Buffalo wings have been a staple of U.S. food culture since the 1960’s. Originating as an impromptu late-night snack for some hungry barflies in New York, the dish ended up gaining enough popularity to be featured in sports bars and pizza joints across the country. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of fried chicken wings, tossed in a mouth-watering mixture of vinegar, butter and spices that launched this dish to its current notoriety—but then again, perhaps we love them because they’ve achieved the culinary equivalent of the American dream.
Regardless of the reason, it was this love for wings that inspired Dave Marquardt and Jim Accettura to organize WingFEST—an event dedicated to gathering Utahans together for local music and homemade wings. In 2011, Marquardt and Accettura thought that it was time for a local event that could bring some of Utah’s finest wing purveyors and fans together for a day of cold beer and hot wings.
In order to accommodate the growing number of attendees, this year’s WingFEST was held at Jordan Park. It was a nice change from the previous year’s venue, as there was plenty of shade and room to stretch out while enjoying the 40,000 wings that were being fried up on the spot. Five local restaurants were on wing duty during the festival: Trolley Wing Company, Sugarhouse Barbecue, Wing Stop, 5 Monkeys, and The Wing Coop. In addition to the local restaurants, the festival boasted a lineup of local musicians such as House of Lewis, Changing Lanes Experience, Red Rock Hot Club and the aptly named Marinade.
The weather was a bit on the chilly side as I made my way to the entrance—a nice incentive to find something dangerously spicy somewhere in the festival. In addition to the park’s enclosed picnic area, extra tables were rolled out to make sure everyone had a place to sit. This year, there were three tiers of tickets available to patrons. The lowest tier granted entry, but the wings cost extra; the second tier came with two tickets good for 20 wings; and the third tier came with 30 wings, the ability to vote for the best entry, and a T-shirt. By the time I had arrived, House of Lewis was already in the middle of their set, inspiring a few attendees to get up and dance. As for me, I was ready to eat.
Before cashing in my tickets for a few boats of wings, I made the rounds. Sugarhouse Barbecue was serving some beautiful pulled pork sandwiches in addition to their own signature chicken wings; Wing Stop had samples of their four most popular wing varieties—original, lemon pepper, hickory-smoked BBQ and mango habanero. Their wings may have been my favorite of the festival. They were surprisingly meaty, and the mango habanero was a nice balance of sweet and spicy.
After trying out a few places, it was time to trade in my tickets. Wing Coop had a small army of personnel making sure attendees were getting their food quickly, and the serving tables were consistently stocked with wings, celery, and plenty of ranch dressing. Here, the wings came in two varieties—original and honey barbecue. As I had 20 wings coming my way, I went for ten of each. The original wings had that nice, pungent vinegar flavor and were milder than their angry red color implied. The honey barbecue wings were sticky and sweet, but the sweetness overpowered the smoky flavor that I was hoping to get from the barbecue sauce. All in all, not a bad set of wings.
Though there was plenty of food for attendees, it was tough to find a good variety of beverages. There were a few places to buy beer at reasonable prices, but if you’re not a beer-drinker you were stuck with free water from the Red Cross. I was also hoping for a bit more variety regarding the wings that came with the admission ticket. I really enjoyed the 20 wings that were provided, but I would have preferred less quantity in favor of throwing some creative preparation into the mix.
WingFEST has made some impressive strides since its inception in 2011, and based on this year’s attendance, it’s only going to keep growing. Giving locals the opportunity to meet up and enjoy a generous quantity of the quintessentially American dish on a Saturday afternoon is a great way to kick off the summer.