890 Yonge St
Toronto, ON M4W 2H2
Torontoians love their wings. Being the self-described foodie I am, I’ve been in more than one debate over who has the best wings in town. The Crown and Dragon Pub will inevitably come up in these debates, and for awhile there, I was a supporter of their claim to wing supremacy. After my last few visits, I’m not so sure.
The Crown and Dragon Pub looks like it was built in the early nineties. The outside has an “I’m walking into a strip mall bar” kind of feel to it. The inside is furnished with old wobbly dark tables, creaky chairs, and some built-in benches. Seating gets re-arranged willy-nilly, and it’s easy to be pinned in a corner or inches from strangers at another table. There’s a big projector TV on the far wall, a few LCD’s above the bar, and a sweet 20-something inch CRT television hanging over a booth. But who cares about all this? We’re eating wings!
I’ll be honest, I loved the Crown and Dragon for a long time. I would go on half priced wing nights, which used to be Tuesdays and Sundays. The wings were cheap, the beer flowed, and the place was packed. I would go with six friends or so and close our week with chicken and beer. This last visit, we were sad to learn that half price night was no longer, but had been replaced by a $3 off night. Not really an enticing offer, especially since you still had to buy a drink. The menu had also changed, and there were many more non-wing offerings. Wings are now regularly priced at $11 a pound with some slight savings for ordering multiple pounds.
Crown and Dragon (C&D) has two types of wings and 32 flavors. 26 of the 32 flavors are for your standard fried chicken wings and the other 6 flavors adorn C&D’s unique baked wings. The expansion of the menu was not a significant change for us. We’ve sampled from the regular menu before, and nothing, other than the wings, was worth eating. Dining with 5 friends tonight, we ordered 11 pounds of wings and two baskets of fries. We ordered 3 pounds of Original Buttery Buffalo, as well as single pounds of Foghorn Leghorn (baked), Roadside Lemonade, African Firecracker, East Coast Donair, Viva Italia, Honeycomb Heaven, Asian Heat, and Mardi Gras. The wings C&D serves up are bigger than what I’ve found at the franchises (almost double the size of Duff’s or St. Louis). When cooked properly, they are juicy and delicious. Although good chicken is a prerequisite for good wings, good wings also require good sauce.
The sauces, unfortunately, were rather bland. The menu listed African Firecracker at “four dragons” in terms of spice, but the actual wings were less hot than the two dragon Original Buffalo Butter. I had a hard time telling the difference between Asian heat and Mardi Gras. The Original Buffalo Butter was the best wing that we had, but it wasn’t extraordinary in terms of flavor. There were more than a few East Coast Donair wings left over at the end. We also noticed that the recipes of some of our favorite wings had changed. Foghorn Leghorn, a traditional favorite of ours, now displayed some tomato based stickiness that it had lacked on prior visits. Asian heat was not the pleasantly spicy experience it once had been. The accompanying dipping sauce and veggies were also disappointing. You have to ask especially for blue cheese unless you are content to be stuck with a watery dill dip. The eleven pounds of wings were accompanied by 8 carrot sticks and 8 celery sticks. That’s not even a carrot stick per pound ordered.
One pleasant change was the quality of the service at C&D. Prior experiences had led to a reputation for awful service. The last time I was at C&D, I received a set of cold wings. I asked for a fresh batch, and originally the waiter told me that he couldn’t do that because his “bar manager wouldn’t let him.” I asked again for a fresh batch, and he took them away. Two minutes later he appeared with more wings for me, but really he had microwaved my old order and told me they were fresh. They were now dry and dreadful. I wasn’t happy.
This time the server was friendly. He checked in on us, and he got some blue cheese when I asked, and tabulated the bill so that we saved the most money per pound with their special offer. I hope the service is a result in an overall change of attitude. However, it could be that the pub was no longer busy, and the waiter actually had time for us. Previously on half price wing night, the pub was packed. Only three tables were occupied for $3 off night.
Crown and Dragon beats any of the franchises when it comes to wings, without a doubt. C&D’s wings are bigger and juicier. Despite my gripes about the sauces above, they are still better than anything that Duff’s or St. Louis has to offer. However, the flavors aren’t as good as they used to be, and I’m sure they could be even better. I’ll probably still go to C&D, but the change in flavors, as well as the elimination of half price wing night, will have me looking around town for better and cheaper options.