You know them as a game-day delicacy and local point of pride.
The latest and greatest in Buffalo wing innovation was on display at the 12th annual National Buffalo Wing Festival at Coca-Cola Field on Saturday. Thirty-two vendors, including mainstays like the Anchor Bar as well as 15 newcomers, served up wings with a bevy of signature sauces as thousands of attendees enjoyed attractions like wing-eating contests, live music, and – new this year – a mechanical bucking ride shaped like a chicken wing.
This year’s festival also included a nod to healthy eating and its first-ever vegetarian wing alternatives.
At a tent sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield, festivalgoers sampled hummus dip and breaded green beans designed to evoke the wing in flavor, if not in appearance.
Steven Binks, a local chef and television personality on WGRZ’s “Healthy Zone” who was on hand to serve up the healthy alternatives, said the Buffalo wing flavor can be broken down into two component parts: Frank’s hot sauce and gorgonzola cheese.
“Those two flavors typify what a Buffalo wing is,” Binks said. Knowing that, he said, “you can rebuild those flavors into everyday healthy items” to capture the essence of wing sans actual meat.
“It gives it that chicken-y wing-type feel,” Binks said.
Greg and Erin Wilson, a young couple from Buffalo by way of Colorado, were appreciative of the vegetarian alternative. Erin, a vegetarian, called the green beans a decent approximation of the original – better than most of what Colorado has to offer wing-wise.
“They don’t know how to get the sauce right,” she said of wannabe wing-makers in Colorado.
Whatever the state of wings may be in Colorado, the out-of-town vendors represented at this weekend’s festival – and there were many – were here to prove that, these days, it doesn’t take Buffalo roots to cook up quality chicken wings.
Jordan Busch, owner of the Portland, Ore.-based Fire on the Mountain Buffalo Wings, said he brought his brand of wing to the festival for a third year because he “wanted to show Buffalo what we’ve got.”
Busch’s wings, which come slathered in unorthodox flavors like “Buffalo lime cilantro” and “spicy peanut,” more than held their own at the festival, racking up numerous awards in recent years.
But every pilgrimage to the “motherland of wings” warrants a tour of the local wing legends, Busch said. Friday night, he and his group ate their weight in wings at three local joints. “We kind of went a little bit out of hand last night,” he said.
Although vendors and attendees were split over the merits of nonlocal wing recipes, most could agree on one thing – the so-called “Mighty Wing” coming to a McDonald’s near you starting next month sounds dubious at best.
The multinational fast-food chain has been developing a chicken wing, and recently announced it would be gradually introducing the product in restaurants nationwide starting Sept. 9. Although McDonald’s is not the first major chain to market a wing, it is almost certainly the biggest.
McDonald’s foray into the wing market could affect the demand for – and price of – chicken wings.
“It’s going to have a catastrophic effect on the supply in this country,” said Sam Pantano, vice president of La Nova.
Still, Pantano and others seemed unintimidated by what a McDonald’s wing might bring to the table in terms of taste. “No concern whatsoever,” Pantano said.
Come what may, there is something to be said for authenticity. Jacienta Paily and Diana Hong, two first-year University at Buffalo medical students, were excited to be trying their first Buffalo chicken wings Saturday.
“It’s like getting authentic New York pizza in New York City,” said Paily, who also braved the mechanical bucking ride.
According to staff at the Visit Buffalo Niagara tent, who polled visitors as they entered the ballpark, 44 states and every continent except Antarctica were represented at the festival, which continues today, beginning at noon.
Paily and Hong decided it was best to try out the mechanical bucking ride before gorging on chicken wings.
“How often do you get to say you rode a Buffalo wing? In Buffalo?” Hong said with a laugh following her go-around with the odd-looking device.
Hong held her own, lasting about a minute on the machine, as her friend cheered her on: “Hold on. Use your feet. Come on you can do it,” cried Paily.
One of the National Buffalo Wing Festival’s newest features was a big hit Saturday afternoon.
“It’s so much harder than it looks,” said Hong. “We just worked up an appetite to go and eat some chicken wings now.”