The trend in grocery stores is more and more to prepared foods -- easy stuff you can "finish cooking" at home, or, even better, hot deli that you can just arrange on a plate or fork right out of the carton. Nearly every grocery store has added a per-pound "hot bar" feature that serves daily specials you can press into service for lunch on-the-go or take home for dinner. Or, in this case, snack on, or use as an appetizer.
Local Cub Foods outlets have a new self-serve hot bar feature dubbed a "Wing Bar." This kind of temptation is exactly why one is advised not to go grocery shopping when hungry. One look at the Wing Bar and I had to try it.
Lined up under a heat lamp are four different flavored wings and two varieties of chicken nugget -- mix and match for $5.99 pound. I tonged one of each into a white cardboard takeout container for a grand total of $3.29 worth of wings. The results:
A. The wings are better than the nuggets.
The nuggets, while consisting of a good chunk of white-meat chicken, suffered from too much batter and from having been under the heat lamp too long. They were dried out in both the original and honey-barbecue flavor. That said, they weren't inedible or anything, just dry. The honey-barbecue was a little tastier than the regular, which were breaded with a KFC-style batter that had seasonings that slipped over to the "chemical"-tasting side of "spicy."
B. The wing flavors do matter.
"Wing Dings" are breaded-and-deep-fried wings. "Hot Wing Zings" are spicy breaded-and-deep-fried wings that, like their nugget cousins, have a harshness to their spiciness that reminded me of chemicals or maybe medicine. General Tao's sauced wings (not breaded) are coated with a vaguely Asian-influenced sauce and weren't half bad. Buffalo wings are as you might expect, coated with the traditional Tabasco-and-butter, although there was something a little sweet about the hot sauce taste.
The General Tao and the Buffalo wings were the best. The wings themselves held rather a lot of chicken meat, for wings, and the chicken was well done without being slimy or stringy. That goes for the skin, too. The spiciness was mild to medium. So if you like your wings extra hot, this party is not for you.
Part of the treat of ordering Buffalo wings is the celery and the bleu cheese dressing. You can grab a plastic packet of bleu cheese dressing for an extra 30 cents, and you could probably scrounge up some celery somewhere -- it's a grocery store, after all.
There are three Cub Foods in the Madison area:
4141 Nakoosa Trail
Cub Nakoma Plaza
4716 Verona Rd.
7455 Mineral Point Rd.
Everybody knows that food held under a warming lamp is not going to be the same as ordering something fresh made off a menu. But stick with the Buffalo or the General Tao wings and you'll do okay.