Besides a ‘Best Sundae on Sunday,’ the June 27-28 festival at Rockwood will offer food vendors, jugglers, magicians, dance troupes, martial arts programs, animal acts and more
The first year was too hot.
The second year was too wet.
But last year everything was just right.
We’re talking ice cream, not porridge—the annual ice cream festival at Rockwood Park, to be precise. The 2014 edition had not only perfect weather but also coverage by the Food Network in an episode of Anthony Anderson’s Eating America series and recognition by USA Today as one of the nation’s top 10 food festivals.
“It’s a very affordable family festival,” says producer Barry Schlecker, who likes to call the two-day event “Delaware’s largest family picnic.” With good weather, attendance should be around 40,000 and, with the combination of ice cream, food, snacks, music and kids’ activities, “people BYOB—bring their own blanket—and tend to stay all day,” he says.
This year’s festival—the fourth produced by Barry’s Events and sponsored by the New Castle County government—is set for June 27-28. Rebranded as the New Castle County Ice Cream Festival at Rockwood, it isn’t expected to get national television coverage this year, but the much heralded “Best Sundae on Sunday” competition will return, with an even larger cast of contestants and New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon on hand to present the first-place trophy.
“The Ice Cream Festival is definitely the premier event that we hold each summer,” Gordon says. “It is a major draw for residents and visitors alike.”
“It was exciting, an amazing opportunity for us to shine,” recalls Jen Rodammer, assistant manager of the University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery, which won last year’s competition with its “Rockwood Carnival Cardiac Craze” sundae, featuring candied apples, funnel cake and fried Oreo cookies.
UDairy will be back this year to defend its title. Student employees, better known as the “Moo Crew,” were asked to come up with suggested sundae concoctions in early May. “We don’t know what direction we’ll take,” Rodammer says. “We’ll try to narrow it down to the top five, test out a few and see what works best.”
The 2014 runner-up, the Ice Cream Shoppe—practically around the corner from Rockwood on Philadelphia Pike in Bellefonte—doesn’t intend to settle for second best. Members of the Meloro family began making plans for the competition in April, says Alex Meloro, co-owner of the business.
But ice cream lovers will have to wait until the festival to see what they’ve got in mind. “It’s a top family secret,” Alex says. “Mama Meloro will kick my butt if I let out any secrets, and she’ll have a few choice words for me in Italian.”
Last year’s entry, “Rockwood Crown Vic Bacon Sundae,” featuring bacon chips over vanilla ice cream, was created as a tribute to law-enforcement officers, displayed in a pig-shaped bowl mounted atop a model of a Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser.
Ted Brackin, owner of Sweet Lucy’s Ice Cream and Treats on Concord Pike, which placed third last year, is every bit as secretive as Meloro when it comes to discussing this year’s entry. “You know that old saying, ‘I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you,’” he says. “This is serious business, and I can’t let the cat out of the bag.”
Last year Brackin and his family created “Banana Daydreamin’ Sundae,” with salted caramel ice cream over a waffle hammock, topped with bourbon caramel sauce, whipped cream, salted peanuts and a cherry. “We spent two weeks working on it. My kids had fresh bananas foster every night leading up to the event,” he says.
This year’s competition also will feature entries by some highly touted newcomers. The dozen entrants include up-and-coming Philadelphia favorite Little Baby’s Ice Cream, West Chester-based iSwich Gourmet, and a brand associated with an iconic Pennsylvania brewery, Yuengling’s Ice Cream.
Little Baby’s, founded in 2011 by a trio of musicians, started with a single custom-built ice cream tricycle and now has four tricycles, a pair of shops in Philadelphia, and pints for sale at selected retailers in the region, co-owner Pete Angevine says.
Little Baby’s offers both a traditional ice cream and a non-dairy product made from coconut cream. It specializes in “surprising or unusual flavor combinations you can’t find anywhere else.”
Two examples: Earl Grey Sriracha, a blend of the traditional black English breakfast tea with southeast Asian hot sauce, and Everything Bagels, featuring bagel chunks frozen inside ice cream blended with poppy seeds, sesame seeds and garlic salt. “If you close your eyes, you kind of feel like you have a bagel and cream cheese in your mouth,” Angevine says.
iSwich, run by north Wilmington resident Angie O’Brien, is in its second year. She started the business after creating a variety of flavored ice cream sandwich desserts for the gourmet club that she and her husband joined more than 20 years ago.
All-natural and locally sourced, iSwich creations are made without any preservatives, O’Brien says. “We’re doing artisan ice cream. We consider ice cream to be works of art.”
She plans to serve at least six varieties of sandwiches at Rockwood: chocolate pretzel with salted caramel; bananas Foster; blueberry lemon; chocolate almond coconut; raspberry chocolate, and fresh mint dark chocolate.
At the Yuengling truck, it’s OK to ask whether there’s beer in the ice cream, but the answer is no, says spokeswoman Nicole Lasorda (her grandfather’s cousin is Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers).
The Yuengling family got into the ice cream business during Prohibition, when it opened a dairy to supplement the limited revenues derived from production of near-beer. The dairy ran independently from 1935 until 1985, when family members were no longer interested in carrying on the business.
Two years ago, David Yuengling, son of the company’s former owner, decided to revive the business, and ice cream production resumed in early 2014, Lasorda says.
The top-selling flavor, Lasorda says, is “black and tan, a name that comes from our cousins’ popular beer.” It features Belgian chocolate ice cream swirled with chocolate caramel ice cream, she says. Yuengling will bring some fresh flavors for sampling at Rockwood, most likely caramel popcorn, orange creamsicle, salted caramel and chocolate caramel.
Other ice cream vendors expected at the festival include Punk’d Pineapple, a soft-serve specialty shop from Kennett Square that offers vegan and lactose-free options; Tocumbo, featuring fruity ice cream and frozen yogurt flavors with a Mexican twist; Battiato Farms, a strawberry milk shake specialist; Kilby Cream, a popular destination in Rising Sun, Md.; Caffe Gelato, the well-known Newark dining spot; and Hy-Point Farms, a fourth-generation ice cream manufacturer and distributor in Brandywine Hundred.
In addition to the ice cream, festival visitors can choose from 15 food vendors, offering wings, crab cakes, seafood, kielbasa, Mexican and Cajun specialties, BBQ ribs, pulled pork and much more.
There will be live music both days on two stages (one for children, the other for adults). Jugglers, magicians, dance troupes, martial arts programs, animal shows and other performers will entertain throughout the day.
Gordon is confident this year’s festival will provide more of the good times visitors have come to expect. “The national publicity we received last year, thanks to Barry’s Events, simply drew attention to what we already knew in New Castle County, that you don’t have to go to the beach in the summer to have a good time.”
If You Go
The New Castle County Ice Cream Festival at Rockwood will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 27, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 28. Admission is $5; children under 12 and accompanied by an adult are admitted free.
Festival visitors should park at Merchants Square, 4300 Governor Printz Blvd.; Mount Pleasant High School, 5201 Washington St. Extension; or Rockwood Office Park, 503 Carr Rd. Free shuttle buses will run from those locations all day.