And the winner is … the hungriest bidder!

March 29, 2019

Local charities love live auctions! If handled and timed correctly, they can bring in lots of dollars to benefit deserving causes. I recently wrote about the live auction that took place in December at the Rehoboth Beach Country Club. The event is held annually to benefit the Harry K Foundation’s efforts help to feed hundreds of local (yup, I said local) kids every day through in-school pantries and backpack programs. There aren’t many more worthy causes than that. 

One of the many auction items that appears from time to time is a custom dinner for 10, cooked and served in the winner’s home by none other than Touch of Italy owner Bob Ciprietti and yours truly (armed with my trusty chicken fryer). During the auction for SoDel Cares a couple of years ago, there was such fierce competition between two bidders that Ciprietti stood up in the middle of the auction and doubled the prize. Both bidders won a dinner, and about $12,000 went to SoDel Cares’ great causes. 

Touch of Italy provides the bulk of the meal, including the wine and dessert. For the appetizer, I (wearing my Rehoboth Foodie hat) whomp up my three-day buttermilk fried chicken wings: brined, spiced, marinated in buttermilk, then dredged and cooked in the lucky winner’s kitchen. A bit of chipotle honey sits alongside to please the more adventurous. 

The crispy wings are presented alongside an expertly crafted antipasto featuring artisanal cheeses and charcuterie selected by longtime Rehoboth turophile Bill Wilson (remember his store, Beautiful Foods?). With the muscle of Touch of Italy’s busy installations behind him, Ciprietti’s primi piatti (first course) is served in several rounds. It could be eggplant/ricotta rollatini sporting a dollop of marinara and a dusting of freshly grated parmesan. Or perhaps it’s a huge casserole of Touch of Italy’s famous Mama’s Meatballs resting on a bed of imported cavatelli pasta. Alongside there might be a wedge of mozzarella (handmade that morning), warmed in lightly salted water, drizzled with sauce (or a deep green, aromatic olive oil) and speckled with cracked black pepper. 

Ciprietti is a big fan of Peter Luger’s Steak House in Brooklyn, N.Y. Every so often the Touch of Italy boss will surprise our in-home guests with the over-100-year-old restaurant’s signature appetizer: Thick-cut bacon (I’m talkin’ 3/8 of an inch!), broiled to a crispy finish and topped with Luger’s proprietary steak sauce. We only serve it when it’s available, but it always seems to be a welcome departure from the ordinary. (Translation: There are never any leftovers.) 

Legendary Bronx butcher and longtime Ciprietti friend Sal Biancardi is the source of many of Touch of Italy’s fresh meats, and every so often he puts his personal touch on the final course by butchering, trimming, spicing and marinating a combination of lamb ribs and chops. Or perhaps a standing rib roast. Or racks of short ribs. Whatever he and the winner decide, Bob drives to New York the day before the dinner to pick up Biancardi’s masterpiece. In fact, he sometimes has to call Sal during the dinner to verify the cooking instructions. Interestingly, despite all that hi-falutin’ butchery, many of the auction winners simply choose Touch of Italy’s signature Sunday Supper; a throwback to Ciprietti’s childhood, featuring braciole, Italian sausage and, of course, those meatballs.  

Our in-home dinners are pretty involved, so we limit them simply because there are only so many hours in the day and days in the week. Over the last several years, we have raised well over $80,000 combined for the Beebe Bash, The Harry K Ball, the Winter White Christmas event for Children’s Beach House, SoDel Cares, Meals on Wheels Lewes-Rehoboth, the Beebe Ball, the Lewes Historical Society, Believe in Tomorrow, and our own charitable foundation, the of Italy Culinary Scholarship Foundation. 

So now there’s even more reason to grab a couple of tickets to these worthy events and raise your hand to bid on an in-home Italian feast. And the upshot to all this? We even clean up.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at