The big game is just around the corner. You know the one. It rhymes with “Goober Cole.”
While football’s biggest game is why we celebrate, let’s face it: The food matters too. Some may say that nachos, chili, ribs or pizza are the perfect football food, but we here at the Bangor Daily News believe that chicken wings are the most iconic game-day food around.
To that end, we set for ourselves a monumental food challenge in the vein of previous challenges we’ve done with items like tacos, chili and hot chocolate. We decided to find the best wings in downtown Bangor. A tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
– No national chains. We appreciate that there are some chains that do wings really well, but for our purposes, we want to keep it local.
– Only restaurants within the confines of downtown Bangor and the Waterfront. There are several places with wings further out of town — Angelo’s Pizza, Dysart’s and Jason’s New York Style Pizza come to mind — but there are only so many places we can get to and wings we can feasibly eat in one day.
– Bone-in pub-style wings only, and our default seasoning is either plain or buffalo, depending on what’s available at each place. Other flavorings like, say, chipotle or Thai chili, are great, but we want consistency for comparison’s sake.
– We judged on spiciness, overall flavor and general quality of the wing — how well it was cooked, how meaty, etc.
Emily Burnham, BDN feature writer; Sarah Walker Caron, BDN senior features editor;
Judy Long, universal editor; Sean McKenna, universal desk editor and Anthony Ronzio, director of news and new media for the BDN.
Hero’s Sports Grill, 41 Washington St.
Hero’s is also well-known for wings — they are a sports bar, after all — so from the large selection of flavorings we chose a buffalo sauce with medium heat. These meaty non-breaded wings were seasoned well with salt and pepper but weren’t too saucy — a good thing for those who prefer a less-messy wing. The panel of judges agreed that we could watch a lot of football while digging into these babies.
Blaze, 18 Broad St.
For fans of saucy, well-seasoned wings, Blaze delivers. The great thing about Blaze wings is that they are first baked and then grilled in their wood-fired oven, giving them a smoky flavor and moist tenderness lacking in other wings. And then they are tossed in your choice of sauce. We tried Blaze’s spicy chili sauce, which was a spicy, rich sauce and the spiciest of all the wings we sampled.
Paddy Murphy’s, 26 Main St.
Paddy’s wings are deep-fried, very lightly flavored, and come with either hot sauce or barbecue sauce that you apply yourself. We tried their vinegary hot sauce, which was delicious applied liberally to the crispy wings. There were several wing-eating camps in our group — pre-sauced fans, and apply-your-own-sauce fans. These appeal to the latter camp; Tony in particular enjoyed them.
Geaghan’s, 570 Main St.
There’s a reason Geaghan’s is known for it’s wings — they are meaty, extremely flavorful without being overwhelming, spicy but not burning, and are tasty hot or cold. A lot of the flavor is in their well-seasoned wing coating. Emily and Judy agreed these some of our favorites, and they were the first ones we tried.
Carolina’s, 16 Union St.
The pub food at ‘Lina’s is exactly what you want to eat at a bar — stick to your ribs fare. Their wings aren’t spicy at all; they’re more of a saucy barbecue wing, rather than buffalo. But for those of us who aren’t spice fans, they were ideal; other BDN staff who tried them appreciated that.
Seasons, 427 Main St.
This Main Street restaurant continues to be a dark horse contender for some of the best pub food in town — we were pleasantly surprised during our chili showdown with the Seasons unique, meaty chili topped with fried jalapenos. For the wings, we chose the Seasons wings tossed in their house-made hot sauce, which were light and vinegary with an enjoyable kick. We also appreciated the quality of their wings.
Sea Dog Brewing Company, 26 Front St.
The wings at the Sea Dog were really meaty. Brined in beer, these juicy wings have flavor permeating throughout the well-cooked meat. And here’s a testament to the great flavor the beer brining imparts: We didn’t read wing descriptions before tasting and we could tell that there was some special marinating going on there. The buffalo sauce was a vinegar-based hot sauce that balanced hot and tangy very well.
Celebrity Bar & Grill, Hollywood Casino, 500 Main St.
The newly opened Celebrity Bar & Grill at the casino serves up some seriously dinosaur-sized chicken wings, tossed in one of several sauces — we chose buffalo sauce, which was deceptive. While at first glance we expected these saucy wings to be pretty spicy, they turned out to be more on the mild side. If you’re hungry and want some meaty wings, this is the place for you.
Nocturnem Draft Haus, 56 Main St.
Nocturnem’s grilled, smoky wings were unlike any of the other wings we tried. Char-broiled in salt and pepper, these babies are extra crispy and served with house-made hot sauce and bleu cheese dressing. Yes, you have to sauce them yourself. These are juicy and equally good with or without sauce.
Since we had so many different wings to try, we opted to not give them a number grade this time, and instead reach a consensus among the five judges. In the end, we could all agree on three different restaurant wings as the best of the best — all for completely different reasons. The top three judge’s favorites are:
— Geaghan’s, for their phenomenally flavorful sauce and time-tested recipe for the perfect pub wing. Whether you like them bone-in or boneless, Geaghan’s knows its wings.
— Blaze, for the delicious spicy chili sauce, smokiness and top-notch texture of the meat — they far and away had the most tender and well-cooked meat out of the whole bunch.
— Nocturnem, for their mixture of crispiness and tenderness and the quality of their hot sauce. For those who like to pick their own level of sauciness, Nocturnem wins.