FELLSMERE — Tucked in the basement of the Old Fellsmere School, a small assembly line of frying fiends has formed, dishing up plate after plate of frog legs and gator tail.
“Two dinners please and a tail!” shouts Emily Waickowski, who stands at the ready by the serving window. “Three tails please!”
No matter how busy or chaotic the kitchen scene, her orders are served with a please.
The members of the kitchen team work with precision. Grab the Styrofoam box, grab a mess of frog legs or gator, set it on the scale, move it along to be loaded up with coleslaw, grits and hush puppies, then out the window it goes.
“Two tails!” festival founder and head chef Fran Adams barks. “Let’s go! Pick up the pace there.”
Outside the kitchen, Adams takes a couple breaths of fresh air and cools off from the pent up heat from the fryers.
“We’ve been doing this now for 19 years and we almost got it down pat,” she said.
The gator tails being served up at this year’s festival are “some of the prettiest meat” in years, Adams said.
The tail meat comes from wild gators that were harvested during season, she explained.
This year’s crop of frogs to be served up at the festival hail from Thailand and are some of the best, according to Adams.
“They’re Arnold Schwarzenegger frogs,” she said, explaining that they’re larger and sweeter than ones they have had at the festival.
When the Frog Leg Festival first started, organizers would hunt wild frogs in the Stick Marsh and other local outlets. However, the hunger for frog legs has grown so much that organizers have since begun scouting worldwide for frogs so as to not impact the local frog industry or population, Adams said.
The kitchen staff is prepared to serve up an estimated 6,000 dinners — most of which are expected to be fried up Saturday at a rate of a dinner every three seconds.
Vero Beach residents Denny and Jan Newton attended the Frog Leg Festival for the first time on Thursday and each ordered the combo dinner of frog legs and gator tail.
“It’s quite good,” Jan said. “I personally like the frog legs” better than the gator.
“They’re both good,” Denny said, adding that he has had frog legs before.
He disagrees with those who say frog legs taste just like chicken.
“That’s not the truth,” he said. “It tastes more like crab. It’s very good.”