I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when I decided earlier this week that the "Day Without a Woman" would be a good time to give Hooter's new smoked wings a try.
On one hand, Hooters is a massive restaurant chain that operates around the world and it would never allow its restaurants to be affected by some fringe protest. On the other hand, entire school districts in the D.C. area were closing up shop because so many women were taking the day off, and some restaurants said women could get paid leave if they wanted to participate in the day. Hooters, which famously sports an exclusively female wait staff budding with mounds of talent, is undoubtedly more susceptible to a women's strike than any other restaurant.
Despite the unknown, I ventured to Hooters on Wednesday afternoon. It was open and had quite a few cars in the parking lot.
I got a table by the bar and told my waitress that I was happy to see that Hooters was serving customers, given that it was the "Day Without a Woman."
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
She was not alone in her confusion, given that I also didn't know exactly what the day entailed. When I first heard about it I thought that organizers were going for the type of situation seen in HBO's The Leftovers, where a certain slice of the population is just gone and the rest of us have to survive without it. I had no idea that the intent of the "Day Without a Woman" was actually to have the women skipping work participate in large demonstrations and visibly disrupt commuters.
I explained what I was talking about and, given a bit of a push, she remembered seeing something about the protest.
"Oh, that thing with the girls?" she said. "That's not going down here. I wish I was still in school though, so I could get the day off."
That was the last we spoke about protests.
It was time to enjoy Hooters, and the circumstances were very ripe for enjoyment. Not only was the ACC tournament playing on one of the bar's large screens, but after I let them know that the New York Mets were playing the Boston Red Sox and that Tim Tebow was slotted in the eight hole, they quickly got the game up there on an equally large screen right next to it.
Then, as if my waitress knew exactly why I came, she let me know that the new Smoked Wings were all the rage lately. I ordered a large plate with the Texas BBQ dry rub.
I've long had some issues with the Hooters "original style" wings, which are hand breaded. Some people love them, but to me the ratio of breading to meat always feels off. I am not alone, which is why Hooters also offers "naked wings" with no breading. Those are good, but aside from the healthy variety of wing sauces available, there is really nothing special about them.
The smoked wings, which were released in select markets last year and are now available everywhere, are a different story.
They are advertised as a low calorie option—"Half the calories, so you can eat twice as many"—but nothing is sacrificed when it comes to flavor. The wings, marinated overnight and smoked in-house, seem to be larger than Hooters' other varieties. The wings were consistently crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The rub did not overpower, allowing the smoky flavors and the cook of the meat to shine.
I complemented my wing order with a Hooters onion ring tower (also advertised as a "new" item) and a few moderately priced 25-ounce "Big Daddy" beers.
I also got an order of the original buffalo shrimp, a known specialty on the "Hooterstizers" menu, as well as the bacon-wrapped wings. This latter item was the only disappointment, as is often the case when restaurants attempt the gimmicky practice of wrapping food in bacon. Those wings were overdone and dry.
Largely thanks to the smoked wings, it was my best eating experience at a Hooters.
The rest of the experience was great, too. I sat under a sign that said "Man cannot live on Hooters alone, but we won't stop you from trying," which made me laugh. It also made me laugh that the men's bathroom is labeled "Standing Proud" and the women's is labeled "Sitting Pretty."
All in all, whether the day is with or without women, I shall return.