Asking someone where the best chicken wings in Buffalo, NY are is like asking them to pick their favorite child, but year after year, the discussion continues with no clear winner in sight. I'll add my favorite three in no particular order, Gabriel's Gate in the Allentown section serves a wing that sings in perfect pitch, elevating the wing form to fine dining. Duff's serves its wings in wooden bowls with sauce as a dipping soup as if the wing can be a solid, a liquid, and by the process of sublimation, a spicy mist that hits the nostrils with Pavlovian longing. In the non-traditional sauce category, no one does it better than Cole's on Elwood. They have a baked parmesan wing that brings tears to my eyes and napkins to my shirt.
On the Major League Eating circuit the hot dog is the toughest food in competition due to the meat and bun combo, but the chicken wing is the most difficult. The chicken wing, both the drumstick (or bat) and the paddle (or flat) requires jaw strength, rhythm, and in a twelve minute contest -- capacity. The World Chicken Wing Eating Championship is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Coca-Cola Arena, home of the non-edible minor league baseball Bisons, is filled with 35 venerable wing specialist from across America like North Dakota's Parrot's Cay (signature sauce: North Dakota Napalm) and Portland, Oregon's Fire on the Mountain (signature sauce: Raspberry Habanero). Buffalo and New York State are well represented and even Charlie the Butcher's beef on weck and Bocce Club pizza join the wing crew. There are chicken wing Christmas ornaments, day-glo orange wing hats, and even a mechanical bull in the shape of a chicken wing. TV personality and Itunes podcaster Mark DeCarlo has a booth and chefs Marco and Armand trade poultry recipes back-stage. The night, however, belongs to the buffalo chicken wing fans who in the twelve years of the Buffalo Wing Festival have consumed 3.8 million wings weighing 212 tons...and that doesn't even count the blue cheese.
George Shea, Major League Eating's founder and MC of the Buffalo Festival every year of its existence takes the mike and shouts that he is a proponent of poultry warfare. He claims that the scorecard of the war on the bird stands at 1.7 billion chickens killed, humans zero. He implores the crowd not to rest on its eating laurels that they should, "Push forward, eat more, and continue onto wing consumption glory." As a sidebar he announces that Joey Chestnut is a scratch due to a strained esophagus from a rib eating contest in Reno a few days before. Through the crowd, lead by The Wing King Drew Cerza, holding the chicken scepter is Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, a five time champion of this discipline. Already on stage is Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco whom I've written regarding her dominance in Corn Indian Tacos. Also on stage is a new comer to the sport, the blond haired, tanned golden girl Miki Sudo. No competitor, male or female, has risen so quickly to the top as Miki. She is the Niagara Falls of competitive eating, or more specifically, the Horseshoe Falls of the stomach - a human digestive system akin to a crestline of 2500 feet with the power of 675,000 gallons of water a second. She is the Maiden of the Mist, and like Horseshoe Falls, her halo is a permanent rainbow with a pot of competitive eating prize money gold at its end. The day before she bested Joey and the rest of the field in a medley of Buffalo bar bites - 5 pounds in four minutes and seventeen seconds. Eating a pound a minute is like running a four minute mile and despite the fact that twelve minutes of chicken wing eating is a marathon, she in her shiny sparkly shoes and demure smile, seems ready to go the distance. The chickens don't stand a chance.
Gloria Steinem never endorsed competitive eating. We have no way of knowing if Billie Jean King ate more for lunch than Bobby Riggs, but the 2013 Buffalo Wing Festival made one thing clear: The ladies who lunch are no joke, but champions of the chomp. Eschewing title 9 regulations, golf tees that are closer to the green, and smaller basketballs, Sonya Thomas, Michelle Lesco, and Miki Sudo said (with their mouths full), "Anything a man can eat, a woman can eat better!"
And eat they did. Former champ Sonya Thomas claimed third with 141 wings. Michelle Lesco, with her wiry frame from doing 100 pushups and 100 situps a day, would eat 158 wings. Miki Sudo, The Vegas Queen of Cuisine, would emerge champion with 178. Yasir "Doggy Bag" Salem, a triathlete and the only pro-eater to work for The Economist (and a male) would finish a distance fourth. The rest of the male field and myself included were all bridesmaids as well, but I was witness and even if Chuck Norris and John Wayne and Rick Springfield ate, they too would have lost to these three amazing women.
Sonya, Michelle, and Miki all weigh less than 115 pounds each. Combined their weight is is still less than several of the male competitors on stage. The three women could be beauty pageant contestants, but instead have aimed their X chromosomes at the male dominated world of competitive eating. At college campus cafeterias, sorority girls are cutting the line ahead of fat bloated frat boys. It is a new world food order, first in competitive eating, but soon in casual dining...one where the girl on a first date orders a prime rib and the boy a salad. Be warned America a female revolution is coming and school girls are putting down their Barbies and picking up the BBQ; Dreaming not of prom dates and wedding dresses, but of becoming the next Sonya (8 pounds 2 ounces of chili cheese fries in ten minutes), Michelle (142 gyoza in eight minutes), or Miki (8.5 pounds of kimchi in six minutes)...I am woman, hear my stomach roar!
Crazy Legs Conti can be reached at www.crazylegsconti.com where he will be getting in touch with his feminine side.