Recently Kelsey's advertisements have been trying to market themselves as Cheers, with the theme song playing and attempting to be that warm place where everybody knows your name. I watched Cheers when I was younger, and Kelsey's is not Cheers.
I've also been going to Kelsey's since I was young. It was a favourite when my parents and I went to 'the city' to go shopping. It felt like a comfy neighborhood pub and I will always remember it for their wings. Eventually Tillsonburg got one, and they had fairly reliable wings with 2 wing nights and a very decent suicide sauce.
But over the last 5-10 years Kelsey's has been upping the decor and the atmosphere and the menu (it seems like so many restaurants these days must change their entire menu every couple of months - and what is with the newspaper sized menus?!?!?!), like Jack Astors, Casey's and other chains that once stood as affordable family friendly pubs, but now they seem to cater to the yuppy crowd and serve appetizers that start at $10 (remember when appetizers used to cost less than an entree? And you didn't say entree?).
It was a Monday night and I have never seen a more empty Kelsey's in my life. It was eerie. Usually they are all packed, loud with a jiving atmosphere. This one was dark (the mood set) and just an unusual vibe to the place. I'm used to busy restaurant, good commercial wings. We got an appetizer, the four cheese spinach dip, which is one of the few things that seems to have always been on the menu. It comes with both tortilla chips and deep fried pita, and we go with all pita because, well, its better.
On a side note, several months ago, Mr P and I sat at the T'burg Kelsey's patio and one of his former students offered us one of their homemade concoctions: the deep fried pita chips are awesome with the hot caramel sauce - try it, its to die for - part of the ever growing secret menu's of the world).
LJ's main course was the balsamic chicken with shrimp. It didn't look like anything special - particularly the pile of plain vegetables. I mean, who wants plain broccoli, zucchini, peppers etc on their plate. It was the worst garnish on a plate I had ever seen until it was explained to me they were meant to be eaten.
Excited to get wings I was confident in getting, I was for sure getting them when I saw they were AYCE, but I'll talk about this special farther down.
2008 THE SCORE 3.0: Kelsey’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill ~
Dusted, deep fried
$9.49 for 8
$16.49 for 16
Extra Hot had a nice kick but lots of flavour
They ranged on wing night from large to small,
But I know from past experience it’s a large
Saucy – wet (some were dry, but that’s how they are served)
Different batches came out differently, but when they were done right (as they usually are, nice and crispy)
X-Tra Hot: good, heat & flavour both there
BBQ: I now know I don’t like BBQ with JD in it, too sour
Dry Salted: KFC style, salty
AYCE Came with fries (to fill you up I’m pretty sure), but normally it would be just veggies and dip
Wetnaps, napkins, bone plate
Currently Mon-Wed AYCE $15.99, but individual locations differ
Dr Pepper (free refills)
Normally good wings, good sauces, but AYCE may have affected the outcome on this occasion
A note about the wings themselves: I got 3 1/2 different orders of wings and each one came out differently. Kelsey's wings are usually big, meaty, crispy and spicy. The first batch was exactly what I expected, the rest, were not. Lets talk about these flavours:
Their traditional wings are dusted, deep fried, then sauced. It was large, meaty, and hot (in temperature). I went with the Extra Hot because normally its a sauce that packs a punch, but still has a strong Buffalo style flavour. While these weren't so hot, they were good.
BARBECUE SAUCE with JACK DANIEL'S® TENNESSEE WHISKEY:
This time the chicken was terrible. They were small, over cooked, and almost cold when they came out. It also took a LONG time for them to come between orders, which was frustrating because the restaurant was not busy at all.
As for the sauce, I didn't like it at all. Not Kelsey's fault, I've just come to realize I do not like Jack Daniel's or Whisky added to my BBQ sauce. It makes it too sour and takes away from any bold or smokey flavours. This was by far the worst batch.
The dry salted were smaller than my original order, but bigger than the BBQ order. These are a dusted and deep fried wing with sea salt sprinkled on when they are hot. They reminded me of KFC chicken, or The Red Charcoal's dry wings. They were good, but a little too dry; the chicken wasn't very moist.
DRY SALTED + a side of THAI SWEET AND SPICY:
Because the wings were taking soo long to cook, I was only going for one more order. Although I was initially excited about trying lots of flavours, the last batch really jaded me. I couldn't decide on just one, so I went for the Dry Salted, and a side of the Thai that I could dip and sample the sauce.
On the side was the Thai sauce. Said to be Sweet and Spicy, it was really just sweet. No difference from any bottled Thai sauce. I'm glad I didn't just order this as a wing order.
The Kelsey's AYCE Special: ok so here's the deal. For $16 you get AYCE wings. This is the worst wing special out there. The only way I saw this as a real deal was that normally for $16 you get 16 wings. With the AYCE special I got 8 more wings (and more if the speed of service wasn't so bad - one of our waitresses said the record so far was 32, and that was an Kelsey's employee, who probably didn't have to wait).
The special also came with fries. A giant plate of fries. Why? Let's be honest, its filler. Its there to make sure you don't eat a lot of wings. Fries = cheap filler. I stayed away, but they were decent fries. Frozen, but decent.
At the end of the meal, our waitresses (there were two, the newbie and the trainer) dropped off a little card. I felt a little special getting this card of thanks and a comment on the wings. I felt like an important customer. I was tricked though. Our bill had a customer survey on it and one of the questions asked if I got a card at the end of my dinner. This wasn't special, it was a marketing gimmick. And yes, the trainee was names Kelsey. So Kelsey served me at Kelsey's.
FINAL SCORE: Normally I love Kelsey's wings, and I'm surprised that I've never reviewed them before. BBQ wings were tiny and over-cooked, and Dry Salted was too dry. Extra Hot wasn't hot enough, but they were the best wings of the night for sure. I wish I had ordered them last to enjoy. This location just had the wrong vibe and did not live up to what I am used to. So I have altered the score to reflect mainly my original experience. Maybe it was the crappy AYCE special that led to bad wings. I miss the Kelsey's that I was used to. That's where I feel I would have gotten the "Norm!" when I entered, not the fake Cheers facade they are marketing now. 15/20*
1 Roydan Place, Ottawa (and other locations)