Polar bears prefer hot wings and cool ice cream

February 10, 2023

For the last several years, I have had the honor of being part of the (esteemed?) panel of judges for the annual Polar Bear Plunge Fire & Ice hot wing & ice cream competition. It’s always fun, but more importantly, all the proceeds benefit Special Olympics Delaware.

My fellow judges this year were none other than Pam George, food writer for Delaware Today and Delaware Beach Life magazines, and longtime local newspaper columnist Michael Hurd, PhD, who was able to add a psychological slant to our noshfest at the Atlantic Sands Hotel ballroom. We came, we tasted, we burned, we cooled. And we judged! Thank you, Jon Buzby, Special Olympics Delaware media relations and program innovations director, and Corinne Plummer, special events director, along with the entire team, for making Fire & Ice better every year.

Spicy wings and ice cream were the order of the day, and the ballroom was packed elbow-to-elbow with aficionados firing up their taste buds, then applying the brakes with some of the best frozen desserts in the Cape Region.

Tempting aromas of habanero peppers, peppermint, teriyaki, ginger, honey – and Sterno – filled the room as the wing presenters revved up their respective chafing dishes. The first wing slinger ticket holders encountered was Fish On. Chef Ian Mangin’s hot honey garlic masterpieces were delicious, and made even better with Ian’s welcoming smile and great sense of humor. Mark and Jeff’s JAM Bistro was next, sticking with the tried-and-true teriyaki. Not happy to just do wings, they also entered their talented pastry chef in the ice cream category. More about that below.

Tiki Jac’s opened last week in the former Rehoboth Avenue location of Nicola Pizza. In spite of the obligatory first-week growing pains (while simultaneously keeping Zogg’s, Bushels and Wheelhouse running smoothly), Anthony and Chris Jacona found the time to support Special Olympics Delaware by whipping up hundreds of their double-smoked blueberry habanero wings. Conventional wisdom states that spice makes everything better; add the taste of blueberries, and it’s a home run. Zogg’s also stepped up to the plate with Chef Jenn’s ginger aioli-drizzled teri hot wings. I love the ginger hit, and the roomful of attendees showed their appreciation with long lines at her booth.

At the next booth was a restaurant you might not immediately think of when you think of hot wings, but Kiwi’s Kove (on the Boardwalk as part of the Atlantic Sands Hotel) certainly made a splash this year with their take on sweet and spicy hot honey buffalo wings.

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. The spicy chemical capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, in case you were wondering) is carried by oils. That’s why things get hotter when you drink water, because 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 sirens.

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 Kilwins. Though I am addicted to the salted caramel ice cream, they outdid themselves this year with Marshmallow S’mores ice cream. Tiny (and delightfully frozen) ‘mallows populated the wonderful chocolate for which Kilwins is well known.

A new contestant this year was Kara’s Sugar Kitchen. Kara Murphy is not only an entrepreneur in her own right, but also the pastry chef at Eden restaurant, one of Rehoboth’s longtime dining icons on Baltimore Avenue. Her Mexican Hot Chocolate was one of the most unusual flavors – not too sweet, but with the smooth feel of a satisfying hot chocolate on a winter’s day.

Wing votes tallied from the attendees had JAM Bistro at the top, but the panel of (still esteemed) judges begged to differ: We picked Fish On. Attendees went rogue yet again by voting Kilwins into the lead position. The judges came within one (count ‘em, one!) tiny point of doing the very same thing, but Kara’s Sugar Kitchen edged out the competition. Congratulations to all the businesses that took time out of their day to help Special Olympics Delaware.

The annual Polar Bear Plunge is one of the state’s most successful fundraisers. This year’s take was more than $1 million, ultimately benefitting well over 3,500 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics Delaware provides opportunities for these athletes to develop physical fitness, stamina and courage. The contests are fun, but on Polar Plunge weekend, everybody’s a winner.


  • 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

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