• Steven Keith

Chili, beer, mac ‘n’ cheese and (maybe?) the last word on wings

Cold craft beer, piping hot chili, live music and fluffy pups. What more do you need for a fun fall Saturday afternoon?

Veteran cook Jim Kerrigan at a past press conference for Wagging Tails & Nitro Ales
Veteran cook Jim Kerrigan at a past press conference for Wagging Tails & Nitro Ales










The annual Wagging Tails & Nitro Ales “Smoke on the Water Edition” chili cookoff returns to the streets of Nitro this Saturday around Living Memorial Park downtown.


From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day guests can soak up all of the above during an officially sanctioned cookoff by the International Chili Society, where all proceeds go to benefit HospiceCare, local animal rescue groups and the Marine Corps’ annual Toys for Tots campaign.


Green chili from Wagging Tails
Green chili from Wagging Tails

Winners in the red, green and homestyle chili categories will not only receive cash prizes, but also advance to represent the local cookoff at the World Chili Championship.


Awards also will be handed out for People’s Choice Chili, Best in Kanawha County and Best Booth.


In addition to public beer samples, a VIP craft beer experience from 11 a.m. to noon that day will feature exclusive brews and food from local eateries.


Those $60 VIP tickets are limited to the first 50 people to purchase them, while a general admission $30 ticket offers unlimited sampling of more than 30 craft beers during the event.


Music throughout the day will be provided by local radio announcer Randy Damron and, naturally, both dogs and cats are welcome at the cookoff. For more information or to get tickets, visit www.facebook.com/waggingtailschilichallenge.


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OK, so maybe there is more to life on a Saturday afternoon than chili and beer. Like mac ‘n’ cheese!


Mac 'n' Cheese Cook-off
Mac 'n' Cheese Cook-off

The ever-popular Charleston Mac & Cheese Cook-off also returns to Capitol Market from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, when big crowds are expected to come sample cheesy goodness in all sorts of creative cups – plus enjoy live music, children’s activities, beer and more.


In addition to several individual, corporate and community teams, restaurants serving that day include Bricks & Barrels, WV Corner Kitchen, Bogey’s, Local Eats Food Truck and more.


From mix-ins like bacon or pesto to toppings like breadcrumbs or hot sauce to offerings like deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls, several teams will be serving up samples as they vie for the title of “Charleston’s Best Mac ‘n’ Cheese,” as voted on by judges and the public.


As a special tribute this year, the people’s choice award is being renamed the “Big Joe’s” People’s Choice Award in honor of the late Joe Guilfoile, the downtown restaurant owner whose awesome buffalo mac ‘n’ cheese often won the public and judges’ vote in previous years.


Tickets for the event, which benefits the Laurance Jones III Childhood Language Center, are $10 for adults and $5 for children, which includes all-you-can-eat samples. (Beer will also be available for purchase separately.) You can purchase tickets at the door or in advance at https://bit.ly/3Uef50t.


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Well, you had to know this was coming.


After sharing the winners from last week’s “Best Wings in the Valley” contest as part of the YWCA’s Guys Night Out tailgate fundraiser, I received my fair share of comments from readers suggesting there are more superior wings out there.


Chicken wings from T&M Meats
Chicken wings from T&M Meats

Y’all do know we only judged wings that were actually entered in this particular competition, right?


So even though we declared The Cold Spot as having the best among the six restaurants in the running, that obviously was in no way an endorsement that they were the best wings in the history of the world or anything.


As a reminder, these weren’t just my winners but unanimous decisions among a panel of esteemed judges. (For what it’s worth, Cold Spot also won “Best Wings” in both Kanawha and Putnam counties in the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s readers’ choice awards announced this week.)


Still, the comments came.


“I agree Cold Spot has the best-tasting Buffalo sauce, but they are the smallest wings I’ve ever had anywhere,” said reader Janet Bailey. As I mentioned last week, The Cold Spot has been dinged for the size of their wings (even before COVID) which used to be way bigger.


“You missed the mark downtown with Buffalo wings, because The Bear’s Den crushes your #2 (Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille) and #3 (Black Sheep Burrito and Brews) with regards to traditional bone-in, hot or mild wings,” insisted Mark Bolton. “Cold Spot is a given win, but the only comparison downtown is the Bears Den. In fact, their food overall is the most consistent downtown.”


Garlic Parmesan wings from The Bear's Den
Garlic Parmesan wings from The Bear's Den

Added reader Linda Barker: “You need to try the Buffalo wings at T&M Meats in Cross Lanes, “they are absolutely my favorite.” That’s the shop that also houses the WV Brick Oven Bistro, which I agree is awesome, although I haven’t had their wings.


“The absolute best wings in Kanawha County are at the Main Street Café in St Albans,” swore Fred Hill. “It’s not even close or worth a discussion about others.”


Also in St. Albans, Mediterranean Breeze gets the nod for best wings, according to reader Keith Bowles.


Further out of town, “Backyard Pizza in Huntington has the best wings in the entire area,” Stacy Jackson added, “and you need to try The Peddler’s blueberry BBQ sauce wings next door.”


It’s definitely not “in the Valley,” but Russell Powell swears that the wings from Greg’s Market are the best in Moundsville.


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Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.

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