Restaurant review: Woody's Wing House

G.A. Benton

The NCAA Tournament, which began last week, is a great annual sporting event that doubles as a compelling miniseries. Sure, untold fans watch their teams enter March Madness like a lion only to go out like a sacrificial lamb, but the excitement in country-spanning arenas generates storylines that often foster a cultural phenomenon or two.

Even ardently casual college basketball observers participate in “bracketology,” so the games also provide millions with a temporary shared hobby — plus an excellent excuse to spend hours on end hanging out with friends while watching TV. Or, if visiting a sports bar, many TVs at once.

One place to enjoy such bulk sports-viewing is Woody's Wing House in the Crosswoods area. The modern, spacious and roomy new place has big, high-definition TVs as far as the eye can see. It's co-owned by veteran restaurateur Jason Liu, who's known for two popular J. Liu Restaurant & Bar locations, so you'd expect Woody's to have more ambitious food than a generic sports pub.

It doesn't. In fact, from its “fun, casual” primarily wooden interior and seat-yourself policy to its similarly designed fried-food-happy menu and goofy cartoon chicken logo, Woody's ambitions don't seem to extend beyond the restaurant chain it uncannily resembles: Rooster's.

There are a few differences. Woody's offers an uncommon food-and-beer drive-through, and its 32 taps represent an enhanced beer selection. Two seasonal best buys: 22-ounce pours of Bodhi from CBC or Conway's Irish ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company for $6.

As in Rooster's, menus stay tableside. As appetizers go, I wish Woody's Nachos ($7) went much farther. The grilled, diced and wing-sauced chicken on them is fine but the limp chips beneath bland queso dip don't rise above mediocre stadium fare. A salsa side that looks and tastes like mass-produced stuff that came straight from a jar doesn't help.

The best thing about the thick, generous-sized Chili ($3) is that it's inexpensive. Otherwise, it's another shrug, albeit one with an unwelcome aftertaste I associate with preservatives.

Woody's House Salad ($4.79), which is large and fairly fresh and includes semi-crisp bacon bits, is a better bet. Try it with the sweet, poppy seed-style house dressing.

The Loaded Barrel Tots (five for $6; a server confirmed they aren't scratch-made) are an even better bet. Like potato tots on steroids, the oversized spud cylinders are crisp, dark golden-brown and smoky and tangy from prudent additions of cream cheese and bacon.

The big and meaty, lightly breaded boneless wings (all wings are six for $5) shaken in Buffalo sauce — “level three” provides a nice sting — are another relative highlight. Woody's unbreaded wings are fine, too, but my lightly breaded “traditional” wings were excessively oily.

I wasn't keen on the non-Buffalo sauces I tried. I found the “spicy garlic” to be neither spicy nor garlicky. Like other signature sauces, such as the mustardy “Ohio gold,” creamy “spicy Italian” and barbecue-like “sweet fire,” it was overly sweet and under-spiced.

Woody's menu mentions a use of Ohio Proud beef. Ostensibly this helps make the Cheeseburger Pizza ($8.59) — think mustard-laced Big Mac flavors on a thin, nondescript pizza crust — so enjoyable. Beef shows up grill-marked in the messy, characteristically sweet-sauced Woody Burger ($8.49). Along with bacon and hard-textured, house-smoked pulled pork, it contributes a pleasant smokiness to the OK sandwich.

As an avid sports fan, I'm hardly a stranger to anticipation ending in disappointment or to meeting friends in a crowded establishment to (in this order) watch games, enjoy cold drinks and snack on inexpensive, so-so food. You can find all of this — along with friendly servers trained, like at Rooster's, to write their names on napkins — at Woody's.

Woody's Wing House

161 E. Campus View Blvd., North Side