Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How to Spend a Fortune on Cheap Food


Feeling fleeced twice in Astoria, Queens, tonight.

I think I'm done with Dillinger's Wing Night. Not that I was ever a big fan to begin with. But for all its touted value, it is subject to more rules and hidden costs than other local establishments which are more forthcoming about their deals.

My recent favorite Happy Hour watering holes along 30th Ave.– Dominie's and Blackbird's Café– have always dealt straight with me, and I've never left either place feeling grumpy, as I generally do when I leave someplace feeling like I just got conned.

I decided to give Dillinger's one more try tonight. I've had a spotty track record there– despite my first experience being generally enjoyable, the rest were pretty irritating. The last time I tried to dine there before tonight, I could not even get a seat, was largely ignored, and was passed over in favor of couples for table space,  and couldn't order food or drink without being seated.

What's the draw? Well, every Tuesday, Dillinger's has "25¢ Wings". (Those quotes will be explained shortly.) So every Tuesday, a normally quiet little neighborhood bar & grill becomes a madhouse of poultry-chomping deal-seekers. I'm not embarrassed to count myself among those who like a beer and a meal for a discount price, and as I said, both of those are found at Dominie's ($5 weekday pizza, delicious) and Blackbird's ($6/12 wings and $4 for all beers, mostly quality microbrews Wed. Nite) with less crowds and less restrictions.

Oh, and better overall pricing, when you get down to it.

But let's start with the rules. Unable to determine anywhere online what time "Wing Night" actually began, I ventured into Dillinger's at 7 minutes to 6 p.m., noticing on the sign outside that it began at 6:00. Good,I thought, I'll be getting a jump on the crowds. I was easily able to take a seat at the bar (although asked to slide a seat over, later, to accommodate the growing hordes), and asked whether I had to wait until exactly 6 p.m. to place my order. The answer was technically, yes, but I could order my drink now.

BTW, this is one of the restrictions– one which I totally understand– you must order a drink with your Wings. I get that; they need to make up their price and they are balancing the cost. No problem there. But then, all drinks are full price. No happy hour discounts during a time and weekday that EVERY other bar in the area– indeed, most of the USA– is offering $3-4 beers. No, here I paid the full $6 for a pint of Long Trail, for the privilege of my "25¢ wings". But OK, sacrifices must be made in the name of cheap wings. I understand.

When 6 o'clock rolled around, and I was able to place my order of 15 Garlic Wings, the server looked doubtful and said, "You might have to order another drink for that many wings." Really? 15 is considered a large number? I asked how many were usually OK to order with just one beer, but because of a language barrier (and a bit of loudness at the bar), I never really heard the answer. In the end, I bought another beer anyway.

Which was my next mistake. Granted, their $11 Yuengling & PBR Pitcher special is a pretty good deal– and in retrospect, I should've just ordered a pitcher all to myself. A full pitcher of Yuengling would have cost LESS than the 2 pints of Long Trail & Yuengling I ended up ordering ($11.50). I didn't even know I'd be expected to order a 2nd drink all because I was going to ingest the unheard-of-except-in-Guinness-Book-eating-records total of 15 Chicken Wings, but I went along with it. Because at this point, I was pretty much trapped at my barstool.

When the check came, I was flummoxed to learn that my "25¢ Wings" were in fact 45¢ apiece. Because I'd ordered Garlic, you see. And tasty as they were, I would have gladly forgone that herb to get wings that were actually A GREAT DEAL. There was no warning from the server, "You know, those cost extra," or anything. Just add it to the bill, and suddenly the deal isn't looking like such a bargain. Oh, and ranch dressing on the side is an extra 50¢. That last one doesn't irk me too much as I knew it beforehand, but it adds up.

So instead of 25¢ wings and 2 happy hour beers, we have 45¢ wings, 2 full-price beers, and extra for the sauce. I ended up paying nearly double my expected tab, and more than I've ever paid for the same amount of food and beer at Blackbird's Wing Night– despite their deal actually NOT looking as tempting on paper. Alternatively, I would've spent less for a full Mexican platter and nice cerveza at a private booth in my favorite local sit-down restaurant, than I did for 2 beers and a plate of wings at a cramped barstool in a noisy bar on "Discount" Night.

I might not have balked at the price on a regular night. But since this was supposed to be the Great Deal, the Big Bargain, I couldn't help but walk away feeling like a sucker.

To alleviate my frustration, I stopped in for dessert– something I never do– at 16 Handles on 30th Ave. on my way home. I'd tried it before in Manhattan, and had always been meaning to try the local franchise, just blocks from my apartment.

Already full from the wings, and wary of any further price gouging, I judiciously selected the smallest cup, filled it only ¾ full with soft-serve yogurt, and added only the most meagre of toppings: 2 incredibly tame half-spoonfuls of crushed candy bar. Proud of myself for my economy of selection and self-control, I strode up to the scale/register.

This cost $7.20.

My little cup came to $7.20. This has to be a joke, I thought, as I forked it over. I enjoyed a couple ashen mouthfuls on the 5-block walk back to my apartment, by which time much of it had melted into mush.

Moral of the Story?

Until further notice, Blackbird's Café on Wednesday Nights ($4 beer, $6 for 12 wings), and Dominie's M-Th Happy Hour ($5 beer, $5-6 pizzas from scratch) are far better 30th Avenue deals. Even the beer selection is better at both places. If Dillinger's had been less Ranger-Beaver-ish about its rules, warned me about the inflated prices on options, had Happy Hour pint specials, and for that matter, had a better selection of beers, not to mention not made me feel like a criminal for thinking I could get 15 "discount" wings (which weren't) by buying only ONE pint, perhaps I would've stuck it out.

Sorry, Dillinger's, but you lost me this time.

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