I am a sucker for good soup.
And, honestly, how much care a restaurant puts into its soup is a good indicator of the restaurant as a whole.
Given it is so easy for restaurants to use boring prepared soups, when you find a place that serves unique, rustic, made-from-scratch and made-with-love soups, you can bet the folks in the kitchen care about everything they are putting out.
I wasn’t expecting much from the chicken noodle soup at Buffalo Wings & Ribs in Coldwater Shoppes along Coldwater Road. It was, after all, a wing joint with a streamlined menu and a sports bar atmosphere that isn’t too exciting. But when this soup arrived, I knew there was much more to Buffalo Wings & Ribs than just cheap wings and beer.
It looked rather standard with carrot, celery, onion and curly egg noodles floating in a golden broth dotted with parsley, but the flavor of that broth combined with the big pieces of tender pulled chicken was incredible.
Manager Peter Surfus said the restaurant roasts off whole chickens to use in chicken salads and soup and uses the leftover bones to make stock.
“That’s why it is so good; it’s that stock,” Surfus said with pride.
He and all the folks at Buffalo Wings & Ribs should be proud. I am often asked who makes the best chicken soup in Fort Wayne and am usually stumped because so many are so forgettable. Not anymore. This is the city’s best, and it is the kind of chicken soup you will crave.
The daily soups I tried – French onion and vegetable beef – and the house standard chili, which had the perfect level of heat, were also above par, and all are made from scratch.
Just like the soups, I had no complaints about the wings. They were of good size, meaty and fried until perfectly crisp. And they were coated in the right amount of sauce.
My favorite of the restaurant’s sauces was the Shanghai Red, an original recipe, Surfus said, made by combining hot sauce, ginger, soy sauce and some other goodies. It was a little sweet, a little salty, a little tangy and, of course, a little spicy.
The hot barbecue and mesquite barbecue were also great. The restaurant starts with Open Pit as its base – a good choice – and adds hot sauce for the hot and a mesquite spice blend to the mesquite to give it a nice caramel brown color and more of a smoky flavor.
That mesquite sauce was the right choice for the pulled pork sandwich. It, too, is done the right way. Pork butts are roasted in house and pulled by hand before being sauced. The result is a hearty, meaty sandwich with a great textural contrast of tender stringy pieces of pork with bigger chunks of more well-done meat. I also loved the bun, which was just a standard split-top roll, but one that was dense enough to handle the saucy pork and make it easy to eat.
The only sauce I could find fault with was the mild garlic. Made with liquid margarine and granulated garlic, it did not cling to the wings and pooled in the bottom of the basket. I was able to dip to get more sauce, but even then there was a lack of salt.
The house-made goodness didn’t end with the wing sauces. A relative who loves Buffalo Wings & Ribs told me to be sure and get bleu cheese dressing with my wings. I told her I was more of a ranch guy, but she insisted, saying she, too, prefers ranch everywhere but at Buffalo Wings & Ribs. She has converted me.
The recipe is nothing special, Surfus said. It starts with a prepared Marzetti-brand bleu cheese dressing, but Buffalo Wings & Ribs adds mayonnaise and poppy seeds to it to lighten it and make it creamier. The result is tamer and a much more interesting bleu cheese sauce.
Although the fresh-cut, skin-on curly fries are great at Buffalo Wings & Ribs – the place was originally called Buffalo Wings & Curls – I suggest getting the potato ends and getting them loaded with cheese, bacon and sour cream. The ends are just that, the ends of the potato left after they are run through the cutter. They are deep fried just like the curls and come out sort of like a combination of freshly made potato chips and tater skins.
Also, be sure to ask for a side of your favorite sauce because those ends and fries are fantastic when dipped. Of course, next time I will be getting bleu cheese with mine, too.
Speaking of asking for sauce, not doing so proved to be a failure when it came to the baby back ribs.
The ribs were fine as they were, don’t get me wrong. They had a bit of crispness from the broiler, were tender and tasty with the Open Pit on them. But as I sat and looked at the barren chicken and pork bones at the end of one of my visits, I told myself that those ribs would have been great with that Shanghai Red sauce or the hot barbecue instead. It was like a light bulb turned on in my head too late because I immediately asked my server if that would have been an option.
“Of course you can do that,” she said. “We will put on any sauce you want.”
Epic fail on my part for not thinking of that before ordering, but I sure won’t forget next time..
I had the ribs as part of the ribs and grilled chicken combo, which was another failure on my part because that grilled chicken was about as boring as it gets. It was tender and decently moist, but it was just really bland. It needed a sauce badly and, honestly, should always be sauced unless someone asks for it plain.
The only other item that I didn’t care for was the Broccoli-Cheddar Baker – a topped baked potato – that I paid an extra $1.50 to have as a side during one visit.
It looked nice with a coating of melted cheese all over the top and broccoli florets jutting out. The problem was that the cheese was not a sauce and didn’t penetrate the potato, so after a few bites off the top I was left with a bland potato. Butter and sour cream were provided on the side, so I was able to mix it in and smash it all up to get the right flavor combination.
Speaking of combinations, the last pleasant surprise at Buffalo Wings and Ribs was a combination of cold fermented hops. The restaurant has a really nice beer list with five craft offerings on tap daily, and a four-beer flight, which allowed me to try and come up with just the right combination to go with my wing sauces.
There was the Fascist Pig American Ale from Finch’s Beer Company in Chicago that added some sweet, caramel notes to offset the really hot sauces. And there was the American IPA from the Lagunitas Brewing Company of California with its bitter, hoppy-but-fruity characteristics that washed down the barbecue sauces well.
Surfus said the five on-tap offerings pretty much change each week.
“There is always something different,” he said.
Being different is what makes Buffalo Wings & Ribs worth going back to. Unlike the many chain wing spots, there are very few shortcuts being made here. From soup to sauces, it does things the old way – the right way – and that really makes a difference.
Restaurant: Buffalo Wings & Ribs
Address: 4636 Coldwater Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Loaded ends ($6.29), soup ($2.79 cup; $3.69 bowl), wings ($8.99 for 10; $12.99 for 16), ribs and chicken ($14.99), pulled pork sandwich ($6.99), beer flight ($8)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).