Triad Wing Festival fails to deliver… wings

by Jeff Laughlin

There may be no bigger foe to a beard than a saucy wing, but I cannot say no to either.

I wish that had been my biggest problem with the ARC of High Point Triad Wing Festival. See, I love wings. From spicy Buffalo to the underappreciated lemon-pepper, I eat a lot of them. So a festival of wings seemed right in my wheelhouse. Add a disappointing Friday night concert and a resilient hangover to the mix and you had a man ready to destroy some chickens.

When my buddy and I arrived, there were multiple stimuli for my alcohol-addled brain. Standard fare adorned the front of the festival, including stands with lemon- and orangeades, funnel cakes, shaved ice and kettle corn. A helicopter rose above the crowd from the far corner of the grounds. Parents tried to teach their children to do the chicken dance — one of my favorite all-time ways to watch folks look foolish. People stalked about, looking for their next targets. Jaxon Jill provided rousing covers of ’80s smash hits.

I didn’t come to the festival for frivolity, though. I came for wings. Unfortunately, at Wing Fest, wings were hard to come by. Of the four booths in attendance, not one bore the name of the food we came to celebrate. Two pizza joints, George’s Pizza and CiCi’s pizza, and two bars, McPhereson’s Bar and Grill and JP Looney’s, made the trek to the farmers market to represent the Triad’s wing restaurants.

In past years, the wing festival provided a wealth of choices, including multiple-time winner East Coast Wings. This year, though, the lack of choices left little to mull over.

George’s Pizza provided five flavors of wings, the standouts being their standard hot and lemon-pepper wings. Personally, I often prefer a good lemon-pepper wing to the more popular and spicier flavors. George’s served a better than average lemon-pepper wing, but they did little else to quell my hunger. I easily could have eaten my favorite rather than suffer through their sticky-sweet barbecue wing.

Though they had to mass-produce for the event, I expected good wings from JP Looney’s. Instead, I got small, dry, overcooked wings. Though they had some spiciness, they were a general disappointment. To top it off, the neither stand offered napkins. I took my messy beard to another restaurant rather than stick around for a new batch.

That said, festivalgoers voted Looney’s Best Overall Wing on Facebook, so feel free to ignore my criticism.

McPhereson’s Bar and Grill had the longest line at their booth and for good reason: They had the largest, spiciest wing. I had eaten there before and knew what to expect. While I would not vote them Best in the Triad, certainly they were the best at this event — or, I should say, the best ones I tried.

I refused to eat at the CiCi’s Pizza booth. Call me what you will, but I had no intention of eating wings from a national chain known for rubbery, cheap pizza with no flavor. Their presence misrepresented the Triad’s interests, the festival’s mission and my own expectations. No national chain restaurant, unless that chain was born and bred in the area, should be eligible for local food awards, in my opinion.

Cici’s won Best Sweet Wing at the event. The fact that they won anything should show that the Triad should be disappointed in the vendor turnout. Where have the wing purveyors gone? Why have they forsaken us? What restaurants will swoop in next year to save this dying festival?

We deserve a Wing Festival that has restaurants that specialize in, well, wings. Our residents need a hero. We need a saucedrenched dispenser of chicken to fly over us with perfectly coifed hair and save us from this year’s abject failure.

Of course, no such hero existed so I went home, hungry and still hungover.

At least they had orangeade.