WingFest '08: Non-Traditional Wings, BBQ + Loganberry

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2008 National Buffalo Wing Festival
Dunn Tire Park, Buffalo, NY
Web: 2008 National Buffalo Wing Festival
Phone: 716.565.4141
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Though the event is formally titled the "National Buffalo Wing Festival," and "Buffalo Wing" has a very specific meaning - red hot sauce - WingFest '08 saw at least as many non-traditional chicken wing flavors on offer as it did traditional ones. The biggest alternative? Barbecue sauces of various types. But there were lots of others, and we tried our best to stomach even the weirdest of them. More on that one in a moment.

Pennsylvania-based chain Quaker Steak & Lube brought quite a few non-traditional wings from its arsenal of 20 flavors, notably a new flavor called Tequila Lime, plus older ones called Thai 'R' Cracker, Louisiana Lickers, and Dusted Chipotle BBQ, descending in spice level from medium to mild. While Tequila Lime was interesting - far more lime than tequila - Thai 'R' Cracker tasted like little more than a slightly spicy sweet barbecue sauce, and the Louisiana Lickers tasted like molasses sweet barbecue; we tried one of each of these wings and found their flavors more similar than different. It was the mild Dusted Chipotle that had the best barbecue flavor, frankly one of our favorites at the event; notably, these barbecue wings were fried rather than grilled or smoked. The Tequila, Louisiana and Thai wings are shown in the second picture, with the Chipotle ones in the first.

As a smaller vendor, Sean's Booyah came with at least four different sauces, including a traditional one discussed in the final part of this series, and the Tangy Island Sweet-Heat Glaze. While the Tangy Island wasn't as gross as the traditional hot sauce, it wasn't memorably good, either; it was just a barbecue sauce that tasted a bit ashen. One of us felt that it tasted like super-sweet cinnamon butter, with enough sugar to kill a diabetic. You can see the wings in the third picture here.

Though we weren't impressed enough by the look of the Buffalo-style wings to try them - they appeared oil-heavy and thin on sauce by our standards - the World of Wings (WOW) Cafe and Wingery also brought six non-traditional sauces, including an award-winning Jamaican Jerk sauce, which was thick and tasty on deep-fried wings. This 18-state chain started in Louisiana, and seems like it has the potential to be popular. You can see these wings in the fourth picture; they were served with a piece of foil attached to one of their sides.

We'd previously visited the Lafayette Tap Room at the Taste of Buffalo, where we tried and enjoyed a BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich. This time, two of us tried the Smoked BBQ Wings, which won a Taste of Buffalo award, but neither of us was impressed; they didn't have the sauce viscosity or flavor of most of the competing options. But they did appear to have actually been grilled, with distinctive black char on the sides. They'd be fine along with a bigger meal, and are shown in the fifth picture.

We absolutely love the pizza at Dino's Bocce Club, and know that the traditional wings there are good, not amazing. So we focused on the BBQ Pit wings, which are actually are more expensive at the restaurant than the traditional ones. Shown in the sixth picture, they looked as if they'd been fried and possibly partially grilled, though we were under the impression that they were supposed to be char-grilled. Their flavor was only OK; we'll still be back for the pizza.

Against our recommendation, a friend traveling with us wanted to see what Pizza Hut's WingStreet was like - approaching the idea of Pizza Hut fried wings optimistically, we'd tried their hottest Buffalo-style wings in California and found them to be disgustingly oily and unimpressive on both spice and flavor. Our friend tried the Honey BBQ version (not shown), which he described as "bad" and wanted to throw away, commenting: "you were right." Duh.

Already mentioned in our section on non-wing items, Pesci's Pizza & Wings came with a few wing flavors, most notably including a Coconut Caribbean that was a sweet variant on Jamaican Jerk sauce with sprinklings of grated coconut. Though not great, this was probably the closest to candy the wings came all day; if you like yours sweet rather than spicy, and without any of the char of a traditional barbecue, this is an interesting option, shown in our seventh picture.

The worst wings of the day, by a landslide, were from Blues at the Seneca Niagara Casino. We had to pause, leave the booth, and then come back later after seeing that Blues was offering a flavor called "Habanero Loganberry," which despite its use of a famous Western New York beverage flavoring had zero of the "chocolate and peanut butter" appeal of a successful crossing of two well-liked foods. It wasn't that we didn't like the concept, or couldn't imagine a sweet fruit sauce working on a wing; Blues' wings were simply execrable. Soggy and apparently soaked in a loganberry juice marinade rather than freshly coated in a sauce, these wings were served out of buffet heaters and tasted so bad that we couldn't stomach second bites; two of us tried them and had to toss out their second halves and the third wing. Rarely is something small so terrible that we'd be afraid to eat at the restaurant after trying it, but this would be such a recipe. You can see them in our eighth picture.

Traditional wings - our favorites - are discussed in our fourth and final part of this series.

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