With many concepts—including McDonald’s—offering chicken wings this football season, the 16-unit Brick House Tavern + Tap was looking to add something new that would be equally craveable. So Jim Doak, VP of Menu and Beverage Innovation turned to a different bird.
Tapping happy hour
“I was at a restaurant in Chicagoland that offered duck as an entrée,” Doak recalls. “That evening, they confitted the leftover wings and served them as a happy hour bar snack.” He took the idea back to Brick House. “It’s familiarity with a twist,” he says. “Duck wings are like chicken wings but bigger, meatier and tastier since they’re all dark meat.”
Doak has always been fond of Peking Duck, a dish that highlights both Asian and barbecue flavors—two “really big” trends. To create an Asian-BBQ profile, the R&D team first slow roasts the wings to get the meat super-tender. To order, they’re then flash-fried and dredged in a sweet-spicy sauce made with brown sugar and two bottled hot sauces—one domestic and one imported. “Twice-cooking is a classic Asian technique and the sweet-heat is a craveable barbecue flavor,” says Doak. To complete the Asian profile, the wings are served with a side of housemade Sriracha ranch dressing enhanced with chopped cilantro.
Brick House partnered with a supplier to source the proprietary pre-seasoned duck wings. They purchase the first joint only, which weighs 2 to 2 1/2 ounces. “The supply is plentiful because other restaurants are buying the breast for entrees and the leg and thigh for confit,” Doak notes. With chicken wings, on the other hand, demand can exceed supply and prices escalate, cutting into margins. “When you’re paying top dollar for the product, there’s a limit to how much you can charge the customer for chicken wings,” he says.
Not ducky enough
R&D tried a few other sauces before choosing the well-balanced Asian BBQ. A classic Buffalo wing sauce was overpowering, as was a traditional smoky barbecue sauce. Both smothered the duck’s flavor and didn’t work with the richness of the meat.
The Duck Wings moved into the top five best-selling appetizers at Brick House this fall—just behind the chain’s chicken wings. “The flavor won our guests over and now we ‘have permission’ to use duck on other parts of the menu,” says Doak. Next up: perhaps shredding the meat for a pizza topping.
“We want our products to have an evolutionary track, especially when something is an entirely new SKU,” he says. Doak also plans to cross-utilize the Sriracha ranch dressing, looking at salad and sandwich applications.
Brick House will continue to explore different proteins in 2014. Lamb Meatballs were introduced recently and although lamb was a stretch, the item proved to be popular. “We’ll play as broad as our guests will allow,” Doak says.