Year after year I tell myself that I’m not going to this festival. It’s not that I hate wings; I think it’s well documented on this website that I love chicken wings. But, what I normally dislike is everything else about this festival. I don’t like trying wings from various cities from around the country. I know that’s probably close minded of me but there is no way that a restaurant from Florida can make better wings then anything I can order down the street. It also seems that the focus of the festival isn’t even on chicken wings but rather the sauces they are coated in. The wings themselves in the past have always been soggy and usually cold, just not what I expect from ordering wings in this area. Add on the fact that it gets incredibly crowded, usually hot, and there is really no good place to stop and actually eat the wings. So, about a month ago Alli and I decided that we wouldn’t be going this year.
Then I was contacted via email and given an chance to come to the festival and interview Joey Chestnut. So, as you can imagine, that changed my plans, and truth be told I’m really glad it did. You’ve probably already read the interview so here is how the food portion of that day went….
Thankfully we had an early appointment with Joey Chestnut, so we arrived to Coca Cola Field at 12:30pm on Saturday. When we started to walk up to the tents, the lines luckily weren’t at their mid-day peak. It was still early and you could walk right up to most of the restaurants without too much of a hassle (later in the day the lines tend to get out of control).
Our first visit was Hurricane Grill & Wings (pictured below), it was also our last visit to any restaurant that wasn’t from Buffalo. We tried their Salt & Vinegar, Thai Ginger and Honey Mustard BBQ. The Salt and Vinegar was basically sauce-less, and covered in some coarse salt and a light sprinkle of vinegar. I thought it was a really cool idea but I’m not sure if I could eat a bunch of them. The Thai Ginger and Honey Mustard BBQ were both pretty normal and not worth even describing further (hence the reason I have no urge to try wings that are not made in Buffalo).
After we finished our only “national” restaurant, we decided to just stick to the local stuff. I was actually surprised with the restaurants from WNY that were there; I didn’t even recognize some of these names. So we tried 3 places that neither Alli or I have ever been to (at least for wings)…. Bocce, Swings and Pesci’s.
Bocce is pretty legendary in this area for their pizza and we still have yet to try it out (it’s on our long To Do List). Their wing selection was pretty standard. Their Pit BBQ wings were OK but nothing memorable. Their medium wings, however, were fantastic; they were exactly what I look for in a medium-sauced wing….a bit of heat combined with some thick buttery goodness. Look for a proper Food Porn on Bocce in the near future.
The other two Buffalo restaurants sort of came out of nowhere. Swings, located on Bailey, were making their debut at the Wing Fest this year. We tried their Honey BBQ which was OK, their regular BBQ which was fantastic, and their Taco style which was really weird and almost had a dry rub on it. The BBQ, however, was so good that I could easily justify a trip to Swings just for another taste.
I had never heard of Pesci’s either, located on Main Street in Williamsville, but they had a gigantic line. The line, however, wasn’t for their wings (that line was really short) but instead for their Chicken Wing Dip Pizza (pictured below). Normally, I would make fun of anyone going to the Wing Fest and ordering a slice of pizza. Honestly, why are you there if you are ordering pizza? That said, we were drawn to this slice simply by it’s name, it was something that I’ve never seen but it tasted exactly like I thought it should. There was crushed up tortilla’s on top of the blue cheese, shredded cheese, hot sauce and tiny pieces of chicken. I don’t think I could eat several slices (I actually could, but I just would gain 15 pounds and have a horrible stomach ache) but damn was it fantastic. We also tried their Chipotle BBQ wings which had a little spicy kick but what really impressed me and left a good impression was their Coconut Caribbean Wings. I know it sounds like something that would be available at a chain restaurant, but that sweet and sugary glaze with a hint of coconut flavor really surprised me and left me wanting more.
Even though I went into this festival with lowered expectations, I was shocked by how much I enjoyed the food part. The weather sucked (hello, wind-storm) and that made it incredibly hard to actually hold onto the wings and try to enjoy them. I’d still love to see some type of seating arrangement in the field worked out so that people could enjoy the wings without an elaborate balancing act. But I don’t know how that could be pulled off with their current venue.
I’d also love to see more Buffalo based restaurants featured, but I understand the “out of state” places and chains have to be there for financial reasons. So, maybe we create a locals-only wing festival? ….I don’t know. But I’m glad we have this event regardless, it’s good for families with kids, it’s relatively cheap and I’m sure it brings in a lot of tourists (which is of course good for the city).