Three years ago former Dolphins linebacker John Offerdahl launched his unique food, wine and tailgate festival to raise money for the fight against hunger among children in South Florida. Each year the event has gotten and bigger and better, with perfect weather and an energetic crowd (and host) turning the Pompano Beach Amphitheater into a huge family backyard Bar-B-Q.
“This is the vision I have, right here,” Offerdahl said. “And as more people understand this and come and engage the event I think it’s something that really should grow into a bigger tailgate where there’s 25,000 people instead of 2,500. We were blessed with unbelievable weather and I just loved the attitude, as it was not so busy to where you had to wait in line. The food was high quality and everybody that I was around was smiling.”
Clearly the two people with the biggest smiles were former Dolphins running back Troy Stradford and former Dolphins safety Louis Oliver as they took home the cherished hardware that comes with winning the Grill-OFF. This was the first year that two trophies were awarded, one based on fan voting via text and the other based on the final critique of an expert panel of judges.
Stradford won the Critic’s Choice Award for his Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps, dreamed up by Chef Greg McGowan of Pelican Landing at Pier 66, and Oliver captured the People’s Choice Award for the third year in a row. He teamed up with Chef David Hackett of Hollywood Prime, who whipped his HP’s Surf & Turf, an original combination of large sea scallops, New York strip steaks and prosciutto.
“I’ve got to give Louis Oliver credit. Louis Oliver has an incredible social network that he ties into that kind of enhances what he does, although his food was excellent,” Stradford said. “But I could truly tell that we were the supreme dish in this courtyard today. Our food was excellent and Chef McGowan was just outstanding.”
Mark Duper and Chef Oliver Saucy of Darrel & Oliver’s Café Maxx finished second with their “Super” Duper’s Skirt Steak. They were followed by Dick Anderson and Chef Hector Lopez of The Grateful Palate Restaurant & Wine Bar and their Anderson’s Grilled Lobster Roll, Jeff Cross and Chef Stanton Bundy of The Royal Pig and their Cross’ Mahi Mahi Tacos and Mercury Morris and Chef Fred Gushue of The Grill at Calvary Chapel with their Mercury’s Miraculous BBQ Swordfish. Oliver and Hackett finished sixth in the Critic’s Choice.
Fans were drawn into a world of taste, smell and fun from the moment they walked through the gates as the maze of grilling tents started with Dave Shula, son of Hall-of-Fame coach Don Shula, and Chef Jonathan Torres of Shula’s on the Beach at the Westin Beach Resort. Their Shula’s Tenderloin Tips & Wild Mushrooms put you in the proper frame of mind for the rest of the afternoon, and if you were not a wine drinker the Bud Light beer truck was there to quench your thirst as well as a Coca-Cola tent for those preferring non-alcohol drinks.
Of course, a proper tailgate is not complete without a game of Cornhole, which also is known as Bean Bag, Corn Toss, Bean Toss, Soft Horseshoes or Indiana Horseshoes. There was an open cornhole competition that took place during the first three hours and then the top 16 competed with a celebrity partner in the Gridiron Cornhole Tournament. The first and second-place prizes included a trophy, a Weber grill, restaurant certificates and an official Gridiron Griller cornhole set. Former Dolphins defensive end Jeff Cross and his partner wound up winning the top prize, but as former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas explained, everybody on hand was a winner.
“This is just awesome and it’s John and his personality,” said Thomas, who paired up with Chef Lauren DeShields of Market 17 Farm Fresh Restaurant & Bar for his “Zach Attack” Venison Merguez. “Most charity events are bowling events or golf but nothing like this. You don’t have to put much effort into it to support it. Everybody’s here to have a good time, listen to music and eat and drink. It’s all you can eat so what more can you say?”
In addition to Thomas, Stradford, Oliver, Cross, Shula and Offerdahl, the other big names participating were Hall-of-Famers Larry Little and Dwight Stephenson, Dick Anderson, Kim Bokamper, Bob Brudzinski, Mercury Morris, Nat Moore, Mark Duper, Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, A.J. Duhe, Keith Sims, Bob Kuechenberg, Don McNeal and Jim “Crash” Jensen.
From the live music to the trash talking at the cornhole stadium, the one thing that was never lost was the central theme of the event – feeding the hungry children. Offerdahl reminded everyone in attendance during the opening ceremonies and again after the trophies were presented that the money raised by the sponsors and the donations in the form of ticket purchases were going to make a difference.
All of the proceeds from the Gridiron Grill-OFF benefited Offerdahl’s Hand-Off Foundation and its mission to “Feed Kids in Crisis.” The primary charity partners of the event are 4Kids of South Florida and HOPE South Florida. Over $25,000 was raised in just its third year.
“At the end of the day when you bring football and food together it’s as big as the world can get,” Offerdahl said. “And when you get the support of the Dolphins and Walgreens and some of the other sponsors that are coming along, they see it, taste it, feel it and even toss it through the cornhole. My goal is to have ESPN’s Gridiron Grill-OFF Food, Wine & Tailgate Festival on the beaches with 32 NFL teams bringing their winning chef and athlete to this event the week before every Super Bowl. It’s not hard to envision.”