When we began this competition we all knew that there was some arbitrariness to the evaluation process. That’s what makes the Wing Cup unique. In order to pull through the tournament an establishment is going to have produce excellent results on a consistent basis. There’s also a tad bit of luck involved.
The sole purpose is to find our Cluck or Chuck champion. Therefore, the pairings certainly matter. For the Wing Cup 2014, the Groups were randomly drawn. Theoretically, a judge might eliminate an otherwise excellent wing if placed in a “Cluck of Death” with steep competition. Also, the top two wings could face each other before the final. It is important to note that the Committee is not ranking wings. Ultimately, there is only one that can hold the title of Cluck or Chuck Champion. Losers need not apply.
The committee allowed the judges to evaluate wings based upon a recommendation from the House (H) as well as the Judge’s Choice (J). The judge’s were then asked to select their top two establishments that will move on to the Round of 16. Pool results are in and there are some upsets, some revelations, and some surprising new favorites. You can see the bracket below. Keep in mind that our judges are professionals. The reviews below may be harsh, but that should be expected when dealing with things of such serious nature.
Judge: Wolfgang Cluck
I was intrigued by my group that pitted two joints known primarily for great BBQ against two established pubs. Shigs in Pit was my favorite going into this group. I really enjoy smoked wings, so I was disappointed from the outset. If you enjoy smoked wings placed inside a plastic bag then reheated in the microwave, I recommend Shigs. However, if you want to be named Cluck or Chuck 2014 Champion, I’m looking for a lot more. Ziffles offers their three signature BBQ sauces (cleverly named as mild, medium and hot) for their wings cooked traditionally in the fryer. They were cooked to a crisp, but otherwise nothing that will take home the title.
Flanagan’s provided a decent offering with their Spicy Chipotle (J) and Hot BBQ (H). Despite the trendy “chipotle” name, it was pretty standard stuff. Fortunately, Mad Anthony salvaged this round for me and truly dominated this group. Their Teriyaki sauce (H) and Hot BBQ (sauce on the size) were both fine additions to already well prepared (baked or perhaps smoked) and seasoned wings. Wolfgang prefers a crisp wing, but for Mad Anthony’s, he will make an exception any day!
Results: (1) Mad Anthony blows through Group A with ease in dominating the opponents; (2) Flanagan’s variety edges out an otherwise close match-up against Ziffles.
Judge: Cletus Nighttrain
The Office Tavern – 12 wings were ordered. The Office offered a decent selection of sauces, and the wings were a good size. The Mild and Bourbon wings were chosen. This reviewer was disappointed that the establishment would not allow the customer to order 12 wings and split them into three sauces, but rules are rules. The mild wings were decently crispy and the flavor was okay. The Bourbon wings were terrible – essentially wings with syrup. By far the messiest wings of the night and no wipes provided. The reviewer had to wash his face in the bathroom.
Arena – 18 wings ordered. The size of the wings was good, but again, the establishment would not let you split your order more than once. The rigid wing-ordering paradigm makes no sense, but…rules are rules. The wing flavor selection is a bit confusing, I’m not certain that “Rush” is a flavor. The skin was soggy on the grilled wings, which made this reviewer question the claim that they were grilled. Anyway the Sweet Heat wings were tasty, but overall this reviewer was not impressed with the wings.
Wrigley – 18 wings, poor wing flavor selection; however the reviewer was allowed to order 18 wings with three different flavors. Both the Original and Caribbean Jerk had good flavor and the skin was crispy. The Garlic Parmesan wings were disappointing. They were naked with Parmesan sprinkled on top. This reviewer could not discern any garlic.
Buffalo Wings & Ribs (Jefferson) – 16 wings, split into four different flavor profiles. Unlike the Office and Arena, splitting the order was not an issue. By far the best wings of this group. The wings were crispy and had a wide variety of tasty sauces. Although there was a lot of sauce on the wings, clean-up was so easy that wipes (although provided) were almost unnecessary.
Results: Out of this group, Cletus advances Buffalo Wings & Ribs and Wrigley.
Judge: Cluck Norris
I felt that judging this group held great honor. I would place these establishments (except O’Reilly’s) under the category of “They serve wings?” I tied on my bandanna and was ready to sweep the leg out from under two of these establishments.
At Henry’s they offered four flavors, and I placed a carryout order of six Hot (J) and six Teriyaki (H) with the bartender. Finally sitting down to eat, I was agitated to find that I had ended up with 12 Teriyaki and no Hot. I am assuming that this was a fear-induced mistake, so no hard feelings. The wings were cooked well and the Teriyaki was a ‘good sweet’ that I enjoyed with the restaurant-made blue cheese dipping sauce.
I quickly assessed Pint & Slice’s dining room, finding it secure, I allowed them to present their offering of baked wings that were unapologetically coupled with their two sauces on the side; Frank’s Red Hot and BBQ. Although their wings were small, they were a perfect crisp, they had good flavor and the meat slid satisfactorily from the bone. It will be difficult to ever opt for pizza on future visits.
O’Reilly’s offers four different sauces and upon asking them to bring out their best, they elected to bring a flavor of each for my order of twelve. (A slight nod of respect on their willingness to split.) They were honored. The wings were meaty, not crisp, and I decided the only sauces worth trying again would be the Smithwicks Hot and Apple Butter BBQ.
At Baker Street, I put on my finest bolo tie and sauntered up to the barkeep. I ordered their only offering of wing, the Asian Chicken Wing, which is only available on their dinner menu and is found in the ‘Dress It Down’ section. Appropriately, this was a classy establishment with a classy wing. Thumbs up on the flavor of the sauce along with the restaurant-made blue cheese dipping sauce. The skin was not as crisp as I prefer, but the wings were meaty and properly cooked. After completion, I mopped myself up with a moist towel that they brought to the table.
Results: (1) 816 Pint & Slice – Crept up unexpectedly to slice through this field; (2) Baker Street – I am looking forward to the sequel.
Judge: John Chooksack
Red Rok – I was skeptical about this restaurant due to some issues they dealt with earlier this year, but the integrity of this competition and this judge, however, demanded that I exercise my due diligence. Oh, but they didn’t have “quite” as much integrity. When asked which wing she would recommend for a wing eating contest my server shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I’ll just bring them to you without sauce and you can put whatever you want on them.” OK. For the sauces, I ordered the Buffalo sauce: OK flavor. A little ketchup-y for my taste. The wings were a touch undercooked – not enough to be pink or raw in the middle, but enough to be slimy. Not what I want in a wing. The naked wings were even worse as I was relegated to dipping them in the BBQ sauces provided on the table. Without much adhesion the sliminess of the wings stood out even more. The clear last place finisher of this group.
Calhoun Street Soups, Salads & Spirits – CS3 is something of a Fort Wayne landmark. Popular with the business lunch crowd, I was impressed when I went to the bar to place my order. The server was great, but when I told him about the contest the first thing he said was, “well, we’re not really known for our wings.” Uh oh, strike one. When I commented that I had never before been there he said, “Ok, so, our wings are smaller than most places, but that’s why they’re cheaper.” Strike two. When I got the wings they were indeed small. The server had recommended their standard Buffalo sauce, Hot, and I ordered the Buffalo Mild. I could not tell much of a difference. The wings were well cooked though, and the sauce was a pleasant standard buffalo flavor. Although, heat lovers will not be satisfied. Perhaps CS3 will continue to not be known for their wings, but they have done just enough to squeak into the quarterfinals.
Quaker Steak – Going into this competition, I thought that on paper Quaker Steak was one of the favorites to win this group, and would make a deep run in the competition. That is, as they say, why we play the game. My choice was Golden Garlic & my server recommended something called Thaisian. While their website describes Golden Garlic as “Award Winning” and “zesty,” I submit that this wing was neither award winning nor zesty. In fact, I cannot confirm that it contained any garlic! The Thaisian wing was way more flavorful than the bland garlic(less) wing, but unfortunately WAY too sweet for my taste – I would describe the flavor as Sweet Tart paste. While they were quite a bit meatier than CS3s, they, like Red Rok’s, were slightly under-cooked. Quaker Steak has been known to produce a good wing, but tonight they were off their game. A single elimination tourney demands a consistent ‘A’ game, and so in the first major upset of the tournament, Quaker Steak fails to advance.
Wings, Etc. – This is a joint that prides themselves on their wings. They have several flavors in varying degrees of heat, though as a lover of garlic, I’m disappointed that the only such offering is a very thick Garlic Parmesan sauce that doesn’t appeal to me in the least. My server recommended their Wall sauce, a jalapeno-based sauce that’s so appropriately named for the competition that will get your name on their Wall of Fame if you can eat 16 of them – sans beverage. Friends, this sauce is hot. I ordered three and ate two – bites. I have kids, and dying from a wing eating competition isn’t covered under my life insurance plan (thanks a lot, Obama). Even though I had to get out of the proverbial kitchen, I will say that the flavor was still very good – if staggeringly hot. My selection was medium buffalo, which was quite good as well. The wings were decently sized, sufficiently sauced and well cooked.
Results: The winner of group D, Wings, Etc. and CS3 advance
Judge: Lloyd Lightning
Peanuts Food & Spirits – With only six patrons on a Monday, the employees nearly outnumbered the customers. Service was dismally slow sitting at the bar in a nearly empty joint. To be fair, it was obvious there was a rookie getting trained. Our brief interactions and even drink refills were repeatedly interrupted with ill-timed instructions about wiping down the cooler doors. It wasn’t so bad that some great wings could not overcome the less-than-stellar service, but sadly this wasn’t to be. Ordered Honey Garlic (H) and Hot (J). The Honey Garlic were swimming in sauce, yet inexplicably tasteless. The Hot had good flavor, with just the right amount of spice. Wings were decent, but not impressive. Look elsewhere, wings fans.
Checkerz – This place knows how to do their wings right. I was very pleased with the variety of options. You can get any flavor grilled or breaded. If you want a boost of flavor, ask for double-dipped: sauced, fried, then sauced again. Wings were much meatier than Peanuts’. Tasted three varieties, including Wild (hot), Chipotle BBQ double-dipped (J), and Sweet Heat grilled (H). The favorite was Chipotle BBQ, which were packed with flavor, perhaps due to the double dipping. If you like a lot of flavor to your wings, this is the way to go. The Sweet Heat were very good also, with loads of flavor even though they were grilled and lacked breading for the sauce to cling to. Cooked to perfection with ample flavor varieties, Checkerz earned repeat visit status for this judge.
Champions – This downtown bar with a sports motif set the tone right by broadcasting a single World Cup game on all TV screens. The hostess and servers were friendly and attentive, and the service was quick even though the place was packed. You can order your wings with three levels of heat: Humming, Singing, Screaming. The only other flavor option is Thai Sweet Chili, which the server commented that she did not really care for. Server recommended “Singing” which is their medium on the heat scale. Also ordered Thai Sweet Chili (J). The results were what you’d expect from a sports bar chain: good service and decent wings, but not wings worth writing home about.
Pine Valley Bar & Grill – Hot wing sauces come in your choice of Mild, Medium, Hot, Teriyaki, BBQ, or Murphy (a blend of hot and BBQ). Our server recommended Murphy, and this judge chose Hot. The server told us they could not split our order of 20 into different sauces, but relented after some polite chiding. Wings had pleasantly crispy skin and juicy meat. The Murphy sauce was a delightful blend, with just enough spunk to make you reach for a sip of beer and overtones of sweet BBQ to boot. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor and quality of the wings. They beat out Champs and Peanuts to earn my second place slot.
Results: Advancing from Group E are Checkerz & Pine Valley Bar & Grill.
Kaysan’s 5th Down – I had high hopes for Kaysan’s as I had always been a fan of their Famous Oriental Sesame Chicken Wings. A Rachel Bilson look-a-like waitress recommended those very wings as the house favorite, and I also put in an order of their traditional Medium buffalo wings. What came out was their buffalo wings and their new Spicy Oriental wings…which I had to inform my girl Rach, were not the same thing. The medium wings were crisp and not overly greasy. The heat was not so intense as to overpower the flavor. The new Spicy Oriental did not invoke the Far East, nor were they spicy in the traditional sense of the word. I did not find the taste the least bit pleasant. My buddy actually purposely ordered them and could only stomach two. When my original order finally arrived it was a good 20 minutes later, but worth the wait. The wings were piping hot and crisp and the sauce is the boss here – the Oriental Sesame sauce is sticky and sweet with a unique mix of flavors that I’ve never had on a wing anywhere else. This is the only sauce to order when you find yourself in the mythical 5th down territory.
The Lucky Moose – The barkeep recommended their “award-winning” Raspberry Chipotle BBQ wings and I picked their second most popular wing sauce, Thai Peanut as my other choice. The wings took a good half hour to come out, and it was fitting because it felt like I was receiving a chicken dinner due to the size of the smoked wings. The Raspberry Chipotle wings were a great mixture of sweet and heat. It was a unique taste that was very pleasing to the palate, but I felt the sauce was good for a few wings, not a whole plate. Much like how you can eat multiple slices of pizza but you wouldn’t eat five cups of rich chocolate mousse. As for the Thai Peanut…I think I’ve finally solved the caper presented in the mid 90s SNL skit…I now know who stole Bob Dole’s peanut butter. It was The Lucky Moose and they put it on these wings. Maybe that is a bit harsh, but they did taste and feel like a thick layer of peanut butter was on the wings. Both sauces were unique and the raspberry was especially good, but I felt like they tried to be too gourmet for my taste with their huge wings and the jelly and peanut butter like thick sauces.
Hall’s Tavern – The choice was easy at Hall’s because they only have two flavors of wings – Jumbo Hot Wings, Traditional and Bounced off the chair-broiler. The Traditional are fried and the Bounced wings are flash fried, sauced, then grilled and then sauced again. The traditional wings were surprisingly perfectly cooked, juicy and tasty, but seemed to lack enough sauce. The Bounced were crisp and juicy and were expertly prepared, probably the best-prepared wing I’ve experienced in a long while…yet once again, the sauce was on the weak side. I came away thinking that if the Tavern had the sauce selection of B-Dubs or the Oriental Sesame sauce of Kaysan’s, then they’d have one hell of a wing joint on their hands and they could attract a younger customer base. Maybe this is by design.
Buffalo Wild Wings – The waitress recommended the Honey BBQ and the Medium, so I decided to forgo my usual Mango Habanero and Asian Zing and go with the experts call. The two sets of wings came out quickly and were a good temperature. The Honey BBQ were a tad too sweet for me, but it didn’t stop me from digging in wing after wing for these perfectly sauced treats. The medium provided a good amount of sauce and were perfectly cooked, not too dry with a good juiciness. I did come away thinking that B-Dubs is like a Ford Taurus, everyone has driven in one, you know what you are in for, and they most always get you to where you’re going. It’s nothing too fancy but it gets the job done well. I’m hoping my fellow judges found a few Ferraris and a ’69 SS Camaro in their groups.
Results: 1. B-Dubs 2. Kaysan’s 5th Down. Honorable Mention: Hall’s Tavern, there’s real potential here if only they’d let me bring my own sauce.
Judge: Patrick eWing
Smokey Bones – One of the handful of national chain restaurants that made the Cup, I assumed they were a place to get barbeque and beer, little more. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised when I sank my teeth into their Smoked Wings. They were the staff recommendation, rightly so. Not the biggest wing you’ll find, but acceptable in size, and exceptional in preparation and flavor. They also offer a fried wing, so I went with the Spicy Garlic. They packed the perfect amount of heat – just enough to raise your eyebrows, but didn’t leave me mopping my brow. Smokey Bones went from an assumed write-off to a tournament favorite.
Dicky’s – Being a Northeast-sider for life, there’s a special place in my heart for the neighborhood establishments. I’ve been going to Dicky’s dating back when it was a Munchie Emporium. Their beer selection is tremendous, an immediate advantage. The house recommended the Buffalo and I also tried the Sweet Asian. Both offerings were served sopping wet, almost to the point of sogginess, which is really the only negative. I would place the Buffalo between Medium and Hot on the universal scale, and the Sweet Asian also held a little zest – both flavors were delicious and the chicken meat itself had a little touch of smokiness underneath all that sauce.
Acme Bar & Grill – I did my best to stay objective as Acme came into this competition with equal parts hype and hate from my fellow judges. It had been years since I last ate at this Fort Wayne landmark, and this was my first time trying their wings. The server recommended naked dipped in Sweet BBQ. (IMHO BBQ sauce should be on whole chickens, pork, and brisket, it’s not a wing sauce, but rules are rules). I also ordered the Medium Buffalo. While the naked wings were not that impressive in flavor, the Medium totally redeemed them – a plump, flavorful, slightly crispy drummy with just the right level of heat. I also tried a tablemate’s Teriyaki, and it was extremely tasty.
J K O’Donnell’s – There are many things to love about JK’s, including the friendly and knowledgeable staff, extensive booze selection, and unique food available. However, the wings were well above my heat preference level. As soon as I opened the container my wife across the room said “those smell hot.” The preparation was OK, no complaints there, but not strong enough to stand out above the overwhelming flavor. There are probably people with iron lips and stomachs who absolutely love these wings, but for this competition they couldn’t hold up to the three powerhouses above.
Results: After much deliberation and wavering, and personal biases aside, Smokey Bones and Acme advance.
Judge: Fowl Tip
To be honest, when I saw this group, I had a rough idea which way this was headed. There was a favorite, one I felt would give it their best effort, but ultimately fall short, and two that could go either way.
Tower has long been considered one of the finer wing establishments, and they did not disappoint. I think the thing I appreciated most is that their specialty wing, “Tower Grilled” takes a different approach to the traditional wing by being more about spices, and less about the sauce. This is greatly appreciated by my bearded brethren.
When it comes to Columbia Street, let’s be honest. This isn’t the first place you go for food. The alcohol is always flowing, and it’s a good place to party. Food isn’t necessarily what they hang their hat on, and it shows.
The difficult task was deciding between Black Dog Pub and Corner Pocket. Black Dog Pub serves some good pub food. From the Big Ass Cheeseburger to the Sausage Rolls, there are a lot of appetizing things on the menu. It’s a good pub atmosphere, and they did a good job on the wings. Good size, cooked well, and the sauces were tasty. I actually wasn’t as big of a fan of the house choice (Hot BBQ) as I was some of the others. Their Buffalo Wing was good in the sense that you could taste the heat, but it didn’t leave your lips burning.
Corner Pocket put up a strong showing. Surprisingly, the house choice was again, a Hot BBQ. They had big portions, cooked well and tasty. I liked their Hot BBQ, but again, I liked another flavor even better, their Hot Teriyaki. Both of them suggested their wings grilled (which I prefer anyway) which made things a little tougher to decide. But in the end, Black Dog Pub’s wings were just a little crispier, and Corner Pocket’s were a little soggy for my taste. So while they put up a strong showing (and probably could have survived in some other groups) Corner Pocket was eliminated.
Results: Tower Bar & Grill was never really threatened; Black Dog Pub narrowly edges out Corner Pocket
Judging has begun for the 2nd Round and those results will be posted in the coming weeks. Where did your favorite wing establishment stand up? Did they advance to the single elimination bracket? The stakes only get higher from here, so the advancing restaurants cannot rest on their laurels.