The 2018 Asheville Wing War, the seventh iteration of the All American Food Fights event from Kelly Denson, proved to be every bit as unpredictable as it has been in years past. During the March 4 event, the gnawing of bones and the smell of warm meat that filled the Crowne Plaza Resort were the only vestigial signs of the intense battle preparations that no doubt played out in kitchens around Asheville and beyond leading up to the competition.
Each of the 11 participating restaurants submitted wings in two categories — traditional (meaning classic Buffalo wings) and specialty (anything goes) — competing for both a people’s choice vote and a judges evaluation in each category. There were six judges this year rather than the usual five, including Mackensy Lunsford of the Asheville Citizen Times, chef Duane Fernandes of Isa’s Bistro and Hemingway’s Cuba, musician and Chestnut cook Davaion “Spaceman Jones” Bristol, Ashevegas food writer Stu Helm, Stephan Pruitt of Dig Local and this reporter.
Judges were served blind tastings (with no clue as to the purveyor of each wing) on color-coordinated plates, which arrived every five minutes for a total of 22 wings. Scores were initially set between one and 10 points with 10 being the highest. However a couple of submissions prompted an amended rule that allowed us to rate wings with a negative score, which has only happened once before in the history of the competition.
This year’s competitors included Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion Cuisine, the Crowne Plaza’s Overlook Restaurant, The Anchor Bar + Kitchen, Salvage Station, Moe’s Original Bar B Que, Brinehaus Meat + Provisions, Chop House, Woodfire Bar & Grill, Mojo Kitchen, Culture Shock and Dread Life Kitchen.
As in previous competitions, the offerings ran the gamut, featuring everything from classic, buttery Buffalo wings to salty soy sauce-drenched drumsticks. Every year, there seems to be a trend running through the specialty category: One year, it was Asian-inspired wings, another time it was Latin flavors. But this year, puréed sauces were all the rage, with applesauce-like textures and oddball flavors, including one that tasted like a candied apple — which we later discovered to be Cheerwine — and another with a distinct peanut flavor.
A few standout quotes from the judges table this year include: “Why does this taste like broccoli?” “Did they toss this in applesauce?” and “It’s a fruit cup wing!”
The battle was surprisingly close, and with the now-defunct Montford Pull Up unable to return to defend its 2017 sweep of both popular vote categories, the people’s choice award was up for grabs. In the end, the popular vote for traditional wings went to Hendersonville’s Dread Life Kitchen. And in the specialty category, the people chose Mojo Kitchen for its truffle oil, ramps and Parmesan cheese wings.
Meanwhile at the judges table, for the first time in the history of the competition, the people’s choice winners did not even appear in the judge’s top five. Salvage Station’s offering took top honors for its traditional Buffalo wings, while Moe’s Original Bar B Que and Culture Shock rounded out the podium in second and third place, respectively.
In the specialty category, Out of the Blue repeated its victory from last year with a perfectly cooked dry-rubbed wing dashed with a bright-green chimichurri. Chef Steven Goff’s Brinehaus came in a close second with a chicken wing reminiscent of what he used to serve during his days at Charlotte Street’s King James Public House, and Salvage Station came in third with a killer jerk wing.
2018 Asheville Wing War winners:
Traditional: Dread Life Kitchen
Specialty: Mojo Kitchen
First place: Salvage Station
Second place: Moe’s Original Bar B Que
Third Place: Culture Shock
First place: Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion Cuisine
Second place: Brinehaus
Third place: Salvage Station