EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — The smell of charcoal and smoke wafted through the air in downtown East Dubuque on Saturday afternoon while thousands partook in some of the best chicken wings the area has to offer.
The 15th annual East Dubuque Wingfest brought together restaurant owners and backyard grilling enthusiasts, pairing them with live music and other vendors selling wine, beer, popcorn, ice cream and more.
Country music could be heard up and down the street as adults and kids alike danced near the stage.
Tables were scattered around Sinsinawa Avenue between First and Second streets, where attendees stood and sampled the finger-licking-good fare.
Nathan Knobbe, of Dubuque, attended for the first time. He said he was impressed by the flavors and sauces the vendors had created.
“I really liked the ‘Sneaky Buffalo’ sauce (from Roadside Barn at Menominee Hilltop),” he said. “The heat catches up to you.”
Amy Gerhard, a cook and co-owner of the Roadside Barn at Menominee Hilltop, said it was also their first time bringing wings to the event.
She, along with her team of Lisa Shepard, Clara Gerhard, Terri Mayberry-Hahn and Pablo Ramirez, cooked up more than 200 pounds of wings, tossing them with homemade sauces like roasted jalapeno honey garlic, Sneaky Buffalo and others.
Gerhard said the group enjoyed the event and hopes to participate next year.
“I think it’s a really great community to get involved in, and there was a nice turnout,” she said.
Pedro Martinez, of Dubuque, who attended the event with family, said he has come to the event for many years. He even participated in the past as a vendor with his own secret recipe.
“I would recommend (the event),” he said, while sampling wings from Cascade, Iowa-based vendor CABOB. “It grows more and more every year, so that’s a good thing.”
The event was hosted by the East Dubuque Greater Events Foundation. Proceeds are earmarked for local organizations, such as the VFW and Lions Club.
Wingfest is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the foundation, event organizer and foundation President Dave Sendt said. He is always grateful for the turnout, both from locals and from visitors.
“We want to invite people to come into the community,” he said. “I look around and most of the people who are here are from the surrounding area, which is amazing to me. I like to see people come from around the area and join in.
“It’s just a good feel event for the community.”
Live music throughout the day featured local performers. Well-known country music band Little Texas, known for the hit “God Blessed Texas,” was set to take the stage later in the night.
“We are so excited about bringing Little Texas in,” Sendt said. “We wanted to do something that was special since it has been 15 years, and we wanted to bring in a different variety of music.”
Sendt said the intention always is to keep the event and performances free and accessible for families.
“You gotta make it a family event,” he said. “We love to have the kids here. It’s a big thing for us.”