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Irwin heats up the night with chili and wings

In search of some good chili and tasty wings, record crowds converged upon the town of Irwin last week to take part in the 6th annual Chili Cook-off and Wild Wing Thing.

Hosted by the Irwin Business and Professional Association, the event featured several area venues that cooked up vast quantities of both wings and chili.

"I think it was just great," Colonial Grille owner and wings champion Gary Santimyer said. "I'd say that we had about 1,500 people come through."

Several different locations in the town offered the fare, as visitors went from location to location to try the different flavors and, in some cases, the degree of "hotness" of wings and chili.

"I like a good, hot chili, and I'm still looking for it," Nate Bradley of North Huntingdon said. "I've tasted a few good ones, but I'm still looking for the winner."

Leslie Biggie of North Versailles was making her second visit to the event, after coming last year and liking what she saw.

"I came for the wings," Biggie said. "I came last year, and I really enjoyed it."

The event was held from 5 to 8 p.m., and the lines quickly formed as the doors to the event opened.

"We started to have people lining up around 5:30," Santimyer said.

Visitors had the opportunity to vote for their favorites, and the winners were announced about 9 p.m.

"We tried something new this year," Santimyer said. "We had the people text in their votes. Using paper ballots was just too time-consuming. We would count up the votes, and sometimes it took so long that people would start to leave."

Each venue had a sign that listed the text number to be sent for that particular location.

"I saw a lot of people going around taking photos of the signs with their smartphones, that way they knew what the numbers were," Santimyer said.

Santimyer said that he stressed to everyone, all evening, that every vote counted.

"The voting was very close, and it went back and forth several times," Santimyer said. "In the end, there was only a difference of nine votes (for the chili winner)."

Hungry hoards

Carl Stewart, owner of Romano's Pizza and Cafe, cooked about 10 gallons of chili and handed out samples.

"I think this is a great event," Stewart said. "It's so good to see all these people come out and spend the evening in Irwin."

Santimyer said that thousands of wings were prepared and consumed, and gallons upon gallons of chili made visitors to the event very happy.

"Everyone ran out of chili," Santimyer said. "I was extremely happy with the turnout, and I hope that it continues to grow."

Arianna DeAngelis, 9, of Irwin summed the whole evening up in two words.

"It's awesome," she said.

Winners for the wings were repeat champion Colonial Grille, with second place going to Twin Oaks. The chili winner was Jacktown Ride and Hunt, with second place awarded to the Cheesecake Caffe.

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