I like to give places second chances. Sometimes thirds, sometimes fourths. Montana's is one of those chains that every couple of years we go, say we probably won't go back, and then we do. Two things specifically motivated a trip back to this Ontario based chain; 1) right now (September 2018) they have a "Chicken Showdown" special with various chicken dishes, one of which is Smoked, then fried wings 2) I found out the Merivale location has a Monday wing night. It was also a holiday Monday and we decided to go out for wings.
Montana's has recently gone through a minor rebranding - still the same kind of food, but with a name change from Montana's Cookhouse to Montana's BBQ & Bar (so different!) and some slight alterations to the aesthetic of the restaurant (see that fake smoke stack they added to the front), but I was wondering if any of this was going to effect the experience.
See, I've generally had not great experiences at Montana's - when I reviewed another location back in 2009, I was not impressed with the food. "I've heard from some family and friends and read quite a few negative reviews that all followed the same theme: slow service, cold restaurant, cold food." Back then I wanted to see if it was the case for me, and while we had a good server, our food was cold and not that great. Would it be the case once again?
We arrived around 5pm on the holiday Monday and the place was packed. People were waiting outside, and were were told for two it would be about a 10-15 minute wait. The place didn't look that different other than the literal branding; the walls still had a cabin theme with deer heads, snowshoes, even an old car. At the front they had this neat fake fire that glowed and produced 'smoke' which was just steam. We looked around and there were several empty tables and booths, so we were a little confused about the wait, but after about 10 minutes we had a booth. Our server was Kelsey and she did a great job of taking care of us, being friendly and getting refills on drinks. She also confirmed that was indeed wing night with wings being half price.
The menu is full of steaks, fajitas, burgers and the such. LJ had a hard time between wanting wings like me, or getting ribs, which is what Montana's is probably best known for. She went with wings, but I think she should have gone the rib route. I was really keen on trying the new Chicken Challenge menu, but also wanted to try the wings from the original menu too. They also have jumped on the 'Cauliflower' Wing bandwagon, which is great for vegetarians wanting to get in on wings too.
We ordered a bunch of wings, but we also tried the new "Ugly Delicious Flatbread" as well as ordering several cornbread muffins. We told Kelsey we didn't care what order food came out - just whatever was ready when it was ready. She mentioned that she had just seen the cornbread muffins come out of the oven and she went to grab them right away.
We got 2 each at $0.79 a piece. They were warm and smelled good. They aren't big, but they are not the smallest cornbread muffins I've been served before either. They are great with some melted butter, and I've actually ordered take-out of just these muffins before.
The Ugly Delicious Flatbread was ... well ugly ... and not delicious. It wasn't big; about the size of a large pita. The bread was both burnt so that the bottom was too crispy, but was also so tough that when they 'cut' it, it didn't cut, and we tried to use our butter knife and it still wouldn't cut. We had to rip it and it wasn't pretty. It was also not hot. The flavours were all over the place on this thing too - I mean looking back at the toppings, we should have known better. "Topped with a creamy honey dill sauce, crispy chicken, shredded pickles, melted marble cheddar, and finished with a drizzle of Nashville hot sauce". It was just a weird recipe - LJ did not like it and said it wasn't the restaurant's fault but corporate for the recipe. I said maybe so but the restaurant made it cold and the bread tough/burnt. I did like the Nashville hot sauce though. We didn't finish it and took it home. I tried to eat it for lunch today but just picked off the chicken.
So the flatbread was a big pass, the cornbread was good, but would the wings be better than last time?
Wings come in orders of 8 or 16, which is fine except at regular price 8 wings for $13.79 is terrible. Especially considering the size and it's literally only 8 pieces, not even a whole wing. Fortunately we were there on wing night (which is all day long - awesome!) at half price. The wings come with a few skinny pieces of carrot, and a choice of dip (ranch, blue cheese) and we went with the blue cheese. It was a decent blue cheese dip, and the carrots were fresh. We also were given a metal pail for our bones (awesome), lots of extra napkins, and large wetnaps for cleaning up.
The size of the wings were about what I would say is a small+ to a medium. They were a decent size but they were not big. The regular wings are double breaded, so they have a thicker coating that makes them a bit bigger. They are crunchy to bite into, but the meat is tough and they are plain with no seasoning. The breading is also flour heavy and takes away from the flavour of the chicken. LJ was not impressed and I did defend them a bit explaining we ordered them sauceless but that they normally aren't meant to be eaten dry. I would not recommend eating them dry - but we wanted to try a bunch of the sauces.
The Smoked then Fried wings were much better. They had a delicately crispy skin, were moist inside, and tore apart much easier.
So we got a double order of the regular double breaded wings, no sauce, and an order of the Chicken Showdown smoked and fried, which come with a Carolina Gold BBQ sauce. For the regular wings we got Buffalo-Hot and Suicide on the side, but at our table there are bottles of other Hot & BBQ sauces.
HICKORY SMOKED, FRIED & DRY RUBBED
These are on only for a limited time, and that is a shame, because these were delicious. I mentioned before the great texture with the tender meat and crispy skin. But the flavour was great too - you could really taste the hickory smoke in the chicken, but then there was a great salty, spicy rub on the skin. My only complaint I had was I wish these wings were bigger.
CAROLINA GOLD BBQ
This sauce comes on the side of the smoked wings automatically. They don't need it, but I understand why Montana's might feel people will want a sauce. While I think an Alabama white BBQ sauce would be better, this essentially honey mustard dip was good. Sweet, mustard-sour, it did work with the dry rubbed chicken.
When our waitress listed off the wing flavours (that aren't on the menu for some reason), we were slightly confused and thought they had Buffalo, AND Mild, Medium and Hot. But they have Buffalo that is graded into the heats. We went with Hot and it was a good Buffalo sauce. Not that spicy, but it was buttery and had a good flavour. I'd get it again.
SMOKIN' HABANERO HOT SAUCE
This was in a bottle on our table already. I really liked this sauce - it's got a good bite, it's full of chili's, it's slightly sweet and vinegary. It worked well with the double breaded wings. I wish I could have taken this home.
CHIPOTLE HONEY BBQ SAUCE
This was another sauce on the table, and another I wish I could have taken home. A great sweet BBQ sauce that had a bit of a kick from the chipotle, which also gave a smokey hint to it.
TEXAS BOLD BBQ SAUCE
This was a more classic BBQ sauce - dark in flavour. More savoury than sweet. You've had this dark type of BBQ sauce before. It was good, but overshadowed by the more interesting flavoured sauces at the table.
APPLE BUTTER BBQ SAUCE
This was also good sauce - sweet and savoury at the same time. Mostly sweet, but it too paired well with the chicken, but I can see this being really good with the pork ribs.
I also got a side of suicide. It didn't look very appetizing when it came out, but I think it's because it's the Buffalo-Hot sauce mixed with the Smok'n Habanero Hot Sauce and the kitchen just didn't mix it fast enough. I liked those two sauces individually, and they were good mixed together. It wasn't suicide heat level, but the flavour was good.
LJ and I differed a bit on our feelings about the food. We both agreed that the cornbread was great, and that the flatbread was awful. For the wings, we both have different approaches. I may be a bit of a wing apologist though. The regular double breaded wings were very crunchy, but they were dry and tough and are not tasty on their own without sauce. The Chicken Showdown Hickory Smoked then Fried wings are awesome in both flavour and texture and are a shame they are only a limited time offer. I would definitely go back to Montana's for those wings, and probably for the other wings but only on wing night. 10/15
Montana's BBQ & BAR
1711 Merivale Road, Ottawa (Nepean) ON