The title of my article this week speaks for itself. When I was asked to judge the Buffalo Chicken Wing festival this year I was elated and, maybe, naively presumed that judging the “sauce” panel meant just that- judging the sauces. As I sauntered, yes sauntered, proudly to my assigned judging “panel” table I quickly took stock of the atmosphere around me. Judging sheet- check, pen- check, hubby with the camera to take pictures of this historic moment- check, paper towels, hmmm- ok check, bottle of water, yet another quizzical hmmmm- check. As my husband prepared the camera, I watched as the first batch of “sauces” came out. Only they weren’t sauces at all…..they were wings! Dozens and dozens of wings came steam rolling through, placed in piles on a table near us. My mouth dropped as I felt my stomach start to rebel. “Oh boy, I am in for a world of hurt”!
As I started off my judging I attempted eating a majority of each wing I tried, that is until I got to the tenth wing. “Ok Shannon this is not the who can eat the most wings contest, your a judge- slow down.” My inner monologue pulled in the reins.
Each category had specific criteria; presentation and taste. The categories were: Traditional Medium, Traditional BBQ, Creative Sweet, Creative BBQ. The traditional Medium and BBQ were pretty straight forward. However, both BBQ categories had very few participants that really met the criteria for “BBQ”. Many missed the mark. As for the creative categories- well lets just say that a peanut butter and jelly sauce doesn’t constitute “sweet”. If your re-reading that sentence, your reading it right; there was more than one restaurant that thought “hey lets slather wings in PB & J”. Those restaurants that did this, not only REALLY missed the mark, but made all of the judges stomach’s start doing back flips. There were sauces that tasted like fish; all I can say to that is ewwwww, and yet others were covered with some type of sweet Old Bay seasoning. Needless to say, my first judging experience was below the bar. I expected much more from the restaurants that participated; many disappointed.
Score sheets went from 1-10; one being the worst, 10 being the highest marks. While only a handful actually did well in presentation, most just threw them in boxes and sent them over, there wasn’t one participant that got a score of nine or ten from any of the judges. But there were a few that really did impress. Here are the winners of the 2013 Buffalo Chicken Wing Sauce Off.
Traditional Medium: Legend Larry’s took top spot. Located in Sheboygan, WI; Legend Larry’s started as a corner bar that served pub food at 733 Pennsylvania avenue. It is family owned and operated, and became one of the few bar’s in its local that served good wings. Impressed with the product, Legend Larry’s wife, Tammy, pushed him to go to The National Buffalo Wing Festival, in Buffalo, New York. The first year Legend Larry’s visited the original home of hot wings they won two first places. They won first place in the traditional medium and traditional hot categories. They’ve been going back ever since and have won more awards than any other restaurant in the history of the National Buffalo Wing Festival; having once again taken top spot in this years festival.
Traditional BBQ: Bocce Club wins big. A veteran of WWII, Dino Pacciotti (oh how I love the Italian names) started working at the Bocce Club on Hickory St in Buffalo. The club had bocce ball courts (I would expect nothing less) in the yard and served drinks & sandwiches inside. In 1946, Mr. Pacciotti seized the opportunity to purchase the club. He soon found an old pizza oven in the basement and started experimenting. He formulated his own unique pizza recipe and Bocce Club Pizza was born. In 1959, Dino moved into the Bailey Ave location in Amherst, seeing the proximity to UB South campus as a big positive. In 1988, the Hopkins Rd location in Williamsville opened. It is truly good pizza and really good BBQ wings.
Creative Sweet: La Nova Pizzeria and Wings. While I did not give La Nova the best score for a sweet sauce, they received a score of 6 from me, they were one of the best I had tried. When I think of sweet, I want to taste some type of marmalade, brown sugar, or sweet chili sauce flavoring. Creative sweet is just that creative; something sweet and savory, something tangy- even on a wing. But La Nova did well, and their presentation was impressive. La Nova started in 1994. Their concept is to concentrate on sharing valuable solutions in the Food industry by focusing on innovative concepts, quality products and unique ideas to increase partners sales and bottom line profits. Along with this thinking, they produce quality food that is consistent, and they did take third place in the Traditional BBQ category as well.
Creative BBQ: This category was hard to bite into. Not only did many restaurants miss the mark, but some were so bad a few of us could barely take a bite! One restaurant even got a score of one from me and two other judges. One truly stood out from the rest and received highest marks from me out of all the categories….Dinosaur BBQ! With a score of eight out of ten, they had great presentation and the flavor of the wing was tantalizing. This was the last category, and after eating (or should I say biting) more than forty or fifty wings, I actually wanted to eat more of this one. Having started in Syracuse NY; with a restaurant in Rochester and one in New Jersey, Dinosaur is opening a location in Buffalo NY in January 2014. Those of you who follow my blog know that Dinosaur took top marks from me at this year’s Taste of Buffalo Festival. Writing an article on behalf of Tops Food Markets, I was extremely impressed with Dinosaur’s slow roasted BBQ turkey sandwich. So I can’t say I’m entirely surprised that they won yet again in the sauce off.
I do have to give honorable mention, (although sadly I do not know the restaurant of this wing) to a Thai wing in the Creative Sweet category. With a very Thai inspired flavor; the peanut infused chili sauce combination wowed me. The presentation was spectacular; again pulling in the Thai influence, and there was hints of cumin, coconut, peanut, and sweet chili. I wish I knew who prepared these wings, because I definitely would eat more of these.
Congratulations to all who won, and while I I don’t want to see or eat another wing for at least a year, I will gladly judge again.