It’s autumn, which means one thing: football. Right?
Wrong. If your marketing program is putting all of its eggs in the Saturday/Sunday basket then you’re likely missing out on a few market segments, including hockey fans.
Having spent a number of years running some of Boston’s busiest sports bars, I can tell you that hockey fans are extremely loyal — not only to their favorite teams but also to an establishment that goes out of their way to make them feel special. Sure, you can do big numbers with the football crowd, but that’s once or twice a week for four months. Hockey is every night of the year from October to June.
One method that always ingratiated our restaurants to hockey fan clubs was to give them a little something specific to their team of choice. An easy way to get creative is to make team-themed food items. Think game-day specials where fans can choose an app of their choice, main course, and a premium beverage or beer. Or go more a la carte style. Whatever best suits your restaurant’s needs.
And while chicken wings are so closely linked to football, it’s really the perfect sports bar dish for any sport. With that in mind, here are a few recipe ideas to attract groups loyal to some of the NHL’s most popular teams. If you’re not feeling these, head on over to Frank’s King of Wings to use their flavor tools to give your wings a local flavor. Start with a solid sauce base and build up the flavor profile from there.
Give a stick tap to Anaheim’s large Arabic population with some Middle Eastern flavors. Spicing up your wings with McCormick’s Za’atar and tossing them in a lemon and honey sauce will give your guests a nice mix of SoCal and the Middle East.
Some of the best Mexican food in the country can be found in Phoenix-area taco trucks. Though I could never manage to pry their spice blends away from their proprietors, I’ve come close in my attempts to recreate them. For wings with a Mexican-flair, try cumin, paprika, dried oregano, and a few assorted peppers. That should start you in the right direction.
Boston has no shortage of signature dishes: clam chowder, lobster rolls, and the Boston Cream Pie are all fine representatives of the city, but they don’t easily translate to wing form. Instead, go back in the city’s history to the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. A wing marinade of molasses, red wine vinegar, and soy sauce will sucker punch every taste bud in the building.
Poor Sabres fans. Despite being in the league since 1970, they have never won the Stanley Cup. The good news for them, however, is they have is their wings. DO. NOT. Mess with their wings. Frank’s RedHot Original Buffalo Wings Sauce and butter. A side of blue cheese dressing. Celery and carrot sticks. Possibly a picture of Brett Hull, if you’re feeling feisty.
If they want flames, give them flames. A hot spice rub centered around McCormick’s Hot Shot and a healthy coating of Frank’s Xtra Hot should be hot enough to boost your beer sales on game nights, but not so hot your tables won’t be asking for seconds.
Having spent a number of years living in the south, I can unequivocally say that Carolina-style BBQ is the best in the country for one reason — the sauce. The cider-vinegar/mustard base is beyond addicting, repeat orders will be flying into the kitchen. Bonus points if you have the ability to smoke your wings; it will give them a truly authentic Carolina feel.
Another major city with no shortage of signature dishes. Rather than attempt some nightmarish deep-dish pizza wing, opt for a tribute to Chicago’s Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill. The legendary master of Mexican cuisine serves a wing tossed with sweet red chili sauce, butter, and toasted sesame seeds. It may not scream “Windy City” but its expats will know the flavor.
So, you don’t want to serve lamb or Rocky Mountain Oysters, but you still want a distinct Colorado dish? Turn to peaches. Though not as synonymous with the state as they are with Georgia, the Centennial State is renowned for its Palisade Peaches. The sweetness of a peach brandy, when combined with the heat of Frank’s Red Hot makes for an unbelievably flavorful wing.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus’ neighbor, Cincinnati, is famous for its unique take on chili. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend serving your wings over a plate of spaghetti, the distinct flavors can add an unexpected depth to your wings. Of course, chili powder and cumin will be the backbone of your spice mix, but cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and, most importantly, unsweetened cocoa will distinguish your wings from the competition.
Texas’ cuisine can be summed up in one word — barbecue. To get a truly Dallas flavor to your wings, drench them in a sauce made with French’s Ketchup, pureed vegetables (celery, carrots, and onions), and McCormick’s Worcestershire Black Pepper. Pair the wings with a Shiner Bock to keep your Tyler Seguin fans happy.
Detroit Red Wings
Sometimes, the marketing just writes itself. Make your own Detroit “Red Wings” with a rub of McCormick’s Smoked Paprika and Ground Anatto. Browning your butter before mixing it with your Frank’s RedHot can give them a deeper color reminiscent of Hockeytown. Hold the octopus.
For my money, there’s no better sandwich on the planet than the Cubano, Florida’s greatest contribution to society. As much as we’d all love to stuff a chicken wing full of roast pork, the laws of physics prevent us from doing so. What you can do to impart that Cuban flavor into the wings, however, is to marinate them in a traditional mojo (garlic, citrus, oregano). Finishing your wings in a spicy mustard-based sauce and serving them with pickles will complete the homage.
Los Angeles Kings
When I think of L.A. cuisine, my mind immediately goes to Thai food. In one of my restaurant gigs, we had a loyal contingent of Kings fans that would come in twice a week to watch their team. A sweet and spicy chicken wing would always be a hit with them. Frank’s RedHot makes a Sweet Chili variety that you can bolster with fish sauce, soy sauce, and lime juice for a wing bursting with flavor.
Minnesota may be the state of hockey, but there is one thing its natives love more than its sport — Prince. The Purple One, undoubtedly the state’s most revered son, was nearly as passionate about food as he was about music. According to his personal chef, one of Prince’s favorite foods was pure maple syrup. A maple-sriracha glaze for your wings is a guaranteed hit. For a full tribute, experiment with adding beet juice not only for sweetness but also the purple hue so synonymous with The Artist.
As a Bruins fan, I must warn you about inviting fans of Les Habitants into your building. They are permanently stuck in the past and refuse to acknowledge history beyond the year 1993. If, however, you must cater to them, McCormick’s Smoky Montreal Steak Seasoning is just as effective on wings. Serve with a good side of poutine.
Visitors to Music City almost always have one dish in mind upon arrival — Nashville Hot Chicken. You need some serious heat and some serious taste to compete with this classic that dates back to 1945. The fire comes from a combination of cayenne pepper, black pepper, and paprika, with brown sugar and garlic for balance. The secret to the sauce’s bold flavor, though, is lard. Pickles and white bread are mandatory for authenticity.
New Jersey Devils/New York Rangers/New York Islanders
Chicken and New York can only mean chicken and waffles. Scale it down to bite size with wings a la southern fry and waffle fries. Fans of all the NYC-area squads will appreciate this Harlem classic, especially with a side of spicy pepper maple syrup — even if they can’t agree on much else.
One of the busiest weeks of my life in the restaurant industry was the 2010 NHL Winter Classic when the Bruins played host to the Flyers at Boston’s historic Fenway Park, located directly on top of my kitchen. With so many Philly fans in town, every bar in town was running cheesesteak specials, though we opted for the city’s lesser-known roast pork sandwich. That authenticity earned us some props among the Flyers’ notoriously temperamental fans. The flavors easily translate to chicken wings by coating your wings with garlic, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. A simple slaw with broccoli rabe on the side will let your Philadelphian guests know of your attention to detail.
Pittsburgh’s can be best encompassed by the French fries they put on their sandwiches and the boatloads of ketchup the city produces. Yinzers who swear up and down they were fans of the Penguins even between the Lemieux- and Crosby-eras will welcome a tip of the hardhat to their city’s past. A tomato-based sauce, bolstered by brown sugar, Frank’s Red Hot, butter, and smoked paprika (as a nod to the city’s industrial heritage) is a perfect mix of sweet, savory, and fire. Fries and coleslaw on the side are musts.
San Jose Sharks
The list of amazing dishes and flavors of the Bay Area is longer than a triple-overtime playoff game. Seeing as “plagiarism” is as ubiquitous as salt in the restaurant industry, it would almost be a crime not to throw your own spin on Cecilia Chang’s Explosive Chicken. The marinade of soy sauce and ricewine vinegar, followed by a dry rub of Szechuan peppercorns and sugar will impart tons of flavor into your wings. Serve over sautéed Szechuan chilis and scallions for final touches.
St. Louis Blues
St. Louis means ribs, and a wings and ribs platter can satisfy even the hungriest carnivores. Fortunately, the flavors are easy to share between the two types of meat without seeming too one-note. A basic wing rub of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder becomes a rib rub with the addition of dark brown sugar.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Canada’s largest city plays host to its most popular team, as well as one of the largest communities of the South Asian diaspora. A curried chicken wing sauced with Frank’s Stingin’ Honey Garlic Sauce will bring the flavors of that region to the plate as your guests cheer for one of the league’s most exciting young teams.
Vegas Golden Knights
The new darlings of the professional sports world, Vegas shocked the league by making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of existence. Though they fell short, they endeared themselves to hockey fans young and old. What better way to endear yourself to their fans than gold fever wings? The simple combination of Cattlemen’s Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce and Frank’s Red Hot is so addictive it would be right at home in Sin City.
The reigning champs. It would be inappropriate to honor the Caps without focusing on their captain, one of the league’s most prolific scorers, Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin. Though actual Russian cooking is not exactly known for its bold flavors, we can take some artistic liberty to appeal to American fans of the team. A sauce centered around red Russian dressing and apricot preserves will give you not only a bold flavor but also a bright red color reminiscent of the team’s jerseys.
Don’t Forget the Drink Pairing…
If you want to up the ante, ping your vendors and national brand partners to see what sorts of promotions they’re running that you can leverage, such as Frank’s RedHot Red Hot & Ice Cold for the Season wing & beer pairing promotion that goes on year-round. This is just an extra way of creating fun game-day menu targeted to your most loyal fans.