VENTNOR – What better way to spend Presidents Day weekend than taking a dip in the ocean and taste-testing some spicy chili. The Ventnor Business Association held its first Presidential Polar Plunge Saturday, Feb. 16, along with a pancake breakfast and a chili cook-off.
Police and firefighters cooked up some pancakes starting at 9 a.m. to carb-up the plungers before the plunge at 11:15 a.m.
“Invigorating and delicious,” said Susan Tavella of Ventnor after her plunge in the ocean. “I will definitely come again next year.”
She was one of several hundred children and adults to take a dip into the frigid water. Although the weather cooperated with some sunshine, the temperature on the beach was 41 degrees while the ocean temperature was 39 degrees.
“It’s numbing,” Arden Hazlett of Ventnor said. “I can’t feel my legs.”
Her friend Alexa Litrenta said she enjoyed the plunge.
“It’s my first time doing it, so I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But it was lots and lots of fun.”
After the brief dip, most of the revelers returned to St. James Church Hall for some more eats, this time a taste-test that pitted two local restaurants and first responders in a chili cooking competition.
The Ventnor Police Department challenged the Ventnor Fire Department and Vagabond Kitchen and Tap House challenged the Ducktown Tavern. The wild-card entry was Farley and Ferry Real Estate.
Fire Department Chef Tom Halpin used an old family recipe for his entry of white chicken chili with a tomatillo base.
Next to him was Police Department Chef Mario Fuscia.
“It’s sweet and spicy at the same time,” he said.
John Exadakitilos of Ducktown Tavern brought the chili recipe he uses at the restaurant.
“The secret is my secret,” he said refusing to say what made his concoction special.
“It’s fresh homemade ingredients. I keep it simple,” he said.
Vagabond Chef Tino Guzman presented his chili recipe, which is also served at the restaurant.
“There’s no secret. I make it the same every time,” he said.
His partner Julie Craig said the chili is one of the most popular things on Vagabond’s menu.
“People love it,” she said.
Farley and Ferry Chef “Jersey Joe” DiGirolamo also submitted a white chicken chili recipe.
“There’s a little onion, garlic with green peppers and the cilantro offers the finishing touch,” he said.
He was serving chopped jalapenos on the side because “some people don’t like heat,” he said.
Taste testers voted for their top three and in the end, it was Vagabond with 35 points and Ducktown with 27 points. The Fire Department won with 32 points while the Police Department garnered 28 points. Farley and Ferry, which was unopposed, automatically won with 12 points.
The event was held as a fundraiser for the police and firefighters’ unions, according to Emergency Management Coordinator Donna Peterson, who helped organize the first responders’ portion of the event.
They were selling long-sleeved T-shirts to help raise money for activities that support the community.
“This was a great kick-off year,” VBA member Lori Colaianni said. “If people know how great it is, they will come back again next year.”