Four decades ago, life got no better than watching the world go by while perched at a table in Culpepper’s in the Central West End, accompanied by what became this author’s standard order: a saucy, nose-stinging order of buffalo wings, a house salad with a light touch of house-made ranch dressing to cut the heat, and a frosty Busch beer. We’d feign a trip to the unisex bathrooms (avant garde in those days) to watch the cooks in an insanely small kitchen deftly flipping wings in stainless-steel bowls to get uniform sauce coverage.
Like most food categories, wings grew up and blew up. Kitchens started experimenting with different brines, rubs, sauces, and garnishes. In some circles, smoked wings displaced their deep-fried cousins.
Today, wings’ popularity shows no signs of waning, as evidenced by the growing number of competitions, where categories such as traditional, dry- rubbed, smoked, and specialty show the diversity of the genre.
The latest to pop onto local radar is the inaugural STL Wing Week: Lord of the Wings (see details on Instagram and Facebook), a competition being held from November 9–15. Participating restaurants include Molly’s In Soulard, 314 City Bar, Bootleggin’ BBQ, Angry Beaver, Salt + Smoke, Alpha Brewing Company, Wing Runner at BEAST, Brick River Cider Co., Sugarfire Smoke House, Missouri Bar & Grille, Shaved Duck, Over/Under, and The Wood Shack.
Interested parties order the respective wing special (for delivery, dine-in, or carry-out, depending on the location) and can rate the experience by sharing on social media. The organizers encourage guests to do a video review, as each one that’s posted is eligible to win one of several prizes. These responses will make up the People’s Choice Award.
In addition, a blind tasting will be conducted by official judges, who use a rating scale of 1–10; 75 percent of the score comes from flavor, spice, and sauce, while the remaining 25 percent is based on preparation and appearance. A full video of the judging tastings and the Judges’ Choice Award will be available on YouTube later this week.
“This virtual wing contest among restaurants is designed to help drive traffic for restaurants in the surrounding area with a friendly competition,” Bootleggin’ BBQ owner Brenton Brown said in a press release. “Like many small businesses, restaurants are suffering during this global pandemic. These restaurants came together to not only support one another but the community as well by bringing a new, safe, and exciting event to St. Louis.”
The virtual event is typical of the times—social media–conceived and social media–driven—and offers a hot, tingly diversion heading into winter.