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Eat & Drink

In search of perfection at the Toronto Wing Festival

Posted by Jesse Ship / May 14, 2013

Toronto Wing FestivalOne celebrity host, four media-industry judges, 10 restaurants, 600 tickets, three winners and 20,000 wings served. Such was the outcome of the Toronto Wing Festival held at 99 Sudbury.

Our host for the evening, celebrity TV chef, Bob Blumer of the Surreal Gourmet, Glutton For Punishment and World's Weirdest Restaurants, may not have cooked wings on his show before but he admits, he is "a closet wing fanatic," at least when it comes to a wing fest. Wasting no time, I dove straight in.

Toronto Wing FestivalReal Sports Bar had real sports wings. I understand why they won last year's people's choice award, and why they won it again this time around. Imagine a coconut-breaded shrimp, but with the batter coating a chicken drumstick instead, and then doused in flavours like Thai Sweet Chili, or Go For Gold (golden barbecue sauce and jalapeno). If you buy them at the bar ($14.99) they are a bit pricier than what you would usually pay, but they are a fairly unique experience nonetheless.

Toronto Wing FestivalWhile Real Sports had surprisingly no line, their neighbors Right Wing had a steady flow of traffic, which wasn't the end of the world. There's something about waiting in line that is probably good for digestion. Available were a standard Medium BBQ and an anything but standard Exorcist wing flavour. I don't know how many millions of Scoville units were in the sauce, but I was warned, and given a swag bag just for trying them. Luckily I have had my oral cavities scorched by insanely spicey wings before, so my caution paid off. I took a bite, and waited for the rollercoaster ride to begin. A slow peak lead to a 10-minute ordeal of mouth burning, sweats, while I literally hotfooted on the spot to keep myself sane.

Toronto Wing FestivalWhich is close to the position that I found judge and Canadian media personality, Nobu Adilman of the Food Network's hit show Food Jammers. "This is actually my first time judging wings, but I have judged chowder before," he tells me in all seriousness, eyes slightly tearing up from the insanely hot chili of the Exorcist. "I'm an avid eater of wings, but I found it very challenging to keep my hands clean and judge them properly on the score card." I empathized deeply, as I was having similar issues with my own note taking.

Toronto Wing FestivalWithout crackers to cleanse his palate with, Adilman was forced to resort to...gasp.... beer! "It felt like I was traveling around the world. Some times I thought I was in Asia, other times I was in the Southern US, or eastern Canada. I felt like some chefs were inspired by architecture or design. Like one of the wings actually looked like a 1970s chesterfield, it had that weird plaid texture on it. The one with plantain chips (from the Tilted Kilt) was quite wild, and one even looked like vomit, but I got excited because I wanted to vomit with it, it was like good vomit. It was super hot and super tasty."

Toronto Wing FestivalPerhaps they came from Hey, Meatball's Rod Bowers, who's wings took home the best 'exotic' category for their take on a Korean sauce smothered in scallions, sweet red pepper paste, and Korean hot peppers. The other offerings were their unique Honey Garlic wings marinated in pickled Ontario garlic, wild ramps (a breed of leek), scallions, bacon, and maple syrup instead of honey, for a real Canadian flavour.

Toronto Wing FestivalThey definitely didn't come from Hooters, who although took home the best in the classic wings category for their Daytona flavour, were skimpy in size (ironic considering it's Hooters, right?) had a rubbery consistency (well that rings true at least) and were over all mild in flavour with a low sauce saturation in the meat.

Toronto Wing FestivalThe Pour House servers, Av & Dav's longstanding Irish institution, were dunking their heavy battered Kinsale County wings in either a tangy Raspberry Chipotle sauce bucket that tasted a bit like a raspberry salad dressing, as well as Chili Lime option. Special mentions also must be given to Whistler's Grille, who boldly went with the underdog dry spice rub, a preparation that tends to give way to a homier flavour, but healthier too, as they were baked in the oven and delicately flavoured.

Toronto Wing FestivalThe event is only in it's toddler years but some of the big chains were stepping up their games with swag bags from Hard Rock Café, who's wings were actually exceptionally tangy, and were a winner in the classic section in the year before.

Toronto Wing FestivalThe Toronto Wing Festival will be returning next year, in steroidal proportions, upgrading from a few hundred-person event, to one of a few thousand.

Photos by Morris Lum



Nichol / May 14, 2013 at 11:48 am
Great night! I had an amazing time with my friend (after having some 'appetite enhancers' outside. We tried every wing in the first hour. I am very surprised that Hooters took the best classic wing, because it seemed like it was out-of-place with the collosally meaty wings with unique flavors that were handed out from the rest of the competition, but they won nonetheless, I guess an ode to the timeless 'classic'.

Notable wings:
- Real Sports. Ahead of the competition in almost every way. The batter, the flavor, the presentation, the unique design, and the relentless selling techniques of the gorgeous and personable women made it a no-brainer as to who provided the best experience.

- The Right Wing. I scorched the heck out of my mouth on the Excalibur, but the most notable (and my favorite wing) was the really saucy, exotic one that they provided. If someone remembers the name of it, please pass it on!

- Drums and Flats: The only wing that is actually put in a smoker before it is served. For anyone who likes a smoky taste, this is your place.

- Pour House. Shoutouts for the most unique sauces
- Hey Meatball!: They had a wing dusted in maple-bacon. While the other one won the competiiton, this was the more memorable one in my opinion. Plus they used the banner of Rowe Farms (Quality with a concience). There is something that made you feel inately "good" about trying their wings.

Overall, all the wings were excellent. Tilted Kilt, Whistlers, Hard Rock, and that other one who's name I cant remember were all very good. It was a pleasure to be there and I cant wait to go back!

Steven / May 14, 2013 at 01:07 pm
Not happy finding this out AFTER THE FACT!
AteWings / May 14, 2013 at 01:12 pm
It should probably be mentioned that this was a charity event. I mean, I certainly went for the wings but I'm happy my entrance money will go to a good cause. only grumble is that I never got to try the maple-bacon wings - they were out all night! Hope they come back next year.
Ling Gu / May 14, 2013 at 03:28 pm
A couple of points:

Tickets to this event were "sold out" within two hours of going on sale (April 10). They then were able to offer a number of other tickets in the next weeks.

Steam Whistle, the sole beer provider for the event, actually ran out of beer. How could that happen? They had a single keg, with a single spout to pour the beer for the very long line of customers. I had to leave early (around 8:30), and Steam Whistle had just arrived with two replacement kegs.

I hate to admit it, but Real Sports had very good wings, indeed. At one point, I bumped into their chef, and he asked me what I thought; I had to compliment him and his staff for their food.

There was a good variety of wings on offer, and it was great trying the different styles and sauces.
Kelly / May 14, 2013 at 07:52 pm
Why was this not advertised better?!
Josh replying to a comment from Steven / May 14, 2013 at 08:44 pm
Stay in the know, be in the know, see and be seen...

dave9t5 replying to a comment from Ling Gu / May 14, 2013 at 10:55 pm
"Steam Whistle, the sole beer provider for the event, actually ran out of beer. How could that happen? They had a single keg, with a single spout to pour the beer for the very long line of customers. I had to leave early (around 8:30), and Steam Whistle had just arrived with two replacement kegs"

Please note:

1. Steam Whistle _temporarily_ ran out of beer and promptly delivered replacement kegs. Beer was then flowing until the end of the event (and a bit past that!).

2. Steam Whistle _donated_ the beer for the event for free and also provided 2 good-natured staff who made the best of the situation when one of the 2 taps they brought started acting faulty.

3. Steam Whistle Pilsner was sold at a very reasonable price of $5.00/cup.

4. The proceeds from the sales of the donated Steam Whistle beer goes towards the charitable projects of the Rotary Club of Toronto Skyline, the organizers of the event.

Steam Whistle is a huge supporter of Toronto Wing Fest and their donated beer is the equivalent of a healthy 4-figure cash contribution.

They have gone out of their way to support TWF and we only have good things to say about them!
Wingman / July 30, 2013 at 04:32 pm
Those judges should be banned from judging anything for the rest of their lives! How the hell could hooters win an award? They have the worst wings on the planet !! Only pathetic middle aged men like going to hooters for the wings because the hooters girls flirt with them and they actually think that their interested in their old pathetic arses!
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