Winging it at WingFest 2018: so many wings, so little time!

How do you like your chicken wings: mild with dashes of parmesan, hot with ghost pepper galore, or BBQ-style, smothered in smoky bourbon sauce? Or maybe you like the exotic kind, brimming with gochujang, pineapple and mango? Whatever your preferred flavors or tolerance of spicy food, you were bound to find your favorites and to discover new ones at the 19th edition of Chicago’s Best WingFest, which was held at UIC Pavilion earlier this month.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know that I’m not into spicy foods. Furthermore, being heavily pregnant has made me very cautious when it comes to trying out new dishes. What if there wouldn’t be anything mild enough for me to be able to eat at WingFest? What if my feet would get more swollen, and my ankles would hurt even more as a result of standing up for hours? All in all, was it really worth it? In the end, curiosity got the best of me: I attended WingFest, and I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded. The mild wings were plenty and delicious, the crowds were manageable, and the experience was a lot of fun 🙂

Established in 1999, WingFest is one of Chicago’s most popular food festivals, with more than 3,000 chicken wing enthusiasts “flocking” to the event to devour 9,000-plus pounds of wings every year. 

This year’s WingFest was bigger than ever, and over 30 restaurants (both new and returning) competed for various prizes including the Best of Fest, and the Best Mild, Hot, BBQ and Exotic Wing awards. In addition, WingFest hosted its famous wing eating competition to see who could eat a dozen of wings the fastest and earn the coveted title of “Lady” or “Lord of the Wings,” as well as plentiful swag and bragging rights.

Three-time Emmy Award winning host of Chicago’s Best (WGN) Elliott Bambrough and SmallTALK with Samantha host Samantha Thomas were the emcees this year. As a big fan of Chicago’s Best, I just couldn’t miss the chance to take a picture with the intrepid Elliott. Thank you for the pic, Samantha! 🙂

Sample as much as possible + know how to pace yourself = the secret of a successful all-you-can-eat wing bonanza. The plates to be filled were so big, and there were so many wings to try and to devour!

Here’s how my plate looked like after the first sampling round. I mostly went for mild wings, with a bit of BBQ style in-between, for good measure:

Kitty O’ Shea’s rub wings with garlic harissa were my favorite by far – unsurprising considering my ongoing obsession with harissa, lol

These wings definitely tasted and looked the part: the meat was moist, the sauce was velvety and exotically flavored and colored by the harissa, while the micro greens on top added that touch of gourmet freshness you wouldn’t normally expect to get with chicken wings. If you’re not into hot&spicy food, then wings smothered in harissa may be one of your best (and most flavorful!) bets, in my opinion.

In the end, Kitty O’ Shea’s wings won third place in the Best Mild Wing category.

Another favorite of mine were the spicy garlic parmesan wings served by Paisans Pizzeria, who won second place in the Best Mild Wing category. They were super fresh, saucy, juicy, and covered in a snow of parmesan which satisfied my cheeseaholic taste buds to no end:

If hot food is your thing, then look no further than to the wings prepped by the chefs over at Howells & Hood, who won the top spot in the Best Hot category with their ghost pepper wings. I was too chicken to try them lol, but I’m sure DH would have happily obliged if he had been with me. He really knows how to handle hot peppers!

Speaking of DH, I also got the chance to sample the bourbon wings currently on the menu at Buffalo Wings & Rings (one of DH’s favorite dining destinations), which won second place in the Best BBQ Wing category. These wings had a delicate bourbon sweetness and a smoky, caramelly coating I thoroughly enjoyed:

Once all the tasting was done, Bounce Sporting Club was crowned winner of the 2018 Best of Fest. Here is a complete list of the other winners per category:

MILD
2nd Place: Paisans
3rd: Place: Kitty O’Sheas
HOT
1st Place: Howells & Hood
3rd: Place: Q’s Tips & Wings
BBQ
EXOTIC
3rd: Place: The Irish Oak

 

This year’s WingFest surpassed my expectations and won over my fears. Indeed, mild chicken wings aren’t always boring, just like eating out while pregnant doesn’t have to be scary. Bye bye, delicious Chicago-style wing bonanza! Here’s hope we’ll meet again next year 🙂


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