As August comes to a close and the regular 2003 baseball season winds down, the Boys of Summer are still trotting out daily to their positions on the fields of dreams, playing for first place or wild cards or simply pride before gearing up for the division playoffs, league championships and, ultimately, the World Series. Meanwhile, gridiron warriors are already deep into preseason play, and they’re girding their sizable loins for the big NFL season kickoff game on Sept. 4. The last weekend of August marked the start of college football play.
That means one thing: Hundreds of thousands of red-blooded American men are commencing to perform weekend-long lap dances on their La-Z-Boys. For the next few months, the hard-core pigskin fan will settle into his personal Pleather throne around noon on a Saturday and, for the next 36 hours, will heave himself up only for a sprint to the urinal and the refrigerator. Some wivesI’m guessing those still within the one-year warranty stage of marriageget themselves all upset and weepy-eyed, distressed that the very man who two weeks before only had eyes for them is now mesmerized by the sight of 360-pound behemoths bashing into one another like monster trucks.
Wake up, woman! Opportunity awaits you! Is Alabama playing Auburn on a Saturday afternoon? You not only have all the time in the world for leisurely cruising the miles of aisles at Off-Broadway Shoe Warehouse, but you could back a semi up to your bedroom window, unload pallets of shoes right into your closet, and Bubba wouldn’t miss a down to see what was happening in his own home. Titans playing Baltimore? Get yourself over to EXPO, girlfriend! Lamp sale on aisle three.
Experienced football widows know that now is the time to redecorate the house, snag a long weekend at the spa or look up that old college boyfriend. But men know that Doritos, salami sticks and Cheez Whiz will sustain the ravenous appetite whipped up by watching testosterone-driven war games for only so long. What to do when there’s no one in the kitchen to feed them? Two newly opened businesses are here to help: Wingstop and Wing Basket both specialize, as their names indicate, in chicken wings. The concept, the menu and even the prices at both stores are so similarnearly identicalthat one wonders which was the originator, and which the imitator.
Wings come in eight flavors at each store: Both offer a basic recipe with three levels of heat, as well as garlic-Parmesan and lemon-pepper varieties. Flight paths diverge with the remaining three choices: Wingstop has teriyaki, Cajun and Hawaiian barbecue, while Wing Basket rounds out its choices with barbecue, honey mustard and Kentucky bourbon.
Wingstop sizes its orders at 10, 20, 30, 50, 75 or 100 pieces, priced at $3.99, $7.95, $13.49, $18.95, $27.75 and $35.95, respectively. Wing Basket does the same, with a slight variation in price (the 100-piece order is $36.99), and it also offers a seven-piece plate for $2.99. Both wingeries have fries on their minimalist menus, as well as celery and carrot sticks, and both charge an extra 49 cents for a container of the traditional wing dipsranch and bleu cheese. Both have hot cheese sauce for 99 cents, a suggested partner for the fries.
Wingstop rounds out its repertoire with potato salad, baked beans and dinner rolls (at 21 cents each). Wing Basket has Picnic Pasta and Sweet Stix; the latter are sweetened bread sticks that come 59 cents for an order of three, or $1.09 for six.
Both stores have in-house seating, but the bulk of their business is takeout. Neither one opens until 4 p.m. on weekdays; on Saturday and Sunday, doors open at 11 a.m., which doesn’t take into account that many tailgaters begin their parking-lot hoedowns well before that. The stores close at midnight seven nights a week.
In the interest of providing a consumer service, the Scene staged a taste test targeting a customer base of manly men, all acknowledged fans of this food category. Here are the results:
The fries at both stores are of the fresh-cut, skin-on school of pommes frites, but Wingstop beat out Wing Basket, due to the inexplicable sweetening of the latter’s fries. Maybe the potatoes got too cozy with the Sweet Stix in the kitchen.
Wingstop also was victorious in the lemon-pepper category, since our respondents preferred the light touch with the lemon and the emphasis on pepper. Wing Basket was heavy on the lemon, which tasted suspiciously of additives, and light on the pepper. Wingstop’s teriyaki wings were also a hit, as were its spicy Cajun wings. On the other hand, if you like your sauces sweet, go for Wing Basket’s honey mustard or Kentucky bourbon.
As for the spicy wings, Wing Basket turns the heat up considerably higher than Wingstop. At Wingstop, the mild is very accurately described; the red color is apparently for show only, as it added no spice whatsoever. The equivalent at Wing Basketthe WB Originalpacked a bigger punch, as did WB’s mid-range selection, the Classic Hot. Wingstop’s Atomic, its hottest, is manageable with a cold beverage close by. But beware the TNT at Wing Basket, which should be approached only by the most ardent heat-seeking missiles. One TNT wing left most of our tasters in severe distress, eyes watering, upper lips sweating, seared tongues and scorched taste buds desperate for relief. Only one manreputed to be tougher than woodpecker lipshad the stamina to go for more, and he stopped at three. That level of heat is just plain silly; if you want to prove your machismo, suggest a bout of arm wrestling.
The overall quality of the food at Wingstop gives it an edge, but only slightly: Most of its wings lacked a depth of flavor that was notable in comparison to Wing Basket.
Service was another issue. Both orders were called in. Wing Basket said my order would be ready in 20 minutes. When I arrived at the Elliston Place store at the appointed pickup time, my wing order wasn’t even close to being ready, though the cooked fries were already bagged on the counter, cooling off as I waited nearly 15 minutes for the kitchen staff to flavor the cooked wings and package the entire order. Maybe they were having a bad day. Wingstop promised a 15-minute execution time and delivered it; when I arrived, my order was already packed up in brown paper sacks, and I was in and out in less than 5 minutes.
In the end, sports fans, the contest between Wingstop and Wing Basket pretty much played to a draw. Here’s my expert professional advice: heads, Wingstop; tails, Wing Basket.