Each year, thousands of Binghamton residents crowd into the baseball diamond of NYSEG Stadium for the city’s annual Wingfest, and this Saturday was no different. Featuring more than a dozen wing vendors, live music from local bands Hot Dogs & Gin and Wreckless Marci and a mechanical chicken wing meant to be ridden like a bull, the event offers plenty of opportunities for diehard chicken connoisseurs to enjoy. The most important part of Wingfest, however, is the declaration of the “King of Wings,” an award given to the vendor deemed most deserving by the event’s judges, as well as a “People’s Choice Champion” award decided by the votes of attendees.
While I don’t mean to diminish the hard work and expertise of the judges, I believe I’m qualified to offer my own opinions. Being from Buffalo, I’ve grown up in something of a mecca for drums and flats. The Buffalonian, a solemn creature raised by dismal weather and even more dismal professional sports teams, will never have to venture far to find some of the best wings in the world. I consider myself an expert on the art of the chicken wing, and I believe my countless hours spent in dive bars throughout the western New York tundra gives me the authority to tell readers which restaurants in Binghamton are worth their time. I tried every vendor at Wingfest, and here are my thoughts on each of them:
Sake-Tumi: A Japanese restaurant located on Court Street, Sake-Tumi offered two flavors of wing: garlic and Thai chili. I opted for Thai chili, and I quickly became a fan. The drum was well cooked and crunchy, and had a taste that resembled sweet and sour chicken. It’s a less traditional take on a wing, but it’s done well enough that it is a strength rather than a weakness.
The Relief Pitcher: The choices available were medium garlic and sticky sesame, and I went with the former. While the heat was solid for a medium, I found that the garlic was subtle at best. It was an enjoyable wing, but you might as well avoid garlic altogether and just go for a classic medium.
Trax Pub & Grill at Greek Peak: Representing the bar in a Cortland mountain resort, Trax is a formidable contender as the reigning “King of Wings.” I tried the Nemesis Dry Rub, which was interesting in that it seemed to eschew heat entirely, focusing on spices and a crispy texture. While I didn’t mind the taste, it ended up being more like fried chicken than a classic wing, which some may find appealing.
Social on State: Social offered one type of wing, the Nashville Hot Honey Fried Chicken. In my opinion, that’s a lot of flavors to try to get in one wing, and I found the taste somewhat overwhelming. The honey added a sweetness that gave the drum a dessert feel.
The Colonial: Coming off of a “People’s Choice Champion” win in 2018, The Colonial brought high expectations. They kept it simple, offering house sauce and a dry rub. The house sauce was a delicious mix of sweet and spicy, and the Parmesan coating added a great crunchy texture. In a diamond of hot wings, The Colonial still managed to bring the heat this year.
Dos Rios Cantina: Opting for a dry rub wing covered in white sauce and lime juice, Dos Rios went for a more authentic Mexican flavor. The presentation was very nice, but I found the lime a little strong and I don’t think it mixed well with the sauce. In my opinion, this is a good example of trying to do too much instead of focusing on doing one thing well.
Hacienda Pizzeria: Hacienda brought Mexican spicy sauce as their sole flavor. This was the first wing that genuinely impressed me with the heat, but the wing itself was disappointingly cold. Despite this, I thought Hacienda offered a good taste that you couldn’t find anywhere else.
The Belmar Pub & Grill: I have to admit, I was blown away by Belmar. I tried their sriracha chili sauce, which came with fresh-made blue cheese, the only correct condiment for a wing. They nailed both the wing and the blue cheese, and immediately became the place to beat while gaining a new customer for their Wednesday Night Wings special.
Coop’s Latin & Soul Food: Their jerk chicken wing was solid, a surprise to me as I don’t normally care for jerk wings. This seems to be the year of the crunchy wing, and Coop’s does it as well as anyone else.
Kampai Japanese Steakhouse: Better known for their sushi, Kampai brought Konnichiwa wings, coated in honey, yuzu and sriracha. I think Kampai was underappreciated, and it felt strange that there was barely any line at all for what I would call a top-five wing.
Food & Fire BBQ~Taphouse: The barbecue influence was easily noticeable on their dry rub wing, which tasted smoky, almost like it was cooked over a fire. It tasted quite similar to a rib, which was a pleasant surprise.
Peterson’s Tavern: Their Peterson’s Steakhouse wing was OK, but I’d be lying if I said I’d remember it next week. It’s a little unfair because it was pretty good, but Wingfest offers so much variety that you either have to be great or unique to draw interest, and I’m not sure they did either.
Caribbean Patty World: Having the longest line by far, I expected a lot more out of the jerk barbecue wing I eventually received. It was a fine wing, but in my opinion, it was worth neither the 30-minute wait nor the hype.
The Stadium Sports Bar and Grill: Based 30 miles northeast in Oxford, New York, Stadium had a high-quality traditional hot flavor available along with garlic Parmesan and honey barbecue. While I love all of Wingfest’s variety, sometimes you can’t beat an old-fashioned hot wing.
While I was impressed with the diversity and competition at Wingfest, there was only one vendor that earned my vote without a doubt, and that was The Belmar Pub & Grill. The judges seemed to agree, crowning Belmar the 2019 “King of Wings.” The “People’s Choice Champion” went to The Stadium Sports Bar and Grill, an equally well-deserved victory. All in all, the eighth edition of Binghamton Wingfest was well worth the cost of admission, featuring cutthroat competition and not a drop of ranch in sight.