Selling the Ranch

I’m a chicken wing fan.  And ever since moving to Jacksonville in 2007, I’m still on the hunt for a great wing place that I can call my favorite.  I’ve found a few that are pretty good (Wing It on Old St. Augustine and Ronnie’s across the river in Green Cove Springs are the frontrunners), but nothing local that just brings be back time & time again.

So last Sunday I found myself once again wanting to enjoy my semi-regular ritual of wings and a Sunday paper.  Rather than fall into the rut of average, I decided to drive a little farther into town and visit Gator’s Dockside on Baymeadows.

Gator’s isn’t exactly new to me.  When I worked in an office over in the Deer Park complex just off of Baymeadows, I had visited Gator’s pretty regularly for their decent $8.99 wing special featuring 10 wings, fries and a drink.  I never found them to be awesome wings, but they were pretty good.  It had been months since I’d been there so thought I’d give them a shot.

So at this point, I could explain how tasty my battered button mushroom appetizer was, or tell you that my wife enjoyed her sandwich, or even that the wings were better than I remembered.  But instead, my entire trip was marred by one simple omission and the resulting discussion I had with the manager.

Where was my ranch?

For all of my adult wing-eating life, I’ve known that ranch dressing (or for some perverted culinary barbarians, bleu cheese) has been a mandatory part of the chicken wing experience.  It’s like ketchup to french fries.  It’s part of the dish.  Dabbing a hot, spicy chicken wing into a bit of cool, creamy ranch dressing is not only providing a fantastic point/counterpoint of contrasting temperatures & textures, but is part of the ritual of wings.

So when our first-day-on-the-job waitress dropped off our meals at the table, and kindly asked if there was anything else she could get us, it didn’t take me long to survey the plates and reply, “Oh, yes.  I need some ranch.”

“Small or large?  We have to charge for it.”

“You must be mistaken.  You mean you charge for extra ranch, right?  Ranch is included with an order of wings, right?”

“No, sir.”

All of the sudden, the world didn’t make any sense any more.  My vision went gray and I felt woozy.  Had I been sucked through a time/space vortex into a parallel dimension where ranch was not a natural part of an order of wings?  Who’s the president?  What year is it?  Are we at war with Canada?  This can’t be the same Earth where I went to sleep last night!

Once I came to the realization that I was in my correct existence and it was Gator’s Dockside, not I, who had gone insane, I replied, “Then please tell your manager that I’m not interested in paying for ranch dressing in addition to my wings, and that I will not be returning to your restaurant.”

A little drastic?  Maybe.  But this is serious business.  I stood idly by while most wing places quietly pulled free celery & carrots out of their wing plates, but I’m drawing a line in the sand here.  I will not be charged an additional 69¢ for the ranch dressing that is rightfully mine by virtue of my purchase of wings.

My wing, dipping into unpurchased ranch dressing

The manager did finally come around to explain how it has been Gator’s Dockside policy for several years to charge for any ranch with wings.  I asked if he charges for salad dressing with a salad, or mustard for a burger, and he does not.  But to get any ranch with your wings, you get charged.  The topic of that weekday special even came up, because it does include ranch.  He acknowledged that their weekday special includes not only 10 wings, fries and a drink, but also, a side of ranch dressing.

So by their own weekday-special admission, Gator’s knows that ranch is an integral part of a wing meal, but when ordered alone on a weekend or outside of the bundle, you will be charged.

He stopped short of an apology, and did, after much polite debate, reluctantly bring out a small complimentary serving of ranch to my table, but the damage is done.  That bell cannot be unrung.

I very well may return to Gator’s for their above average wings, but when and if I do, in an act of civil disobedience, I will be placing a large bottle of grocery-store purchased Hidden Valley ranch squarely on the edge of the table in plain view.  I’ll even point out to my server that I will not be needing to purchase their unincluded side of revenue-boosting ranch with my wings.

Further, I think I’ll ask for an empty dressing dish to make my wing dipping all the more more convenient and enjoyable.  Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do.  And since sticking it to the man is so delicious, the wings I eat on that day may be the best I’ve had in some time.


UPDATE: In January of 2012 I had occasion to be in Buffalo, NY: the birthplace of the hot chicken wing.  While there I visited Duff’s (known as some of the best wings in Buffalo), and you know what came with my order of wings?  That’s right… a big ol’ tub of ranch.

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