We pride ourselves on our food events. A.C. Weekly’s Burger Bash, where local restaurants compete to see who has the best burger, and 50 Bites+, a promotion that invites folks to indulge in over 50 bite-sized delicacies from the best South Jersey restaurants, have become sought-after and looked-forward-to events by local food lovers.
Last year, however, we were sitting around wondering what was missing from our repertoire of food celebrations. We realized then that the dish we weren’t paying proper homage to was the mighty wing. Few foods are so divisive, sparking arguments and deep-seated loyalties to certain wing spots over others. It was this nationalism, this unfettered devotion to poultry, that inspired our Wing Wars. This year it returns 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at Golden Nugget’s Grand Ballroom, sponsored by Longport Media and 103.7 WMGM.
Now in its second year, Wing Wars features 18 local restaurants and bars going head-to-head to see which is king of the wing. Those wings can be baked, fried, mild, spicy, sweet or savory, doused in blue cheese or sprinkled with Doritos, as long as it’s the best they’ve got.
Back to defend their title is Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House, which won last year for best wing. Co-owner Elvis Cadavid is nothing but confident heading into this year’s competition.
“We’re taking traditional wings and marinating them in dry chilies. Then they’re baked, then flash fried, then topped with a maple, chili cilantro sauce that we garnish with Flaming Hot Cheetos,” he says. “It’s our twist — it’s sweet, hot and the cilantro will give it that herb taste. We’ll have extra chunky blue cheese for dipping. It’ll definitely stand out.”
Cadavid and crew will also stand out — find them in their neon yellow digs on Saturday and give their wing a try, that is, if you managed to get a ticket, as Wing Wars is all sold out. There are still contests to win tickets going on at WONDRadio.com, WMGM and at the Pic-A-Lilli Pub, so a lucky few may still be able to get in on the action.
In the mean time, gear up for Saturday with these things to know about Wing Wars:
1. A killer competition. A tiny competition this is not. Instead, Wing Wars boasts a lineup of amazing competitors, including Pic-A-Lilli Pub, Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House, Okatshe, Vic & Anthony’s, Michael Patrick’s Brasserie, Manco & Manco, Guy’s BBQ Joint, A.C. Burger Company, Kelsey’s, Rose’s Garden Grill, Los Amigos, Joseph’s at Renault Winery, Tennessee Ave. Beer Hall, Chart House, Hooters, The Cove Naomi’s Cafe and Tun Tavern. Better yet? You, your fellow chicken wing connoisseurs get to decide who has the best wings — and dipping sauce — in the competition. We also have three expert judges that will throw in their own opinions on which is the best of the birds for a special judges award, as well as a few Fat Boy Munch Club picks.
2. Copious amounts of chicken wings. It’s not just spicy or mild here at Wing Wars — it’s a flavor overdrive. While you’ll still be able to sample the flavors you’ve grown to know and love, there are plenty of interesting options at Wing Wars to tempt any palate. From ginger, garlic and scallion (Okatshe) to maple glazed (Vic & Anthony’s) to sweet chili habanero with crushed Cool Ranch Doritos (A.C. Burger Co.) to honey garlic (Kelsey’s), among others, it’s a win-win situation for everyone but the bird.
3. A bevy of beers. Is it even possible to eat chicken wings without a cold beer to wash it down? Lucky for us, we’ll never need to find out. With a craft beer selection available all day at the cash bar, as well as a $6 per beer price tag, no wing needs to go down alone.
4. Tunes for taking it up a notch. It’s not a party without party music, so LeCompt will be on hand to keep the good times rolling. With covers from The Who, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie and Rod Stewart, in addition to some originals, LeCompt is known as Philly’s Best Party Band. They know how to get the party … er … Wing War … going.
5. VIP availability. The competition starts at 1 p.m. for every ticket-holder, but if you’re worried about the lines while waiting on those wings, you may want to bust out the V.I.P. status on this one. For just $40 (general admission ticket prices are $25), you get an extra hour for wing sampling and a rad new limited edition Wing Wars T-shirt. Seriously, has a war ever looked so good?
The Fat Boy awards
A.C. Weekly’s own Fat Boy Munch Club — Director of Entertainment Publications Scott Cronick and Associate Editor Ryan Loughlin — will also be handing out a few awards. Here’s the rundown on what they are:
XXL Fat Boy Heavenly Combo: Given to the competitor who has the best wing and dipping sauce pairing
Fattest Imagination: Honors the most unique approach to flavor with their wing or dipping sauce
Fattest Presentation: For whoever has the best overall presentation of their product
I Can’t Feel My Face: Given to the joint with the hottest wing
Our esteemed judges
We’re happy to announce that this year we’re including awards given out based on the results of a panel of judges. Their judging criteria is based 25 percent on preparation and appearance (over/under cooked, too greasy/crispy, etc.) and 75 percent on taste (texture, sauce, flavor, etc.). Here’s a bit more on our judges:
Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Center for Food and Hospitality Management at Drexel University and a classically trained chef. He is the author or editor of eight books including “Gastropolis: Food and Culture in New York City (with Annie Hauck-Lawson)” and “Barbecue: A Global History (with Megan Elias).” When not in the kitchen, he can be found behind his tuba.
Brian Lofink, Executive Chef of the Sidecar Bar & Grille in Philadelphia, is obsessed with all things chicken wings. His mission for the past two years has been to elevate the lowly chicken wing by inviting local chefs to his restaurant to collaborate on delicious and creative wing dishes.
Rick Rutherford III
Rick Rutherford’s family has owned a restaurant for over 30 years (Rio Station), where he has done every job and eventually worked his way to executive chef and general manager. He then studied in Le Cordon Paris, where he achieved a degree in French Culinary Academy. Rutherford later opened a farm where he and his fiancé currently grow all their own food and exotic chili’s, including all of the super hots in an 8,000-square-foot pepper garden, just to make their own hot sauces. He loves food and is planning to open a restaurant this year in West Cape May.