Sauces sometimes get too much credit. They are hailed as secret or special or, in the estimation of overzealous menu writers, famous.
Few such complementary concoctions deserve the hype. The best sauces require no overblown promotion. The bossest sauces elicit cravings, urges among fans that can approach, well, addiction.
One of those sauces has over the past decade become a local treasure: the honey-mustard-based Mercer Gold at Francar’s Buffalo Wings.
A former reporter here at The Telegraph, a Mercer Gold connoisseur, was once, while lapping up a pool of leftover sauce from a tray of wings, overheard saying, “I want to inject it in my veins.”
Francar’s moved from Log Cabin Drive to the northern edge of Mercer University’s campus on Linden Avenue in 2009, and it was there Mercer Gold was born. It was inspired by a suggestion from a student.
Francar’s proprietor and cook Carl Fambro recalls the student telling him, “It should be orange and black, whatever. But it should be tied to the school, at least named for the school.”
After a couple of weeks of tinkering, Fambro perfected a tangy, honey-mustardy, orangish amalgam sprinkled with black pepper flecks — an homage to the Mercer colors — that goes down smooth as butter. (Yes, butter is one of the 16 ingredients.)
It is sweet for sure, but gooey it ain’t. This is no syrupy confection.
“It’s not candy, no,” Fambro says.
It is the sauce equivalent of a Southern twang — honey, a splash or two of vinegar and somehow irresistible — and it will stain your fingertips a yellowy gold even after they’re washed.
You can dunk fries in it and pour it on pork chops. Some fans dip celery in it. Others, in perhaps the highest praise for a sauce, drink it. Or at least sip it.
“It’s almost like a soup,” Fambro says.
He’s not wrong.
“I can be in Kroger and people stop me to talk about Mercer Gold,” he says. “I’ve had a cashier there ask me, ‘Aren’t you Francar’s?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and she was like, ‘I am crazy about that Mercer Gold sauce. ... I love it. I drink it.’”
He won’t reveal what all goes into the sauce, but says there are seven or eight dry spices. The rest of the ingredients are liquids.
“I put in some other stuff,” Fambro says. “It’s not really hot. It makes your tongue tingle just a little bit.”
The taste for it stretches far and wide.
The other day he was preparing a couple of pints of Mercer Gold to mail to a Mercer grad whose wife in Wisconsin had special-ordered the sauce as a birthday gift.