You aren’t a true Clevelander, I suppose, if you haven’t been to a Winking Lizard.
Now, your opinions of Winking Lizard may vary. If you’re my mom or my older sister Amanda, you hate the local chain with its reptilian mascot, and vow to never ever eat there again (a tear drops down my face as I write.)
If you’re a Cleveland sports fan and love a good sports bar– well, I assume Winking Lizard is a good place for such folks (I wouldn’t know, not being a sports fan, albeit a Clevelander, if it’s possible.) Finally if you’re Julian and me, you might not be a fan of the loud sports bar experience, but the food, as a whole, is worth it. We also have a special fondness for Winking Lizard, as the final part of our first date took place over drinks at the Cleveland Heights Coventry location, which sadly no longer exists. Nowadays, we make an occasional visit to the Mayfield Heights location, which has yet to disappoint.
One of the main attractions for me over the summer was the ultimate BBQ half chicken, one of their summer specials. After my brief stint as a (mostly) vegetarian, I have been what I call a chicken fiend. It happened last time I tried going vegetarian as well— once I stopped, it’s like I felt like I had to make up for all the chicken I hadn’t eaten. And Winking Lizard’s BBQ half chicken with its side of Latin street corn– let’s just say if I was stranded on an island and had to choose three meals I could have there, it would be on the list.
Imagine my heartbreak, then, when September rolled around, and despite the fact that summer wasn’t really over, the specials were gone and the fall specials had replaced them. We had made a special trip to Winking Lizard out of my desperate craving need for BBQ half chicken only to find out it was gone, and I had to content myself with wings.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait all that long to experience my favorite dish again.
Every year, Winking Lizard has its annual clambake. It takes place over a couple weekends around September or October (the dates differ depending on the location), and features a special menu that inevitably includes a dozen steamed clams and a couple select entrees. This year, they featured the return of the BBQ half chicken! (Fireworks! Confetti! Banners! Hip hip hooray!)
There was no way we were going to miss it.
So we went twice.
The meal begins with a bowl of clam chowder. The first time we went it was okay– no complaints but no raving reviews either. The second time, it was really delicious and a perfect way to start off a feast.
Following up the chowder, we each received a dozen steamed clams served in little nets that made us feel at least a little bit like being back in Cape Cod. The clams are served with a little butter sauce on the side for dipping.
Finally, the part we have all been waiting for: the entrees. Julian and his mom tried the lobster, which received good reviews. But you know, I was there for the chicken.
The entrees are served with your choice of baked potato or sweet potato. I tried the baked potato the first time, which was hot and soft the whole way through. The second time, I tried the sweet potato which was equally good. The dish is also served with the Latin Street Corn that came with the BBQ half chicken during the summer. This is not the type of corn you have when you want something light and healthy. It is slathered in butter and topped with a delicious buttery sauce with an edge of spice to it. To add on to the points, they serve buttery garlic bread as well.
Then there was the chicken– half of it, slathered in delicious Winking Lizard barbecue– tender wings and thighs. I ate it like I imagine a cavewoman would in the days of olde, or someone stranded on an island who hadn’t chosen BBQ half chicken as one of their three meals and was finally presented with their first good meal in months. It’s the last chance I’ll have until hopefully next year, when I hope (and might even petition) for them to bring it back in all its chicken glory.
You have one day left to try it for yourself. The last date of the clambake is October 7th, at the Peninsula location. It’s your last chance until next year!