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Greg Judges Wings

October 11, 2019

Happy New Year! Okay, maybe I’m a few weeks late. Converting the blog from a daily journal to something that’s updated only periodically isn’t quite as easy as I had hoped. I’m falling behind on a lot of stories and totally out of my rhythm. Thankfully, there are more guest bloggers than ever stepping up to help fill the gaps.

So while I was fasting and praying for forgiveness, Greg was writing up his experience judging last weekend’s Schenectady Wing Walk.

There are a lot of things I’m missing about life in the Capital Region. Friends. Friends are right up there. But after that, there are a tremendous number of fantastic seasonal events this time of year. I was sad to miss The Food Pantries for the Capital District’s Harvest Evening Celebration for the first time in several years. I heard great things. The chili from chef Jennifer Hewes of The Point seemed to be a standout dish with the judges.

And of course there was the Schenectady Wing Walk as well. I heard there was a split between the judges and the crowd. The crowd went for 20 North, as crowds will often vote for the hometown favorite. Especially since without being a judge, it’s next to impossible to make it to every single stop.

Thankfully, we have some insight from Greg. And if you don’t know Greg, you are not alone. Today is his first guest post for the FLB, so let’s give him a warm Fussy welcome.

My name is Greg and I am “the boyfriend” of Emily L. I have lived in the Capital Region my entire life, spanning three of the four Capital Region counties… sorry Saratoga. I have been Emily’s culinary guide to the best and worst of the area for a number of years now. You and I may be meeting formally for the first time now, but unbeknownst to you we’re fairly well acquainted. Truth be told, I may be the inspiration behind a healthy number of Emily’s food musings and challenges. Don’t worry, my intellectual property lawyer assures me that we are well on our way to a healthy settlement.

But enough about me, let’s talk about food, and more specifically judging food. This past week, I was honored to be a judge at the 8th annual Schenectady Wing Walk hosted by the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation. This year 22 restaurants and businesses competed to serve up the best wings in Schenectady.

They included:
151 Bar and Restaurant: Spicy Garlic Parm
20 North Broadway Tavern: Medium Garlic Gouda
611 Union: 611 Spicy Honey Wings
Apostrophe Cafe: Guava BBQ
Backstage Pub: Smoked Caramel Bacon Bourbon
Bombers Burrito Bar: Medium Lemon Pepper Garlic
Cafe Coffee: Authentic Southern BBQ
Canvas, Corks and Forks: Boneless Cheesy Pepper Jack with Fall Salsa
Centre Street Pub: “Interdimensional Szechuan Boneless Wings”
Executive Lounge: Jerk
Grano: “OG Wings” Crispy Orange Ginger
Hunter’s on Jay: Grilled Lemon Pepper (Gluten Free)
Isopo’s Downtown Pizza: Cherry Bourbon
Johnny’s Schenectady: “Florabama”
Katie O’Byrne’s Irish Pub & Restaurant: Trinity
Mad Jack Brew Pub at The Van Dyck: Maple Peanut Butter and Honey Sriracha
Mexican Radio Schenectady: Raspberry Chipotle
Nico’s Rooftop Tavern: Spicy Maple Bacon BBQ
Taj Mahal Restaurant: Spicy Wing
The DillyBean: Dill-Constructed Waffle Wing
Union Inn: Cinnamon Apple
Ya Ya’s House of Southern Cuisine: Ya Ya’s House Original Southern Fried chicken

I love food, I love talking about food, and I love debating. So basically I had my dream job for the day. In order to prep, I only allowed myself black coffee that morning to have a clean palate. My fellow judges and I met up at Proctors and we were off.

Much like Romeo’s paramour, I found myself strolling about the streets of fair Schenectady pondering, “What’s in a name?” Perhaps the fine people of the internets can help me work towards the closure that ultimately eluded me last weekend.

How much does a name matter in contextualizing a dish?

To me it matters a lot, but I can absolutely understand the opposing point of view. Generally speaking, we want to eat food that tastes good, so if something is delicious it is delicious. Get over it and enjoy… yep, point taken.

On the other hand, if something is billed as “spicy” or “smoky” or “cheesy” and doesn’t come close to checking one of those boxes can it still be great? How can its purveyor masterfully ply their culinary craft if they don’t know what the food they are making tastes like? Does missing that one element make something that is still great without it only good? And if “smoky” was simply taken out of this hypothetical name would that same dish be elevated back to greatness?

Does any of this matter? Are we comfortable living in a world where great food can happen by accident? Thank you for joining me for this existential crisis, now back to the wings!

Backstage Pub won the judge’s top spot with ease and for good reason, their offering was ambitious and delightful. Initially I thought Backstage was flying too close to the sun; caramel is overpowering, they are combining too many things! Nope, what a wonderful symphony of flavor. It also certainly didn’t hurt that Terry was preparing his wings all afternoon in small batches.

Overall, it was a fantastic food event. My only hope is that some of these restaurants actually put their creations on their menu permanently so everyone can actually true them.

Oh yeah, and if you ever need someone to judge food, you know who to call.

As someone who has judged a bunch of food contests, I’d like to be the first to answer Greg’s question: Yes.

Yes. It matters. My firm belief, especially when judging many different interpretations of the same dish, is to measure them by their own yardstick. How successfully was the maker able to achieve their objective? Otherwise, how can you say if a southern style fried chicken wing is better than a braised Indian spiced version?

Sure, there are other criteria that are important too. But if a wing is intended to be smokey, and there isn’t a whiff of smoke on that thing, even if it’s delicious the wing has fallen short.

But Greg also nailed the secret to winning wing contests. Wings have to be made continuously in small batches. This is why I am wary of wing competitions that are located far away from a restaurant’s kitchen. There’s nothing satisfying about having premade wings warmed up in a chafing dish. Hot, crispy, and juicy wings are definitely going to stand out.

That said, regardless of what went down on the 2019 Schenectady Wing Walk, 20 North still makes the best wings in Schenectady. Sorry Greg. Sorry Terry. But the best wing also isn’t the medium garlic gouda they brought out for the event. It’s their straight up medium, which are always served crispy, and are consistently fantastic.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t go to next year’s Wing Walk. It’s a great day out, and always a ton of fun to watch Schenectady’s restaurants flex their wings. And you never know what philosophical questions will arise when you spend the day walking from wing to wing. Thanks to Greg for sharing his story. I hope there are more to come.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to stand in line for beer.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2019 5:10 pm

    Yayyy great guest post Greg!

  2. albanylandlord permalink
    October 20, 2019 4:26 pm

    Great post Greg and great writing.

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  1. What’s Up in the Neighborhood, October 12 2019 – Chuck The Writer

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