Just one short month after storied Anchorage restaurant Wings n' Things reopened a downtown location in November 2009, franchisee Alex Vargas severed ties with the business and changed the restaurant's name to Downtown Wings.
Despite the initial disappointment to many loyal wings fans, Vargas has managed to garner a following of patrons by completely renovating the establishment. Changing the menu, adding his personal recipes (including his signature wing sauces), was just the beginning of the makeover.
Vargas' handiwork is in every element of the restaurant, including the interior design. Thanks to wall-to-wall artwork, diners can marvel at local artists' magnificent handiwork while feasting on an olive plate ($5.50), cheese plate ($8.50), marinated artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers ($5.50), spicy pistachios and almonds ($4.50) or wasabi hummus ($4.50) paired with a glass of wine.
On the other hand, sports fans can watch one of the multiple flat-screen televisions accommodating every angle throughout the room, while enjoying a beer and munching a hamburger ($5.95) or chicken wings. The result is an appropriately casual bar/restaurant hybrid catering to trendy and traditional culinary palates alike.
A wing fan, I ordered the double portion (20 pieces / $17.95) on my first visit; 10 barbecue and 10 hot wings. The restaurant also offers single (10 wings / $9.95), triple (30 wings / $25.95), quadruple (40 pieces / $32.95) and bucket (50 pieces / $38.95) portions. You can choose from flavorings such as barbecue, mild, medium, hot, extra hot and -- if you're feeling especially bold -- nuke.
The service was speedy, and in no time my basket of wings arrived, garnished with celery sticks and a side of ranch (or blue cheese). My barbecue wings were deliciously crispy, doused in a fresh-from-the-barbecue-grill flavor with a hint of honey. The hot wings were hot as advertised, but the distinct flavor relied more on quantity than quality and overwhelmed my taste buds.
On my next trip I ordered from the sandwich menu, which offers selections such as reindeer sausage, French dip, and chicken Philly in both 8-inch ($8.95) and 12-inch ($11.95) options. I got the eight-inch Philly cheese steak sandwich. It was served piping hot, with tender steak slathered in provolone cheese and topped with chopped onions, all encapsulated by a toasted bun.
It was tasty, but the meat quantity was a little underwhelming and left me wishing I had upgraded to double meat ($3 extra for an 8-inch, $4 for a 12-inch).
Simple American classics, along with hors d'oeuvres for more sophisticated palettes, are both offered at a reasonable price. But ultimately, what sets the restaurant apart from its predecessor goes beyond the cuisine. "The atmosphere is completely different," Vargas said. "We feature new art for First Friday each month, and we now open early on Sundays for sports fans."
By tailoring the atmosphere and menu to its downtown patrons, Vargas said, he hopes to carve his own niche in the restaurant community.
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By Randi Jo Gause
Daily News correspondent