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Nothin’ like wings and ice cream to warm up a chilly polar bear

February 15, 2019

One of the highlights of the annual Polar Plunge weekend is the Fire & Ice throwdown. What started out years ago as a low-key afternoon distraction for plungers (and those who love them) has now become a major event. Spicy wing and ice cream aficionados bustle elbow-to-elbow; alternately firing up their taste buds then applying the brakes with some of the best frozen desserts in the Cape Region.

For the last several years I’ve had the honor of being one of the judges; sampling each and every recipe put forth by generous businesses that donate their time, manpower and products to support Special Olympics Delaware. This year I was joined by Delaware Restaurant Association Communications Director Karen Stauffer and Bethany Beach psychotherapist/newspaper columnist Dr. Michael Hurd. We came, we tasted, we burned, we cooled. And we judged! Thank you, Jon Buzby, Special Olympics Delaware media relations and program innovations director. Fire & Ice gets better every year!

Tempting aromas of hot peppers, pineapple, parmesan, onions, apples (!), Sriracha … and Sterno filled the Rehoboth Beach Fire Hall as the six wing presenters loaded up their respective chafing dishes. The first wing slinger that ticketholders encountered was none other than Zogg’s Raw Bar & Grill and their Caribbean Hot Wings.

The Clubhouse at Baywood was next, followed immediately by Bethany Blues. Their appreciation for stepping out of the box was not lost on Chef Floyd Evans’ Spicy Applesauce wings. Conventional wisdom states that spice makes everything better; add the taste of fresh apples and it’s a home run.

Next in line was the restaurant you might not immediately think of when you think of hot wings, but Fish On in Lewes certainly stepped up to the plate this year with Chef Jen Myers’ Spicy Brown ‘Shugga’ Wings with Bread & Butter Pickle Sauce. They were sweet and spicy hot. The enthusiastic and ever-smiling Sherm Porter was in attendance, hawking his Famous Buffalo Sauce. Sherm has a knack for keeping his wings crispy as they simultaneously act as a vehicle for his smooth and spicy coating. Though his popular operation is based upstate, Sherm’s Catering has been a fixture at every Fire & Ice event, as Special Olympics Delaware is very close to his heart. Atlantic Boardwalk Grill was one of the newcomers this year, and they wowed the crowd with their entry. Needless to say, there were lots of napkins within reach!

The antidote to hot wings is ice cream. The frosty temperature helps douse the flames temporarily, but it’s the dairy factor that does the trick. You see, the spicy chemical capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) is carried by oils. That’s why things get hotter when you try to drink water; the water just spreads capsaicin-laden oil around in your mouth. But casein, a phosphoprotein in cow’s milk, has a detergent effect that emulsifies the oil and helps wash away the capsaicin. Sort of like a tiny fire extinguisher but without all the noise.

So ice cream was in abundance as attendees blazed a trail from the wings to the three frosty stands dippin’ themselves into a frenzy. First on the list was Hopkins Farm Creamery. The booth was manned (or in this case, womanned) by Manager Paula Pepper. Hopkins’ entry was all about cookies, as you can see in the accompanying photo of Paula.

One of the more unusual ice cream concoctions was from Woodside Farm Creamery. The secret ingredient in their cookie-based mix was none other than Nilla Wafers. The gentle taste of those iconic discs gave their entry a leg up in my book. (Or more correctly on my score sheet.)

No ice cream event would be complete without Rehoboth’s Kilwins. Big boss Debbie Marchese was operating the scoops as she treated us to her famous Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip ice cream. Anyone who knows Kilwins knows that one of the most difficult life decisions here at the beach is whether to get that flavor or the equally amazing Salted Caramel ice cream. Just get both. Life is short. Thank goodness we had a trained therapist in attendance.

Votes tallied from the attendees had Atlantic Boardwalk Grill at the top, but the esteemed panel of judges begged to differ: We picked Bethany Blues. Attendees went rogue yet again by voting Woodside Farm Creamery into the lead position. The judges came within one (count ‘em, one!) tiny point of doing the very same thing, but Kilwins edged out the competition.

The annual Polar Bear Plunge is one of the state’s most successful fundraisers. This year’s take was $906,000; ultimately benefitting well over 3,500 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics Delaware provides the opportunity for these athletes to develop physical fitness, stamina and courage. The throwdowns and contests are fun, but everybody’s a winner on Polar Plunge weekend.

  • 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 byesbek@capegazette.com.