Winging It: Houston Gets Its First Pluckers

If you love wings, TVs and cheap drinks, you'll be happy to learn that Pluckers Wing Bar has landed in Houston. While it's the concept's first location in the Bayou City, the company has 14 other spots scattered throughout the Austin area, where it began, and in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

I got a great first look at the casual restaurant and bar this past week when complimentary, open-to-the-public mock services were held. The huge restaurant -- two patios, a large main dining area and an almost equally big bar area, all plastered with TVs -- was packed to the brim.

I didn't expect my visit to "pass" with flying colors on one of the first days it was "open" and simultaneously on the verge of being overcrowded. Plus, two visits to their Austin locations a couple of years ago were disappointing (the chicken sandwiches I ordered came out incorrect both times.)

But the place actually did pass, and with flying colors. My lunch began with a huge mason jar of their sweet iced tea. The oversize jug of what some would call the state beverage made me feel so Texan that I almost uttered a "y'all" and "fixin' to." I had one and a half appetizers, which could have easily equated to one entire meal: an order of Pluckers Nachos (tortilla chips topped with chicken, queso, honey barbecue sauce, red onions and cilantro) and fried pickles. The nachos looked prettier than your average bar nachos, and they tasted quite all right, too. The chicken topping the nachos was...gasp... real chicken -- not the ubiquitous microwavable varieties found at many chain restaurants that come pre-painted with grill marks. The cilantro and onions were pleasantly fresh as well. My only complaint was that the barbecue sauce was a little too sweet, even for me, and I'm a big fan of the sweet-savory marriage.

As for the fried pickles, they are the best I've ever had, I kid you not. These juicy pickles came in spears rather than round slices, and were covered in a delicately crispy batter that adhered perfectly to the pickle. Pluckers could have saved time and effort on making a dipping sauce to go with them, as the fried pickles were great all by themselves.

For my second meal, er...entrée, I tried the ten wing (bone-in) combo. You can choose the flavor of the wings in orders of five, so I went with the honey barbecue sauce on half and the spicy ranch flavor for the other half. I liked the honey barbecue on my wings much better than on the nachos, and the spicy ranch wings were spicy in the sense that they had plenty of spices sprinkled on them, not in a hot-sauce kind of way. Had I been looking for a hot variety, the Fire in the Hole wings probably would've satisfied the craving -- if you take 25 of those down, you are honored by being listed on the Wall of Flame. As for the wings on their own, they had a nice amount of meat on them and were cooked well. I chose the baked potato casserole as a side. It was made of layers of sliced potatoes intermixed with black pepper, chives, bacon and cheese. It's hard to go wrong with any dish that combines potatoes, cheese and bacon.

During my hour-or-so-long visit, I counted five managers making rounds, talking to each table to ensure that everything was perfect. This, along with my dining experience, indicates that Pluckers is serious about plenty of things apart from their wings.

And they serve plenty of things apart from wings, too. Beef and chicken burgers along with plenty of appetizers and salads can be found on the menu. As far as drinks go, Pluckers has developed a cult following for its iced teas and lemonades, served in big mason jars. Adult-beverage-wise, draft and bottled beer and a run-of-the-mill liquor selection that forms the base for a short specialty cocktail list are offered.

Pluckers was off to a super start last week. If they continue on the same track, it's easy to see why, in 2012, "USA Today named Pluckers one of the Top 10 Wing Restaurants in America and ESPN named it one of the Top 5 Sports Bars in North America," as listed on their Web site.

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