For the eighth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Locavore, the newest restaurant at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2014."
A few years ago, we OnMilwaukee.com editorial staffers did a couple wings challenges, but pitting places on the eastern sides of town – Bay View, Downtown, East Side. This time, we decided to pit two beloved and acclaimed West Allis institutions to the test: TomKen’s and Magoo’s.
And, in an extreme rarity for our series of Milwaukee challenges, the result was a landslide. All six voters picked Magoo’s as the winner for its fabulous wings dished up with a smile in a lively atmosphere.
Here’s what we had to say...
TomKen’s offered up one of the best individual wings I’ve ever had – the jerk dry rub. I was skeptical at first, as I’m partial to battered wings as opposed to grilled, but it was very flavorful and excellently seasoned. I also enjoyed the battered "Buffalo sings the bleus." While those two flavors may have made a "top 10" list individually, Magoo’s, overall, was superior – starting mostly with how much meat was on the wing. Sauces and spices are good, but meat is where it’s at! Magoo’s honey barbecue was my favorite wing of the challenge, and it tasted as sweet as it smelled. The medium buffalo was also very flavorful, and topped the TomKen’s buffalo option. Magoo’s jerk wing did not compare with TomKen’s, however. The teriyaki wing at Magoo’s was interesting. I was skeptical – I’m not a fan of teriyaki sauce – but it was done just right. The parmesan selection was very good, too, and I liked the touch of dusting the parmesan cheese atop the wing as opposed to making it more of a sauce.
Content & social media manager
The battle of wings in West Allis is a tough one. TomKen’s had one of my favorite wing flavors in town – the jerk dry rub was hands down my overall winner of all the wings we tried. And believe me, we tried a ton of them. But … Magoo’s wins on size, service and atmosphere. You pull into the parking lot and all you can smell is the wing smoke pouring out of the building. The wings (with tips!) were crispy – with just the right amount of charred goodness. I’ll be back to TomKen’s for those jerk wings again but I’d pick Magoo’s – especially those teriyaki wings -- just about any night of the week and I’d be hesitant to return to TomKen’s based on the overall experience we had.
In terms of intangibles, Magoo’s is the easy winner. The service was spectacular – fast, observant and constantly on the ball – and the setting was far more welcoming. But in this contest, the wing is the thing, and that being the case … Magoo’s is still the easy winner, if by a slightly tighter margin. Don’t get me wrong; TomKen’s has a mighty selection of solid wings. The dry rub Jamaican jerk, in particular, was a highlight, with really deep flavor. But on every other wing, Magoo’s came away king of the wing. All the wings at Magoo’s were big, full with succulent meat. And while TomKen’s sauces, by the end of the meal, blended into an indefinable – if still quite tasty – flavor, each different sauce at Magoo’s hit the taste buds with a different punch. The honey barbecue and teriyaki wings were both delicious with the perfect amounts of sweet and tart, while the medium had just the right amount of heat. I go more into the various rubs and flavors, but the main point is this: At TomKen’s, I was pleasantly content when the meal ended; at Magoo’s, I wanted the wings to just keep coming.
These wings were meatier, moister (sorry to all who hate that word) and more flavorful – so for me, Magoo’s was the obvious choice. I also appreciated the attentive service and the extras, like the plentiful amount of dipping sauces and an entire roll of paper towel on the table. I certainly didn’t dislike the wings at TomKen’s – I found the jerk rub very tasty – and I plan to return there to try them again sometime. Especially since my chicken-crazy kid, who tagged along with us for the wing tasting, declared TomKen’s his favorite.
Maybe the TomKen’s hype was too much, but I found our visit there a little disappointing. Some of the wings were exceptional, most notably the dry jerk wings, which had a stellar spice combo, and the buffalo sings the bleus, which were tangy and delicious. But the other flavors we tried didn’t match those. And to call the service spotty would be overselling it by a fair bit. At Magoo’s the tips-on wings were meatier and in every case – except the Caribbean jerk, which couldn’t match the flavor of the TomKen’s jerk rub – tastier. The teriyaki and the honey barbecue were especially exceptional and the medium wings weren’t far behind.
On the surface, this seemed like no contest. I liked almost everything better about Magoo's: the atmosphere, the service, the serving sizes and the prices. And in fact, I liked some of the wings better at Magoo's, too. But TomKen's had two important things going for it; the Jamaican jerk and buffalo flavors are very, very good. I preferred those to all but the teriyaki and honey barbecue flavored at Magoo's, which were delicious. I found TomKen's offerings to be a little less greasy than Magoo's, too. But the overall experience was just so much better at the old-school 'Stallis sports bar Magoo's, that I have to pick it as my winner. While both are worthy challengers, Magoo's wins all the intangibles and some of the tangibles, too. When you're talking about great food, things like ambience can make the difference, and Magoo's drips with it, while TomKen's is nothing special. For all those reasons, Magoo's is my pick. Yum.