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Plenty of ways to heat up, cool off at annual festival in downtown

Published 9:09am Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where else but the Dowagiac Ice Time Festival can one sample five different blazing-hot chili dishes followed by a trough full of frosty ice cream?

With a full day of activities lined up Saturday, visitors to the annual frozen festival will likely be looking for ways to satisfy their hunger. Fortunately, a number of locations on Front Street will provide free food to famished patrons, though not in the most traditional of manners.

From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., five downtown eateries will open their doors to visitors, serving up spicy cups of chili as part of this year’s “chili crawl” con
test. People will be able to sample dishes from Zeke’s, the Wood Fire, Beeson Street Bar and Grill, the Wounded Minnow Saloon and the Front Street Crossing Café, and will vote on which restaurant serves the best bowl of chili in town.

Last year, Front Street Crossing took home the title, despite it being their first time in the contest. Cooking and serving up the award-winning dish was Kevin Stantz, a chef with Cass County Council on Aging, with roasted garlic chili.

“I was confident that it was a strong recipe, but I didn’t know it would win first place,” the chef said.

This year, Stantz has an entirely new recipe he plans to unveil, using beef tri-tips that are seasoned with 6 different spices.

“I’m feeling pressure to defend the title, but that’s what fun about the competition,” he said.

Meanwhile, Zeke’s is taking a different approach to this year’s cook-off. After years of fielding a variety of different recipes, the restaurant will be sticking to its tried and true chili dish it traditionally serves in winter, said General Manager Jackie O’Brien.

“We’re going to keep things simple,” she said.

Later that day, people get a chance to cool off their sizzling taste buds with a dish of ice cream from Caruso’s Candy & Soda Shop.

The treat will be provided free of charge: so long as they enter their annual ice cream eating contest, that is.

Eight competitors from three age brackets will have a chance to enter the competition, where they will race against one another to finish their “pig’s dinner” dish, a miniature trough of four scoops of ice cream, topped with sliced bananas and whipped cream. While it may sound simple on paper, contestants must devour the dish without using their hands, with the winners receiving a $10 gift certificate from Caruso’s.

The store has been running the competition since the event began 18 years ago, said owner Julie Johnson

“With the ice sculptures and the cold weather, the idea of eating ice cream just fit together with everything else,” Johnson said.

The event always fills up, and draws a large crowd of spectators, both young and old, Johnson said.

“Some of the contestants are very competitive about it,” she said. “Some of the them have won for years and want to retain their title.”

Registration for the event begins in the morning, and runs up to the time of the event at 2 p.m. The age groups are: children, up to 8 years old; teenagers, 9-14 years old; and adults, 15 and older.

Visitors looking to enjoy a free snack without smearing their faces with frozen sugar will be able to do so at the “Hot Spot”, located on Commercial Street. Visitors will be able to enjoy free s’mores served by volunteers with the Dowagiac Police and Fire Departments.

“It’s a way for us to give back, and for the community to see us in a different light than they normally do,” said Steven Grinnewald, the city’s director of public safety.

Visitors will get a chance to roast their own marshmallows by the bonfire the volunteers set up, Grinnewald said.

“We’re giving people a little treat and a place to warm up,” he said.

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