Wing King: Good veggie wings are here to stay at Wing Fest

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Sahlen Field was a meat-lovers paradise this weekend with just about every variation of chicken wing you can imagine being offered at this year’s Wing Fest.

But some say the perfect wing isn’t chicken at all.

Root & Bloom was serving up Buffalo’s first all-vegan jackfruit wings this weekend.

“A lot of people in Buffalo do a seitan or tofu based wing, but we find that the jackfruit gives you that nice pull that you’re looking for in a chicken wing,” said James Ernst, co-owner of Root & Bloom.

For those who are unfamiliar, seitan is a meat-alternative made from wheat gluten. Tofu comes from soy beans. Jackfruit is a large fruit from a tree in the fig, mulberry, and breadfruit family, native to tropical regions of the world.

Root & Bloom serves its jackfruit wings three ways, Ernst said.

“We do in house right now a Buffalo with our own house-made vegan bleu cheese, barbeque with our house-made vegan ranch, or for today at Wing Fest, we’re also doing a ghost pepper peach,” he said.

The neutral stance in the great ranch vs. bleu cheese debate aside, the very idea of vegan wings left a lot of Wing Fest attendees with questions.

“Is that even a wing?” Andy Havley asked, laughing.

Even so, many people at Wing Fest this weekend have been eager to give them a try.

“I have heard rave reviews about the vegan wings,” Kevin Kruger told News 4. “I saw them on TV once and had a coworker who tried them and said you’ve gotta try them, you’ve gotta taste them, so I’ve gotta try it out.”

“I’m not a meat-eater and I was so happy that they’re here to have the option available,” added another Wing Fest attendee, Angela Bogdan.

The question is whether vegan wings have a real place at this kind of distinctly meat-centered event.

“You want it to be inclusive for everybody. You don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t come and enjoy,” offered attendee Jill Havley.

“I mean i think it’s good as an option, but I would not go to that stand, no,” countered another attendee, Justin Zimmerman.

Wing King Drew Cerza says people have been asking for a meat-free option at Wing Fest for years.

“There’s a lot of people that are plant-based eaters, so I don’t think they should be left out of the wing flavor experience,” he said, “because Wing Fest is really about the sauces.”

The addition of a meatless option at Wing Fest follows a national trend that’s brought us things like the Impossible Whopper at Burger King in recent months. A growing number of Americans are cutting down on their meat consumption for health and environmental reasons.

“People are looking for some alternatives,” Ernst said. “Not everyone’s looking to go all plant-based or vegan, but people are looking to change up their diets with a variety of different foods and trying things that made be familiar to them in different ways, like trying the vegan version of chicken wings.”

Of course, not everyone was on board with the vegan wings at Wing Fest.

“Yuck!” said festival attendee Lauren Foley when asked her thoughts on the vegan option.

“No, I wouldn’t try it,” agreed another attendee, Jeremiah Pettit.

But organizers say good veggie options are here to stay and will be featured at future fests.

The same may not be true for ranch dressing, which was allowed for the first time at this year’s festival as a dipping sauce alongside the traditional-in-Buffalo bleu cheese option.

“You know, we’ll evaluate after the festival and see where ranch’s place is in Buffalo,” Cerza said.

Wing Fest continues through Sunday evening at Sahlen Field.

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