By Nick Greene
This past Sunday, I attended the 15 annual Chicago’s Best Wingfest at Bailey Auditorium (1340 W Washington). The Near West Side venue was large enough to accommodate the estimated 3,000 people who were all there either to have the best wings in Chicago or to dish out the best wings in Chicago. As I walked into the auditorium, I was both surprised and overwhelmed by the number and varied appearances of the other wing fans. One man had one holster for paper towels and another holster for discarded bones. Another guest had a Tupperware container for wings on which was written the phrase “Do you even Wingfest, bro?” An entire group of people wore protective clothing from head to toe which they used to wipe their hands clean of wing sauce. Judges for the event were randomly picked out of the attendees to determine which wings were Chicago’s best. Each of the 24 competing restaurants (from Chicago and the suburbs) could submit wings in 1 of 4 categories: Mild, BBQ, Exotic, and Hot. The wings were scored on a scale of 1 to 10 based on appearance, aroma, and taste. Naturally, the restaurant with the highest score won in each category. Plus, the restaurant with the highest combined score won the sought after title of “Best of Fest.”
This year, newcomer to Wingfest, Rodan (1530 N Milwaukee), took First Place for mild wings. As if that weren’t impressive enough for their first year, they also won Rookie of the Year and Best of Fest. I spoke with the head chef, Art Ledda, after the Best Mild Wing win about his approach to the competition and his early success at Wingfest. Even though he’s only been at Rodan for 9 months, he told me he Wingfest had been a goal of his. After hearing about the festival, he expressed his interest in competing to coworkers and he was glad to have the opportunity to participate. “It’s an amazing feeling for an underdog to win,” he told me excitedly. “I wasn’t anticipating a win today. I’m just here to have fun and feed the masses.” Having a head chef that hasn’t even been with the restaurant a year but lead them to 3 victories at Wingfest, the rest of the staff at the booth beamed with honor. I spoke with another employee, Julia, on the topic the best things Rodan has to offer. She told me that the award winning wings are on the menu every day and are served tossed in the restaurants signature sweet dragon sauce. Late at night the restaurant closes, but the bar stays open until 2a. Julia said that even though it’s considered to be a dive bar, she loves the atmosphere and they bring in great DJs to spin music. I know I’ll definitely stop by Rodan next time I’m in the area- I’ll start with the wings that are mild and then hit the dance floor to get wild!
In addition to the featured restaurants competing to make the best wings, attendants had the chance to challenge each other in a wing eating competition. Men and women vied for the title of Lord of the Wings and Lady of the Wings. In the challenge, divided into the men’s and women’s events, wing lovers attempted to eat a plate of wings in 3 minutes or less. I spoke with this year’s newly crowned Lord and Lady, Eugene and Katrina, about their challenges, techniques, and past Wingfest titles.
Eugene has won the Lord of the Wings title for 4 of the last 5 years. He explained that his secret to eating wings is to not chew the wings. “I only swallow [the wings],” he told me. “Like a wing shot. It’s not fun, but it’s successful.” In addition to this technique, he felt that having fasted the day of the competition and the day before helped him to successfully defend his title. Eugene, “the dream” (as his cheering section called him), competes exclusively in the Wingfest food eating match. He told me that he’s not really a competitive eater- he just likes the festival.
Katrina was named Lady of the Wings in 2012. Last year, she finished all of her wings before other competitors, but literally choked after finishing and was disqualified after a chunk of chicken flew out of her mouth. After the devastating loss, she felt accomplished in regaining her title. Katrina mentioned that she had fasted the day of the festival, but couldn’t divulge any secrets of her wing eating successes. Like Eugene, Katrina battles others in food challenges exclusively in the Wingfest match and doesn’t eat food competitively at any other events.
Wingfest was full of fun, and I am still full of wings. If you weren’t able to come out to Wingfest 2014, don’t worry- they’re coming back for Wingfest 2015! I hope to see you there and I hope Rodan returns too. If you know of a restaurant with unbeatable wings, they should be there to join us all. It’s a great place for some friendly competition and making friends.
Below is a full list of the Chicago’s Best Wingfest 2014 winners (all restaurants are located in Chicago unless noted otherwise):
1 place: Rodan (1530 N Milwaukee Ave)
2 place: Gator’s Wing Shack (1719 N Rand Road, Palatine)
3 place: Wild Goose Bar & Grill (4265 N Lincoln Ave)
1 place: Reggie’s Music Joint (2109 S State St)
2 place: Timothy O’Toole’s (622 N Fairbanks Ct)
3 place: Cubby Bear (1059 W Addison St)
1 place: Output Sports Bar & Lounge (1758 W Grand Ave)
2 place: TopGolf Chicago (699 W Thorndale Ave, Wood Dale)
3 place: Burger Bar Chicago (1578 N Clybourn Ave)
1 place: Timothy O’Toole’s (622 N Fairbanks Ct)
2 place: TopGolf Chicago/ Output Sports Bar & Lounge (tied) (699 W Thorndale Ave, Wood Dale/ 1758 W Grand Ave)
3 place: Buffalo Wings and Rings (3434 S Halsted St)
Rookie of the Year: Rodan (1530 N Milwaukee Ave)
Best of Fest: Rodan (1530 N Milwaukee Ave)