Battle of the Buffalo Coming to Huntsville Area
New Orleans Lunch Box won Best Wing at last year’s Battle of the Buffalo. A restaurant located inside the BP gas station on the corner of Holmes Avenue and Jordan Lane, New Orleans Lunch Box will be back to defend its title at the 2014 contest. New Orleans Lunch Box owner Roland Lowrey III uses an old rotisserie smoker and hickory wood to produce his chicken wings.
“I use seven different spices,” Lowery, 62, says, “marinate them overnight and we cook them slow the day of the event and we use jumbo wings which are nice and juicy. They actually pull right off the bone, and there ain’t no tough business with it.”
Lowery can cook 900 wings at a time in his smoker and will probably cook around 3,500 for Battle of the Buffalo, getting started at around 5 a.m. that morning. The event begins at 3 p.m. Judging for Best Wing begins at 4:30 p.m., with an awards ceremony to be held at 5:40.
The Best Wing plaque Lowery won at the 2013 Battle of the Buffalo now hangs on a New Orleans Lunch Box wall. He’s proud of the honor. But the amount of funds raised and the cause are a bigger deal, Lowery says. “That’s the most important part of the competition for us. It’s not our wings or winning.”
So what do chicken wings have to do with cancer?
The UAH ATO’s founded Battle of the Buffalo in 2009 in memory of Paul “Fish” Salmon, a fraternity brother who passed away two years earlier due to leukemia. ATO active member David Oberle, a 22-year-old senior from Guntersville majoring in computer engineering, explains the origins.
“There were a bunch of brothers and they went out and got just a ton of chicken wings and they were eating them at the house and they were just kind of talking, ‘Yeah remember we would go with Paul to Beauregard’s or something like that,'” Oberle says. “We liked to see who had the best wings in town because that’s just something college guys like to do, and we were like, ‘This was really fun.’
“They brought it to chapter and said, ‘Hey wouldn’t it be really cool if we put this event on in memory of Paul and then we take all the money we raise money and give to the place he received treatment at it.’ And everybody thought this was a great idea.”
So has the general public.
Last year, about 2,500 people attended Battle of the Buffalo when it was held at the Big Spring Park Grotto. For its sixth incarnation, or “round six” as the event’s website calls it, the Battle will be held on the other side of Church Street at Big Spring Park’s primary locations. (The side where the Huntsville Museum of Art is located.)
“They only allow three or four big events per year and we’re one of the big events so we’re super pumped about that,” Oberle says. And Battle of the Buffalo is growing fast. Last year’s attendance doubled the previous year’s, which was up about 30 percent from the year before that. Prior locations have included the Joe Davis Stadium parking lot and the UAH parking deck and Shelby Center for Science and Technology lobby.
‘Animal House’ this is not
Tickets, $10 pre-sale online at battleofthebuffalo.com and $15 day-of the competition, for Battle of the Buffalo are good for 20 wings and three drinks. Those three drinks can include Pepsi products and bottled water but no booze. That’s right, alcohol is prohibited at this fraternity event. Surely, John Belushi’s “Bluto” Blutarsky character from the 1978 comedy film “Animal House” would be dismayed.
“Most people when we say this is a fraternity philanthropic event, they kind of turn their noses up and say, ‘Oh, it’s a frat thing,'” Oberle says. “But people don’t really understand. Fraternity life isn’t what you see in the movies. We have a really good chapter here.
“We decided to go with it being non-alcoholic because, one, it saves us a lot of money because we are a fraternity the insurance is just insane, and two, because it really encourages families to come out. There’s really not a whole lot of events in Huntsville, like a festival or a large carnival type thing, where alcohol is prohibited. And I think a lot of people appreciate that.”
Battle of the Buffalo also boasts live music, including a 4: 30 p.m. set from Nashville country music/southern rock act Jami Grooms and the Catfish Johnson Band, as well as the all-day Susan Eva Arts & Crafts Fair and giant inflatables-equipped Paul Salmon Kids Zone.
Recipes for success
The UAH ATOs, which have an active membership of around 50, raised $20,000 for the Russel Hill Cancer Foundation via Battle of the Buffalo. They’ve partnered with Downtown Huntsville Inc. and the Huntsville Park and Rec Department to put on the 2014 event, “but as far as logistics of the event, getting restaurants, getting sponsorships, marketing, that’s done all by ATOs who are currently active in chapter,” Oberle says.
Other restaurants vying for 2014 Battle of the Buffalo bragging rights include 3rd Base Grill (1792 Hwy. 72 E.), Beauregard’s (511 Jordan Lane), Buffalo Wild Wings (2750 Carl T. Jones Drive), Cricket’s Burgers & Wings (3810 Sullivan St., Madison), Famous Joe’s Pizzeria (12120 County Line Road, Madison), Hooters (4730 University Drive), Shane’s Rib Shack (4800 Whitesburg Drive), Sud’s Bar & Grill (9076 Madison Blvd., Madison) and the food truck Food Fighters Bustaurant (check facebook.com/BusFood for updated locations).
An eight-person panel – which includes UAH President Robert Altenkirch, Huntsville City Administrator John Hamilton, Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong and Paul Salmon’s father – will judge Battle of the Buffalo wing entries based on aroma, taste, texture, moistness and presentation.
Tim’s Cajun Kitchen, located at 1114 Jordan Lane, won Best Wing for three years straight, at Battle of the Buffalos 2010, 2011 and 2012, and will compete again this year. When he opened his Louisiana-themed restaurant 22 years ago, owner Tim Faul wanted to do wings that were “totally different” and that didn’t “copy anybody else’s stuff,” so he built a special smokehouse that uses a “cold smoke” technique to prep his seasoned wings for about 10 hours before dropping them in the fryer to briefly crisp before tossing in a house-made sauce.
“We have a lot of people that contact us to help and donate stuff, but being a business we try and pick and choose things that benefit people the most,’ Faul, 42, says. “Our number one charity we assist is children. Second is cancer. It’s a ruthless disease.”
More: battleofthebuffalo.com, russelhill.org
*Courtesy AL.com: http://go.ato.org/1hhSAlC