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Wing fling, steady job, McEwen's name kept

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002

Tetrazzini Tuesday just didn't have the right ring.

Meatloaf Monday and Sassy Salsa Saturday remain on the consideration list. Lobster Thermidor Thursday? Maybe.

But for now, a group of twentysomething singles in Tampa are immersing themselves in weekly Whacky Wing Wednesday.

It started innocently enough at Mac's on South Howard back in June. Matt Michaels, Craig Meddin and Adam Alpert were out on the town eating wings when lightning struck.

Why stop with one plate of wings? Why stop with one restaurant? So the mission was born. Find the best wings within a 30-mile radius.

There is talk of bringing in an authority from Buffalo, but these guys are quickly becoming experts themselves. They have extensive criteria, including: service, feather content, celery, lumber (that's toothpicks to you and me) and my favorite -- drum-to-wing ratio.

The group has blossomed to include friends, girlfriends and, last Wednesday, one eager columnist.

The restaurant of choice was McDivots in Westchase, which offered a unique choice of garlic, sweet and sour, raspberry, hot and teriyaki. The sweet-and-sour plate didn't quite meet their standards, but after 100 wings, the overall mark for McDivots was favorable. It helped that it had the Golden Tee video game.

"We always wash our wings down with Golden Tee," said Matt.

In past weeks, Mac's and Fred Flemings received high praise, and the reigning champion is a somewhat surprising (at least to me) choice: Hattricks. The reviews were not so good for Press Box and MacDinton's, but maybe they can bounce back on the next visit.

This is only the beginning. With 10 restaurants down and 20 or 30 to go, Wednesdays are going to be wacky for a while.

* * *

Donny Campbell had only a few goals when he started working as a cook at Wag's in Brandon. Recently married, he wanted to pay his bills and he didn't like to change jobs too much.

Campbell didn't realize then that he would survive ownership changes, work his way up through management and end up staying at the same restaurant on State Road 60 for 20 years. The Wag's has become a Denny's, the highway has grown to six lanes and Campbell, 44, has become a grandfather.

"I remember some days when I was cooking, we were making $1,000 an hour," Campbell said. "I was just trying to make sure everything was right, everybody was happy. If you make 'em happy, they always come back."

I guess something was making Campbell happy because he kept coming back. And because he did he's got a good job, a nice home in Gibonston and, most of all, he says, his bills are paid.

* * *

So you think it's odd that Tampa's premiere arena is called the St. Pete Times Forum? Consider this: The press box in the St. Pete Times Forum is named for the longtime sports editor of the Tampa Tribune.

Yes, during the Forum's previous life as the Ice Palace, the name of Tom McEwen was bestowed upon the facility's press box. Although the Times now has the naming rights, McEwen's name will remain.

How could it not?

* * *

I told the Wacky Wing Wednesday gang that such irreverent fellowship may come to an end when they get married. They each got this quizzical look, wondering why a wife would worry about Wacky Wing Wednesday (say that three times fast). And maybe I'm wrong, but I can't help but think for most of us married folks such good times are the sole domain of the single.

Enjoy it while it last, fellas.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or

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