Well, ever since passing through the Atrium way back when (as reported HERE), I've been eagerly anticipating the opening of St Louis Wings and Ribs. And I wasn't alone. Ryan and I had made a pact to go to the opening night and review the place, but St Louis opened without our knowledge by about a week. So we picked Thursday as our lunch time, and gathered Julianna and Shobha to come along in our excursion.
The Atrium is a strange little mall in downtown Toronto, housing various offices, a grocery store, food court, some stores and 3 restaurants: Red Lobster, The Pickle Barrel, and Spring Rolls. What it didn't have was a pub, and now that void has been filled. The closest pubs in the area are the Wolf and the Firkin, and The Devil's Advocate, but they are a couple blocks north. South there is the Marriott Hotel's Characters pub, but it just doesn't have a social feel. No, St Louis can take advantage of the corporate world upstairs, tourists from Nathan Phillips Square, the medical block close by, and us. It sounds like a good combination.
St Louis even has a patio. Its not huge, its not nice, but a patio in the city is prime real estate. With the wind it was slightly chilly, so we decided to sit inside. The interior is pub chic; fancy enough for suits, but comfy enough for the general beer chugger. Its not huge inside, but its perfect I think for their customer base.
We had noticed that part of the restaurant was not yet complete. At one point the manager, Manu Gupta (who used to work in the same lab complex as Shobha and Ryan) came and sat with us and we asked about the unfinished area. He said that the area might be renovated in the future for a party room or some such concept. Its a good idea and it leaves him some expansion if needed in the future. But before we talked to him about any of this, we had ordered and consumed most of our food.
The NEW SCORE
STYLE: baked, possibly fried first
SAUCES: mild/medium/hot/suicidal/hotter than Hell/honey garlic/hot'n'honey
SIZE: .5 /2
HEAT: hotter than hell 6/10
CRISPINESS: 1.5 /3
WETNAP FACTOR: 2 /5
PRICE: $9.95 for 9 wings (small), $17.95 for 18 wings (large)
SIDES: fries/onion chips 5 /7
M=wings (30) & 60oz draft $25.95
T=9 wings $7.25, 18 $13.45 6pm-close
F= Ribs & Wings $14.45
SU= 20oz Pint & pound of wings all day
OTHER/SPECIAL: wing bowls, dill dip, unlimited wetnaps, patio, onion chips
(NO FREE POP REFILLS)
So much to say about these wings, where does one begin? I had a love-hate relationship with these wings so its difficult to get it out there. Ok, lets start with the wings themselves. They are medium sized wings - not too small, not really big. They are meaty and you can't really complain about the chicken itself. However, for $10, I really want a jumbo wing. Yes I got a big side, but I would always prefer giant to variety.
Where the review gets complicated when it comes to the sauce. St Louis is unique in that they seem to bake their sauce right into the wings. Its a smokey flavour full of spice and taste, but low on heat. On my Hot wings, they was a sauce drought, but where other wings places rely on the sauce for their wings flavour; these guys have it in the wing itself.
There is a great debate in the Toronto wing world about St Louis vs Duff's for wings, and that's because they are two very different wings. Duff's is traditional Buffalo style, deep fry and Frank's hot sauce and butter. St Louis is dry rub spices cooked right into the wing. I understand the St Louis side - flavour filled chicken. But I'm a traditionalist, and my heart lies with mouth searing Buffalo sauce.
As always, I ordered the hottest on the side. Hotter than Hell was brought to me in a little bowl, which I promptly dumped over my wings. My dinner companions were shocked, having first tried a slight dip taste-test. The sauce was at most 30 000 Scoville units, which in my book isn't very hot ( I can comfortably consume at least 150 000 Scoville units of heat). It was a slow burn which was close to making me cough in the back of my throat.
When Manu the manager came to sit with us, Shobha told him of my disappointment of heat with the sauce. He seemed excited by the challenge and said he had something special. He came back with another little bowl of hot sauce. When asked what it was, he said proudly, "Hotter than Hell" to which we all said that was the hot I was not suffering from. He went from proud, to shocked to saddened. I try to comfort him by saying that I have been eating hot sauce since I was a kid and he said, "so have I, but that stuff brings me to tears". In the end, he said he was going to work on something that reached my level of tolerance.
Julianna was working, so she ordered and ate quickly. She got an order of the honey garlic wings which looked wonderfully wet in sauce. She didn't finish them all, but she seemed to like them.
Shobha, our resident vegetarian opted for the Thai salad. When asked what she thought of it, she said: "tasty and filling, for a salad." The menu was a difficult choice for her, with very few non-chicken/pork options so it was good she could find something satisfying.
Ryan went with the Nachos. He is to Nachos as I am to wings. Lord of the Nachos (maybe a companion blog Ryan, hmmm? A better tittle would be "Nacho Nacho Man, I want to be a Nacho man"). His review of this Tex-Mex creation was decent. The nachos were "good, but the type of chip" was problematic; a thinner, triangular tortilla chip is much more conducive to chomping and consuming.
Ryan ordered on the side, and my combo came with onion chips. I love onion chips and it hasn't been since my childhood that I have had a good feeding. When I was a kid, this was a staple of the Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner meal, back before it was KFC, or 'mega meal' name came to be, and there was always a plastic Col. Sanders money bank across the counter.
Apparently, no one else remembers this side dish and for a long time I thought it was regional to my part of Ontario (South-Western Ont.), but I know we had it up North at my grandparents (in the Karwatha region). Anyways, they are a delicious accompaniment, especially with the wing-dip that comes with my chicken, a dill sauce the heightens both the wings and the onion.
FINAL SCORE: I like the location, everyone seemed to enjoy their food, and we got some one on one time with the manager. I love the wing bowls, the dips, the onion chips, and an original take on wings. I liked that there are lots of wing specials, but the specials aren't financially that special. I think the wings need to be bigger, or cheaper, but because its a chain, the individual changes that are needed can't happen. And when it comes down to it, I'm a wing traditionalist and that's where my mouth and my heart lies. 23/35
St Louis Wings and Ribs
595 Bay Street (The Atrium Mall)