinegar, Lemon Pepper, Chipotle BBQ, Buffalo and Desert Heat. The section for spices and sauces also lists them on a convenient scale, starting with at Smilin’ Mild to Sizzlin’ Hot.
We chose the Parmesan Garlic, somewhere around medium on the scale, for the sauce for our wings on the sampler, which arrived after not too-lengthy a wait. We both enjoyed the Parmesan Garlic flavoring on the wings, but the soft pretzels — one for each of us — proved a big hit. Lightly encrusted with some coarse salt crystals, these pretzels were warm, winning, comfort-food treats. I also enjoyed the Jalapeño Pepper Bites. In fact, these breaded, deep-fried treats had more of a smoky flavor than a zesty kick. The Spinach-Artichoke Dip, with its supply of Pita Chips, disappeared quickly. This platter could easily be shared by a party of three or four diners, but also served to whet the appetite of a party of two.
After this appetizer sampler, we looked over the menu’s other offerings, which fall under such headers as Thin Crust Flatbreads, Tempting Tenders and Popcorn Shrimp, Savory Salads, Wraps and Buffalitos and Beefy Burgers and Satisfying Sandwiches. Of course, the signature item — wings — can be ordered traditional-style or boneless, in quantities of 6, 12, 18, 24 and 50 for the traditional wings and 8, 12, 18, 24 and 50 for boneless.
Although I considered the Big Jack Daddy Burger, the Buffalo Ranch Chicken Sandwich and the Pepper Jack Steak Wrap, I chose the Chicken Tenders and Popcorn Shrimp Platter, which came with Coleslaw as well as choice of one side. Sides include French Fries, Potato Wedges, Mac and Cheese, Side Salad and Onion Rings. I added an order of the Onion Rings to my meal. For my Chicken Tenders, I chose the Thai Curry Sauce.
My dining companion gave serious thought to the Fish Tacos, Pulled Pork Sandwich and the Chicken Caesar Salad before he chose the Black and Bleu Burger, which is topped with crumbled blue cheese. We both also decided to share a few boneless wings, choosing to try them with Asian Zing Sauce.
I liked the golden-brown, deep-fried popcorn shrimp. I also liked the Chicken Tenders, but found they had just a little too much breading for my taste. I did enjoy the Thai Curry Sauce. A word of warning, however. This is definitely a sauce with some kick. The Asian Zing Sauce on our shared boneless wings was a little milder, and offers a happy medium that is neither too hot nor too bland.
My friend expressed the thought that his burger, considering the topping of blue cheese, was a little on the bland side. I did enjoy the generous serving — about a dozen — of Onion Rings that came with my meal. They were lightly breaded and fried to a crisp, golden-brown.
The restaurant also offers some sweet treats for concluding a meal, but we were far too full to be tempted by Ice Cream, Dessert Nachos or Chocolate Fudge Cake. We both decided that as long as patrons stick with the wings, in any of their variations, they shouldn’t be disappointed. And, if you’re looking for a place to really enjoy the big game of the week in style, it would be hard to beat the crowd at Buffalo Wild Wings.
AT A GLANCE: Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, 2035 Hamilton Place Drive, Johnson City. 434-0492. Open daily, 11 a.m.- midnight. Most menu items $11.99 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. Full service bar available.