Wingin’ It

Michael Nagrant / 01.31.08

Great Sea’s spicy wings

I hit nine spots and ate over 100 hot wings with the national chicken wing eating champ, local boy Patrick Bertoletti, to find the best wings in Chicago for Time Out this week.

Though this wasn’t a story about Bertoletti, who is now the number #2 ranked competitive eater behind Nathan’s Famous champ Joey Chestnut, it very well could have been. You figure a mohawked competitive eater might be a punky meathead with a chip on his shoulder, but Bertoletti who’s also a culinary school grad, is a thoughtful passionate gourmand.

While waiting for wings in the lobby of Harold’s Wicker Park, we watched a WWF battle between a crazy midget leprechaun and Chris Jericho. I was laughing, but Bertoletti remained stoned faced, then turned to me and said, “I can’t laugh. In the hierarchy of sport, competitive eaters are way below professional wrestlers.”

That may be so, but there’s nothing fake about what Bertoletti does. He breaks down wings by crushing the joint between the two wing bones and then pushes the meat off the bone with an “umbrella technique” and sweeps it into his mouth before I’d even pick my first wing up. There’s a lot of strategy and focus that goes in to what he does. Watching a video of Bertoletti beating the legendary Kobayashi and Chestnut on Spike TV in the wings discipline, I was struck by his intensity. It really reminded me of Lance Armstrong on his famous last climb of the Alpe d’ Huez in the Tour de France. I asked him about that moment and Bertoletti says he was so zoned that he felt as if he were unconscious until the last three seconds of the match.