It was over 10 years ago, but I can't remember exactly. I didn't know Ottawa very well at all. My buddy Jason was in town and we needed a place to eat. We came across a place called Monkey Joe's. It seemed like an interesting spot - inside was a jungle themed restaurant. All I was interested in was wings. For some reason, I didn't do a review. I don't remember the wings, but I remember both of us were not that impressed. And then I never went back.
Until I did.
It's 2019 and back in April I decided to end my self imposed exile. For over a year I had seen Monkey Joe's advertising a wing night on Mondays. Monday is the wing night in Ottawa. I was on my own and decided it was time to get some wings.
If it wasn't for a semi-active Instagram account, I would have assumed Monkey Joe's was closed. Driving past, the place looks abandoned. Sometimes the message board on the sign changes, but the exterior of the place looks run down and vacant. I knew they were open, but the place doesn't feel like they want to encourage new traffic.
I expected the inside to be super old and run down too, but it wasn't. I mean the jungle/animal theme aspect of the restaurant seems a bit tired, but this looks like any relatively contemporary casual restaurant you go to. Things were clean, staff were friendly. The crowd was a mixed bag; I saw some seniors, two guys in suits, some ladies out for a girls night, and several guys like me, dining solo, sitting in booths. Fascinating.
I noticed but didn't register in my head the wing night special on the chalk board at the front door. When my waiter, Rob, tried to explained it, I had no idea what he was talking about because I couldn't grasp exactly what was going on. I had to get him to repeat it several times, and even then I wasn't sure. But looking at this board it seems much clearer:
- Monday Nights after 4pm
- Wings are $0.65 cents each
- The first order is minimum 15 wings (ie $9.75)
- After that, you can order in increments of 5
Ok that wasn't soo complicated. I was told though that because the deal was such a steal, sour cream was not included. Oh no, no sour cream. This seemed a little petty not being included, but I don't need sour cream.
There are a decent number of flavours on the menu. I strategized how many wings I could get and how many flavours. With the wing deal I start with 15, but my waiter let me do 8 of one flavour and 7 of another flavour.
My waiter took my order, and was back quickly with a bone plate, some napkins and a wetnap. He also had my beverage, a Diet Pepsi (they serve Pepsi products).
I didn't have to wait long before my wing feast arrived ...
At Monkey Joe's, wings come in orders of 1lb for $12.99. I'm not sure how many come in a pound but I assume probably 7-9 or so. The wings are pretty evenly split between drums & flats, tipping to the flats by a few more.
The wings varied in size, with some being small and some being medium. Because of the small ones (and they were small) my waiter told me that the chef added a few extra to make up for the size, so I got 17 instead of 15. I appreciate that.
The wings were not that meaty, but they weren't skinny either. The texture on the wings was both good and bad. The skin was nice and crispy, especially the dry rubbed wings. It was crispy and crackly when you ate it, which came from a light dusting before frying. Sadly though, the meat and the wings were pretty tough. Tearing apart the flats was very difficult. I'm fairly sure they were from frozen.
The sauciness of the wings was adequate, if not a little lacking. The hot wings were wet, but just barely so. The dry wings were very lightly dusted.
I went with classic Hot, the Dusted Cajun, and a side of Suicide. Even though they were lightly sauced/dusted, they did look really good.
Hot was simple, classic cayenne based hot sauce, probably Frank's. Not that hot, but tasty enough.
Like the amount of seasoning on these wings, the flavour was pretty light. They were salty, but the garlic/pepper flavour of Cajun wasn't that strong. They were still a tasty wing.
This sauce was fresh, slightly hot, but definitely not killer. I asked what it was and Rob told me it was homemade, with a Frank's Red Hot base, with cayenne pepper, some other spices, and canned jalapeno peppers. I could taste those finely diced pickled peppers and it was good. He told me they had experimented with different sauces but this is the one that regulars to Monkey Joe's seem to like.
How to sum up my wing experience at Monkey Joe's: meh. Nothing special. Well the crispy skin was good, but the flavours/sauces for the most part were a bit weak, the sizes inconsistent, and the meat was tough and from frozen. The wing deal wasn't too bad. The service was friendly and good, so there's that. Would I go back? Maybe? On wing night, maybe, otherwise I wouldn't monkey around here. 7.5/15
PS: they kept referring to themselves as the "Home of Ottawa's Original Nachos". I didn't ask, but I didn't understand what this meant. Like the first place in Ottawa to serve Nachos? Is there an Ottawa-style of nachos? Or Monkey Joe's specific style of Nachos? I never asked and never found out.
Monkey Joe's Bar & Grill
1265 Carling Ave, Ottawa ON