Robert Salnek, Robin De Groot, and Chef Robert L. Rainford meticulously judge each chicken wing.
So who has the best chicken wings in Toronto? That’s just the question that Brian and Robert Salnek of the marketing company Northern Management sought to answer this Wednesday by organizing the first annual Toronto Wing-Off. “We had looked up reviews, and we found that there was no definite answer as to who had the best wings,” explained Brian. “The Americans make these things a chow-down—we wanted this event to be like a wine tasting, except for wings.” The event, which was hosted by Tortilla Flats, featured five contenders—Hooters, Jack Astor’s, Duff’s Famous Wings, St. Louis Bar and Grill, and the Crown and Dragon—and seven judges, including Chef Robert L. Rainford of Food Network Canada’s License to Grill and Robin De Groot, the former lead designer of the infamous Restaurant Makeover. Ten restaurants and bars were invited to compete, but since only five participated, we’re not sure if the contest definitively determined the city’s best wings—the winner certainly has bragging rights though.
The setup was fairly simple. There were four different categories: mild-traditional, hot-traditional, international flavour, and most creative taste. Each round, a different establishment cooked up their wings, and the Tortilla Flats staff served them in order to keep their origins a secret. Although the judges couldn’t agree on the key features of a good wing, the results were still unanimous—the Crown and Dragon won by a landslide, scoring first in every category. Duff’s Famous Wings and St. Louis Bar and Grill alternated between second and third, while Jack Astor’s and Hooters bottomed out in almost every category. “We feel great,” exclaimed Stephanie Coones, the owner of the Crown and Dragon, after the big win. “We just came in as the little guy.”
The results weren’t surprising. The Crown’s wings rocked—particularly their rosemary and lemon chicken wing. “The size and texture of the [Crown and Dragon’s] wings were good,” explained judge Suzanne Lejeune after the event. “They must be doing them in a home-style way. That’s how they stand out from the Jack Astor’s and Hooters who just use a bunch of pre-packaged sauces.”
The event went smoothly, but it was not without its moments. After the judges had finished the last round of wings, the waitress at Tortilla Flats brought out a plate of suicide wings made especially for De Groot, who had been complaining that the wings lacked kick. While De Groot managed to down the wings without incident, CityTV sports anchor Hugh Burrill went beet red after three bites. “I’m Irish—what are you doing to me?” yelled Burrill. “I think I need a tongue-ectomy.” We were offered some suicide wings, but wisely wussed out.
Photos by Stephen Michalowicz/Torontoist.