Summer has apparently arrived a bit early, and what better way to celebrate the heat with talking about chicken wings, a modern staple of the outdoor barbecue and, I mean I don’t know how you live your life, but who doesn’t love a nice hot fried chicken wing on a sweltering hot day where the sun feels like it has a personal vendetta against you? Though the weather on the day of this particular wreview was a little on chilly side, I think you get my meaning. Sorry, I’m rambling, probably because the last few days have come close to poaching my brain inside my own skull-juices. Lets just move on to this week’s wreview of…
John Doe Bar & Kitchen
253 5th Avenue, Manhattan (NoMad [seriously that’s what Google insists the neighborhood is called. But is it?])
This week our wonderful Boy Mayor Jeremy Frank was in attendance, as well as the wonderful Vicki Crosson and her fiancé Dan Brooks.
John Doe is a nice comfy neighborhood bar and grill style joint, with a cozy atmosphere, rotating taps, and plenty of seating at the bar and at tables throughout. A mostly wood and brick interior, it has a classic vibe with a modern polish, from the floors to the ceilings and everything in between. They really pull off the comfortable and inviting yet classy neighborhood bar vibe, which seems to be exactly what they intended.
In keeping with this vibe, the menu is similar to what you would see at any of these joints, by which I mean traditional bar food that’s been dressed up with clean white plates and larger portions with a hand-made feel (that they come by honestly.) In all essence, it’s a bar that sells both fresh oysters on demand and brunch (with truffle fries) on the weekend, which I think speaks to the totality of the menu.
I could be wrong here, since this was a bad note-taking experience (I had almost no sleep the night before) but I’m running on a vague memory that the wings were 8 to an order, putting them at a PPW of $1.50. A tad high, but not extraordinary.
What We Ordered
They only have three styles on offer here, so we went ahead and got all of ’em. Buffalo, BBQ, and the New England favorite Old Bay. They also sell buckets of Narragansett Lagers for I think like seven bucks and you know I’m all over that. I shared. Scout’s Honor.
They spare no effort on the look of the food here, which goes a long way in my book when you can spot the intent. Everything was served in straight lines on clean white square plates, even the BBQ being stacked without drips and puddles. The normal assortment of veg was fanned out on either side of metal ramekins of bleu cheese, and we were delivered an adequate amount of napkins and wetnaps, which is always important. The little touches of care go a long way in my book, 4/5.
“Beauty is skin deep, and so is [the] Buffalo,” says JF, adding that the “the taste is momentary and average at best.” VC found that the “amount of sauce doesn’t quite suffice with the amount of breading they have.” DB was succinct, saying “Yup, Buffalo,” further iterating that they’re “not terribly inspiring.” There’s definitely a timer on the Buffalo sauce here, in that if you don’t eat them immediately the breading on the wings sucks the sauce right up making it seem somehow simultaneously both soggy and undersauced. The flavor was decent, and the heat was actually perfect for a Buffalo sauce for fair-minded people. I don’t think the failing is in the sauce itself, but more in its interaction with a breaded wing, and the flavor and spice were totally adequate. 3/5.
VC didn’t believe us that there was any crunch to this wing after her first one, but after a second dive got lucky and said that the “crisp brings this from ‘okay’ to ‘average’…” but was retroactively “disappointed in the first one” because of the “irregular breading.” JF was impressed by the crunchiness, but found the sauce itself to have “no heat, no sweet, no story,” summarizing it as “average.” DB also said his “first one was soggy” but did say it “was a good sauce,” though he had “no idea what the chicken tasted like.” The ones I was able to get my hands on had a decent sugary crunch in the breading, but that’s about where my satisfaction ended. The sauce tasted like it was a generic grocery store BBQ made to be inoffensive rather than tasty. I know I can be unfairly hard on BBQ sauces, so I’ll simply just say that by being everything I hate about BBQ, it’s probably an average sauce. 3/5.
“Crispy” was basically the adjective in play for everyone, right out of the gate. Without delving into the judgments on the wing itself, DB found these to be “kind of salty overall.” VC “really enjoyed these wings a lot,” but said that the “Old Bay didn’t punch through past the saltiness.” JF determined that “‘Old Bay’ is a term New Englanders use for ‘salt’ apparently because that’s all I get” but added that it wasn’t overwhelming or unpleasant, even branching out so far as to call them “pretty good.” Looking at my notes, and I know it’s dumb to quote myself but I’m going to, I called them “fried chicken, akin to KFC.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if the 11 herbs and spices and Old Bay Venn diagram pretty well, but the predominant flavor was a tasty saltiness. I must say, it was a little bit of a let down, as somebody who really wanted to try a good outing for Old Bay to have the flavor dulled this much. It didn’t succeed at being a good platform for the spice, but it was still a pretty tasty rub for a breaded wing. 3/5.
As if I need to give an Overall here.
The breading on these wings succeeded more often than it failed by far, and I say this as someone who doesn’t really prefer breaded wings. They’re huge and juicy, and the flavor of the chicken was great when it was able to co-mingle with the sauces. They really shone with the Old Bay seasoning, with the salt giving it a hard crunch that really showcased the juiciness within. It’s a great base they start with, and though I think the breading isn’t doing them any favors, and it’s a shame that the sauces don’t highlight them better, it’s still a solid 4/5.
The Hot Take
I don’t find myself in this neighborhood often, but when I do I would definitely swing by John Doe again. I can’t honestly say that it’s the wings that would bring me back, but I would probably grab an order along with some other proper food. If they were to either come down a touch on the price or come up a bit on the sauce quality, I’d happily move them up the points a bit, but don’t let this dissuade you from checking them out. A 3/5 is, I want to remind my readers, a perfectly good score, and means you’re going to get your money’s worth out of it if not much more. And it’s what John Doe has earned.
Since I already took the liberty of quoting myself in my own article, I’ll go ahead and boost my own current query, which is to find some great history tours and events around the city, which you can weigh in on HERE (if you’re a MaxFun NYC member. If you’re not, feel free to email me!) Also, we’ve got a lot of events coming up, including the MBMBAM burlesque show being put on by D20 Burlesque, and an as-yet-to-be-made event for the Mermaid Parade next month in Coney Island! I love this MaxFun Family, and we’re growing so much every day, and it’s the best.
As always, the Weekly Wing Wreview and MaxFun.nyc are not affiliated with Maximum Fun or its associated products or brands. But we’re pretty big fans.