In a final marked more by boldness than finesse, Moosehead Grill triumphed over Steamer's, becoming the inaugural Observer Tournament of Wings 2008 champion.
Though each team displayed depth and some range, the judges' panel found Moosehead's grilling technique worthy of the win.
Moosehead had survived a scare in the semifinal, topping Township Grille by a narrow margin, while Steamer's had advanced with a relatively easy victory over Whooli's.
The judging panel included Huntersville reader representative Anthony (Tony) Rocco DePaolo, selected for both his background and eloquence. "My first chicken wing, and many thereafter, was prepared by Theresa Bellisimo and served to me by her husband Frank at the Anchor Bar in my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., " he wrote. (Theresa is generally agreed to be the originator of the Buffalo wing.)
He noted his days of routinely ordering "atomic" wings are over, "courtesy of way too many of that variety and the rather strident warnings from my gastroenterologist"; that he always requests wings extra crispy since "some of the lesser trained kitchen teams don't appreciate the need to cook the wing long enough to render the skin down to the crunch" and that he is "on a lifelong quest to find the Philistine that started serving ranch dressing with wings."
He also assured us he was no hidebound traditionalist and could appreciate non-Buffalo-flavor wings as well: "Just as with the grape, failure to appreciate the evolution of flavor would leave one with a bored palate."
In short, the perfect addition to a lineup that included Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis, entertainment editor Theoden Janes and design team leader (and hidebound traditionalist) Eric Edwards.
For the semifinals and championship, two flavors from each contender were assessed.
Of the winning wings, which were Moosehead's Uncle Donnie's Famous Blackened and Bee Stings (spiked with honey and habanero), the judges' comments ranged from "grilling / caramelization gave good flavor" and "best render" to "good heat on both" and "big enough for a small mouthful but not so huge as to require a nap while eating."
Second-place Steamer's, in Hot and Garlic flavors, drew kudos for being fried to a nice crispness and offering extra sauce for dipping, but had "no heat on the palate, only (on the) lips."
As consolation, Steamer's can point to victory in the readers' poll, which it topped with 62 percent of the vote (at about 2,350 at deadline).
There's always next year.