Winking Lizard: 3.8/5 stars
Taste: 4/5 stars. Some things are excellent, others just miss the mark.
Service: 4/5 stars. The dinner rush is slow, but servers are friendly and helpful.
Ambiance: 3/5 stars. Great for watching a game, but a bit loud, crowded and overwhelming for a dinner date.
Concept: 4/5 stars. It’s a straight-forward tavern with a great selection of drinks.
Pricing: 4/5 stars. The wing pricing is maddening but otherwise reasonable with lots of daily specials.
I have to respect a restaurant that embraces its identity.
People flock to the Winking Lizard for beer and bar food, and the restaurant is excellent at both of those things. With the exception of rotating seasonal menus, the menu doesn’t stray too far from those basics.
I’ve been to the Winking Lizard plenty of times—the restaurant chain has 21 locations across Northeast and Central Ohio—but this was my first visit to the Lake Cable spot.
My husband, Dave, and I grabbed dinner on a weeknight in mid-March. We tried to avoid dining during any major sporting events, but the restaurant was still packed to the brim. Rather than wait for an opening in the livelier bar area, we opted for a table in the dining room just past Wrigley the lizard.
I think we were the only diners in that part of the restaurant without kids. I get the appeal for families. The restaurant is already noisy. The menu is decently priced with lots of options for picky eaters. This location has a handful of arcade games to stave off boredom while waiting for a meal. And everyone loves free popcorn.
We settled in and poured over the impressive beer menu. As a fan of craft beer, it’s a treat when a restaurant has a big selection of brews we haven’t tried.
We decided to stick to the traditional on this visit.
The Lizard Freckles ($6.99)—fried pickle chips—were deliciously crispy and briney, and the side of cucumber wasabi added a perfect amount of heat and creaminess.
I’ll never turn down a soft pretzel, and the Soft Bavarian Pretzel ($8.29) was everything I love about the carb-heavy snack: soft, salty, doughy. But the side of cheese sauce was the nuclear orange chemical concoction you find at cheap ballparks. We quickly set that aside for the far superior spicy brown mustard.
When a restaurant has a big menu, I assume a few things will be clear misses, so I usually ask friends and coworkers for their recommendations. Everyone suggested that Winking Lizard has some of the best wings in the area, so of course we had to put that to the test.
We weren’t disappointed. Dave opted for traditional wings (five for $6.49/10 for $11.29/20 for $18.99), which were meaty, crispy and perfectly cooked.
The restaurant offers more than 20 wing sauces, and while I love the variety, the pricing structure makes it hard to justify trying more than one at a time. Winking Lizard doesn’t let you split flavors in an order, so if I want to eat 20 wings and try four different sauces, I have to order four five-packs at a significant price markup. We compromised by ordering a 10-pack and two 5-packs.
The bourbon barrel sauce was distinctly sweet, with a honey-like texture and a quick hit of heat from Sriracha. Dave was a fan, but I’d struggle to eat more than a few of these sticky sweet wings. The mild sauce was classic with just enough spice to keep it interesting. I’m not usually a fan of buttery sauces, but I was impressed by the garlic sauce, which packed a lot of flavor and a bit of spice.
I love Winking Lizard’s barbecue sauce—we buy bottles of it to keep at home—so I had to order the BBQ Chicken Club ($9.79). It’s a classic sandwich done really well with juicy chicken, crispy bacon and fresh veggies topped with smoky, sweet barbecue sauce.
The sauce is also great for dipping their steak fries. I’m grateful they have a bottle at every table next to the ketchup.
Our waitress was friendly and helpful—when the bar mixed up our beer order, she quickly fixed it and let us keep the mistakes—but dinner service was slow, especially for a weeknight. I can’t imagine that improves on the weekend.
I was curious how Winking Lizard would fare outside of the bar food arena, so I grabbed a Steak & Asparagus Salad ($10.99) for a to-go lunch a few days later. At a friend’s recommendation, I also opted for an order of Garlic Cheese Bread ($2.99), which was as buttery and garlicky as I’d hoped.
The salad was a pleasant surprise. The greens and veggies were fresh. The asparagus was well cooked, but the salad lacked any of the delicious asparagus tips. The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare but was weirdly chewy. The garlic and red wine dressing paired well with chunks of blue cheese. I’d happily give the salad section of the menu another whirl.