The Wing King Gains a Pizza Prince

""“There’s also pizza! Beginning this year, there’ll be a new royal in town, the Prince of Pizza — provided, of course, this sixth-annual fundraising event can draw out more purveyors of sauce and dough to compete. “It’s a concept we thought we’d try out,” says Francine Johannesen, executive director of the hosting Marion County Building Industry Association.And that week is now; the annual King of the Wing, with its new subtitle “& Prince of Pizza,” begins at 5 p.m. Feb. 23 at the 2800 SE Maricamp Road grounds of ARC Marion, a beneficiary of this growing event.

Last year’s turnout was about 550; this year Johannesen expects about 600; possibly there could be more now that Taste of Ocala this year has pretty much priced itself out of the reach of many area foodies not disposed to “black tie optional” soirees. Besides, pizza and wings just seem to go together, Johannesen says — like pizza and beer or wings and beer . . . or pizza AND wings and beer. Think Super Bowl.


The answer, it seems, will be up to those who shell out $20 in advance — through Monday — or $15 for ages 5 to 12. It’s $25 per adult at the door. Admission covers all of the all-you-can-eat event.

At this moment, there are at least nine area eateries vying for the wing crown. And they’ll be offering their best in hopes that everyone showing up likes them best. Winners get a trophy, a plastic crown, but mostly bragging rights.

Most of the categories, including epitome King of the Wing and the new Prince of Pizza titles, will be decided by popular vote tabulated by the good folks at the Division of Elections.

There still will be some judged categories, and in the interest of full disclosure, for the third straight year I’ll be on the judges’ panel.

But what the judges WON’T have to endure again this year is the dreaded “hottest wing” category. I suspect Johannesen and her organizing crew don’t want to risk serious impairment or vocal maiming of any/all the judges with this category ever again.

Hopefully, the Chili Cook-Off folks are listening!

Because some competitors have discovered chili seasonings with Scoville ratings — that’s the scale for rating the damage inflicted by chili peppers — in the million-plus stratosphere. We’re talking instant blindness, temporary paralysis, the lungs seizing up, dogs and cats sleeping together …

And they’re actually putting this near-nuclear-tinged stuff into their wing seasoning and expecting us to eat it! There’s not a lot that I consider demonic, but this is one.

I made the mistake last year of accidentally touching my right eye before I could thoroughly wash my hands after only the briefest contact with the hottest wing entry from Mojo. The eye’s just now regaining full use.

Exactly how this particular category will be judged wasn’t finalized as of this writing, but I say have a good time with it. Let volunteers from the patronage who think they have cast-iron gullets — you know who you are! — gobble down one or two of these things. The last one still able to speak gets to decide the hottest.

It’s all in fun and for a good cause, as it helps the developmentally disabled individuals who receive services at ARC Marion.

“We try to keep this simple,” Johannesen says. “You can come by here, have a good time, eat some wings and pizza, and go home and still spend the evening with your family.”

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The Bear returns Monday

Fans of the Hungry Bear Drive-In at 420 SE Osceola Ave., just a bit south of downtown, need not fret much longer.

The Bear is back, and is expected to re-open Monday under new owner. Current owner Angela Kleine closed the iconic drive-up eatery a week ago because her family is moving out of the area.

“But I’m happy to report that it will re-open as the Hungry Bear serving all the same things,” she said Tuesday afternoon — shortly after accepting one of several purchase offers.

The small brick take-away-only diner dates back to the 1970s, Kleine said. Her mother, Gladys Bates, worked there from Day One, buying it herself in 1982. Bates ran the Bear until her death in 2009, when Kleine took over.

But with her son undergoing treatment for a pediatric cancer since 2010, it’s been difficult to keep it running. Recently, her husband, Kevin, received an employment offer in Colorado — “something we couldn’t turn down.”

Closing Hungry Bear was difficult, but now “it’s kind of nice to feel like we’re getting fresh air,” Kleine said. “I’m excited more than anything because this literally was my mom’s life. And I’m glad it will continue on.”

Rick Allen can be reached at