6727 Transit Road, Lancaster, NY 14221
Web: Quaker Steak & Lube
Rating: [learn more]
A growing regional chain with very strong wings in a very wide variety of flavors, in most cases rivaling or exceeding other chain wing restaurants. Fun, family-friendly racing theme.
Other menu items range from fine to unimpressive; buffet offers access to almost all of the chain's wing sauces but with diminished, steam plate quality. Desserts are poor.
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"It is impossible to ignore the high quality of the vaunted wings under the right conditions, their lower quality under others, and the mixed feelings other items tend to inspire."
Outsiders aren't supposed to rival, or even approach local Buffalo favorites when it comes to making authentic chicken wings. Hundreds of places have tried, and there are surely days when we think we've tried too many sad wannabes to stomach another. Quaker Steak & Lube is, as we've noted in a prior entry, different. It's ostensibly a "motorsports themed family restaurant," complete with full-sized racecars suspended in the air, photos of Nascar drivers on the wall, and big-screened TVs with sports feeds scattered around the dining area. But it's also known for its superb chicken wings, touted in signage as "Best Wings USA," which though short of Duff's frankly deserve at least most of that acclaim. This week, the growing chain opened its first Buffalo location, and though it was only on its B game on day two, there's no doubt in our minds that this will soon become a popular destination for the area's wing fans.
After months of waiting for the Lancaster location - in front of the Transit Road Regal/IMAX theater - to finish coming together, we happened to drive by Quaker Steak late this Wednesday, the day of its grand opening. We arrived early for dinner on the restaurant's second night, expecting that the as-yet-unadvertised place would be empty, but found it already half-full as of 5:00pm. Impressively, by 6 on a Thursday night, every table was occupied, and people were waiting for seats, a testament to the chain's positive word of mouth; we can only imagine what it will be like on Tuesday, the all-you-can-eat wings night.
Not surprisingly, our first meal at the local Quaker Steak was good, but not without its issues. Our table ordered a mix of menu items, ranging from 20 of the chain's famous Buffalo-style wings ($16) to a grilled, boneless version ($9.60), a Southwest grilled Mahi-Mahi fish plate ($10), and a combination of potato soup ($4) and salad ($4). We finished with a dessert called the Caramel Apple Nachos ($5), which was one of only two choices; the other was a $6 brownie.
We've had Quaker Steak's wings before, so we weren't surprised that we enjoyed our two spice choices: 19 different flavors are available, from which we picked the "classic Buffalo-style" Hot, and the 150,000 Scoville unit Atomics, both of which we knew from before. The Atomics are two steps shy of Duff's recent Death flavor in heat; Quaker's sauce is similarly highly spicy, but less than flavorful. It's basically a test of one's manhood that is served only with a signed waiver and accompanied by a "Survivor" bumper sticker. Hot is comparatively flavorful and not as spicy, like a Duff's medium hot; there are actually three Quaker sauces inbetween these in heat. We devoured these wings, served with our choice of celery or carrots, but were disappointed to see that we were charged $2 more than the menu's stated price. The staff appeared to be still working out how the chain's multi-sauce charges and mixes were supposed to work, and we suspect that the upcharge was related to that.
Our server told us that double or larger wing orders could be split in half for different sauces - two mixed together on each side, or one per side - for no charge. Other flavors include garlic, salt and vinegar, Asian sesame, parmesan pepper, barbecue, honey mustard, and ranch, some of which we've tried and enjoyed before; we'd generally call these flavors better than the ones offered by the other national wing chain gone local, Buffalo Wild Wings. That said, our boneless wings were served with the Premium Garlic flavor - not the spiciest garlic version offered - and were neither as spicy nor garlicky as we expected. The wings may not have been saucy enough; as shown in the close-up photo here, our Atomics in particular certainly came out drier than we've had in the past, even at WingFest, and thus, they weren't as intensely flavored as they could have been.
Other items were good; the Mahi-Mahi was very flavorful, served properly moist rather than dried out, though topped with a visually overwhelming array of corn and rice, then complemented by steamed broccoli and carrots. The same broccoli was found alongside the grilled boneless wings, which also came with garlic sauce-soaked pita slices, and a garnish similar to the salad ordered separately with the Potato Soup. Other than the lack of healthier menu options - a common issue with places specializing in wings - there weren't a lot of complaints about our meal.
Our dessert choice, the Caramel Apple Nachos, was tasty but sloppy. Described by the server as a fried pita covered in cinnamon apples, caramel sauce, and Vanilla Bean ice cream, the dish looked precisely as expected, but there was something about the apples - a mix of a second fruit flavor, like maraschino cherry sauce, or their liquid viscosity - that didn't go as well with the semi-soft sugar "pita" as we'd hoped. We liked the apples and ice cream, but not the nachos or the caramel. Unless the brownie's a lot better, or this dish wasn't up to snuff early in this location's life, Quaker Steak is going to need some more desserts.
It's worth mentioning that our service was, by the standards of a just-opened restaurant, pretty good. Despite a struggling economy and all the other reasons a new location might have been overwhelmed in its first week, Quaker Steak was staffed appropriately to handle a real crowd, with quality servers and roving managers who were obviously concerned with working out early bugs. An undelivered caesar salad was promptly pulled from the bill, with apologies, and the servers, bus boys, door openers (!) and seating staff had all been hired or trained to be extremely friendly. As good as it was early on, our gut feeling is that this will be a truly great place to eat when the bugs are worked out.
We're going to hold off on rating Quaker Steak & Lube until we've had another chance to visit, but for now, our feelings can be summed up in the trite phrase "cautious optimism." Of the many places that claim to offer authentic Buffalo-style chicken wings and quality alternatives, this is surely one of the best, even though it currently has a little work ahead to match the quality of its other locations. We consider it worthy of a visit even early in its existence, and a return once it has had a chance to settle into its new home.
Updated: We came, we saw, we ate. Our second visit to Quaker Steak was timed to coincide with its Tuesday night all-you-can-eat Chicken Wing special, and though we weren't entirely excited about what we found - a large table with 15 of the chain's 19 flavors available in buffet form, we indulged anyway, understanding the inherent limitations of such a presentation. Quaker Steak's wings are meant to be saucy, but at the buffet table, the large heated trays of wings were only wet when they were newly replenished, which took place unpredictably during the hour and a half we were there. Though we knew we weren't getting the full experience, we tried literally every one of the available flavors, with only Atomic, Dusted Salt & Vinegar, Honey Mustard, and Mild missing in action, and found some nice flavors: the SuperCharged was roughly equivalent to a Duff's hot, the Louisiana Lickers, Asian Sesame, and BBQ were all nice when saucy, and the Parmesan Pepper was dry, but tasty. Regardless of their comparative imperfection relative to Quaker Steak's fresh-ordered wings, and the fact that we'd strongly recommend against judging the place's food by the buffet, the ability to try so many flavors at once was actually quite cool. We also enjoyed a basket of fried Zucchini Dip Sticks ($6) and the soft Premium Preztel appetizer ($4.59), though neither was earthshaking in size or quality.
That having been said, our dining companions weren't thrilled by their non-wing meals. A half rack of BBQ-flavored Baby Back Ribs ($13) were tasty, but too small and light on meat. Two Boneless Chicken Wraps ($7.29 each) were large, but not great on flavor. And the evening's dessert of choice, three of the Triple Rich Fudge Brownies ($6 each) were described as "great" by two otherwise unimpressed recipients, but strongly disliked by two otherwise positive people, who stopped eating their shared dish before it was finished.
Quaker Steak's final rating of three stars was arrived at after both discussion and consternation; it is impossible to ignore the high quality of the vaunted wings under the right conditions, their lower quality under others, and the mixed feelings other items tend to inspire. Some patrons on some nights will leave very pleased and even impressed, while others won't understand what all the fuss is about. Our recommendation is simple: visit primarily for the menu-ordered wings, skip the desserts, and try the buffet only if you're looking for a night of wing flavor variety you won't find anywhere else in the area. We'd still pick Duff's any day for true Buffalo-style wings, but this is a worthy if not consistently strong rival due to its broader menu. Based on the overall execution we've seen during two visits, a 2.75-star rating would have been possible if we issued quarter stars, but the good stuff here will really fire some people up.
Updated October, 2009: We covered this chicken wing and rib chain's Western New York opening with genuine excitement in late 2008, and have visited on several occasions since the first two that formed the basis of our review. As we noted last December in our three-star rating, "a 2.75-star rating would have been possible if we issued quarter stars," and in the intervening period, we've introduced quarter-star ratings, but we've also revised our view on Quaker Steak's food.
Each time we've stopped by Quaker Steak since last year, the meals we've had - most notably but not exclusively the wings - have been well short of our first experiences there. After giving it one last shot this past week, we've decided to take the rare step of markedly decreasing our rating to account for the diminished quality we've experienced on these visits. Regardless of the type of wings we've ordered, and whether we've had them fresh from the kitchen, as take out, or from one of the place's two types of buffets, they've been extremely unimpressive: on the dry side, not hot enough in spice or temperature, and only decent in size. Other dishes we've ordered have also been forgettable; the only things that have gotten better are the complimentary after-meal Twizzlers, which are no longer the old, dried-out stock that was originally being served. Apart from this throwaway part of the meal, whatever has happened at Quaker Steak has severely reduced our interest in dining here again; our hope is that it turns around its kitchen and offers patrons a reason to see its wings as special - right now, apart from the crazy hot Atomics, we wouldn't have any reason to rush back.