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For The Love Of Chowder – 2019 Edition

October 15, 2019 2 comments

Last Sunday, purveyors of the humble soup, also known as Chowder, assembled at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, for the 12th annual festival, the Chowdafest. 29 restaurants, mostly from New England, with a notable exception of Pike’s Place restaurant out of Seattle, Washington, competed in 4 categories (New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian) – and a few thousand (“a few” here might be 2, 3, 5 – the last number I heard was 12) of people came to have a good time, and to help to identify the best chowders.

My empty ballot held in place by muffin pans – an essential tool of chowder lover at Chowdafest

Before I will inundate you with pictures, as usual, let me give you my brief personal take on the event.

For the good part, there were plenty of tasty soups to go around, and an absolute majority of the soups I tasted were quite good. There were also lots of tasty giveaways, with Natalie’s All Natural Juices as my personal favorite.

For the not so good part, the event felt really, really crowded. This was my 5th Chowdafest, and all previous years I was able to visit the absolute majority of the stands within about 2 hours. This time around, I simply gave up at some point, as the lines were just unsurmountable. I believe there were two reasons for that – first, the weather was so-so, and people didn’t have much else to do on that Sunday. Second, and more important – there was lesser number of participants in the competition, thus even the same amount of people as usual had to line up to the fewer number of stands – this year, there were 29 restaurants competing versus 37 last year, and 40 in the two years prior. My last gripe would be with scarcely decorated stands – in the prior years, there were a lot more seasonal decorations seen everywhere – this year, the decorations were quite limited.

There was a good number of vegetarian soups presented, such as Gazpacho from Rory’s in Darien. Cast Iron Soup from the Cast Iron House in New Haven rightfully won this category as it was one of the very best soups in the competition.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder from the Ribbon Cafe was one of the most creative at the Chowdafest 2019, served with a cheese wonton:

As always, the Chowdafest went way beyond just the soup – Michelle’s Pies were an excellent addition, and as I mentioned, Natalie’s Natural Juices (Beet Orange was my personal favorite) were an excellent thirst quencher.

There were also some very creative tasting approaches at the Chowdafest, such as this one:

Here you can see a glimpse of the prizes, all made by the local artist, Wendy Marciano:

Let’s talk about the winners. For the 5th year in the row, Pike’s Place out of Seattle took the 1st place in the New England Clam Chowder category. Also for the 5th year in the row, Our House Bistro from Winooski, VT took the Creative Chowder category with its Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder. Gates from New Cannan, CT won Soup/Bisque category with its Crab & Roasted Corn Bisque, and Old Post Tavern/Cast Iron Chop House from New Haven, CT won Vegetarian category with its Cast Iron Soup. You can find all the results here.

I have to say that I’m convinced that Pike’s Place wins the competition not just because they make the best soup (in my opinion, they are not), but because they also provide the best service. While this was one of the most coveted participants, Pike’s Place stand was practically the only one without a line – they were very efficient in pouring out and simply carrying around their chowder on the large trays, so it was easy for everyone to try it without the need to stand in the long line.

I guess that’s all I wanted to share with you. Before we part, I will show you my ballot which is shamefully incomplete, but this is the best I could do:

I’m already looking forward to the Chowdafest 2020 – I hope it will be the best and the tastiest and maybe not as crowded as the one this year.

Wednesday Meritage – Festivals Galore

June 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

It seems that June is everyone’s favorite month for wine and food events. I guess it makes sense – the schools and colleges just finishing the year, the weather is generally great, and the vacation season didn’t fully start yet – so all the event organizers are trying to pack as much as they can into that one month. No matter what the reason – the end result is an abundance of choice when it comes to the different events focused on food and wine lovers.

I wanted to share with you three of the events which look interesting. Two of the events fall on the same weekend, so you will have to make some decisions, but having a choice is better than having none, right?

Let’s start with the event which will be taking place around the country – a Black Truffle Festival 2019. Who doesn’t like truffles? Well, actually, I know some people who don’t, but outside of those few, the majority is easily excited at the prospect of having a dish – pasta, risotto, steak – all covered with generous shavings of black truffles and exuding the aroma which alone makes you hungry. From June 14th until June 23rd, top chefs in New York, Miami, and San Francisco will help you celebrate the prized mushroom. By the way, until I started working on this post, I had no idea that truffles can also come from Australia – it appears that truffles are not limited to Piedmont only. See, I already learned something – check the information at the link above to see how you might enjoy some pungent beauty.

June 22nd, which falls on Saturday this year, is known as Summer Solstice – the day with the longest duration of the daytime and shortest night. The summer solstice is an important day in the biodynamic viticulture, where the sun’s cycle plays a key role in the whole program. Thus it is only appropriate that Summer Solstice 2019 will be celebrated with the Natural Wines Festival. Hosted at the Burnt Hill Farm in Maryland, the Natural Wine festival will have 25 wineries from Maryland, Virginia and DC pouring more than 100 wines – of course, the food, art, and music will be a part of the festivities as well. For more information and tickets, please click here.

Now, you can follow that Summer Solstice celebration with more wine the very next day. On Sunday, June 23rd, wines from the Côtes du Rhône region in France, which includes Côtes du Rhône Villages, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, Rasteau, Saint-Joseph, Condrieu, and Cornas will take over Manhattan. Okay, this might be an exaggeration, but still, Côtes du Rhône Wine Festival will take place right in the middle of Manhattan. The festival consists of both press/trade portion, and consumer portion. In addition to all the wines, the festival (expectedly!) will offer food, music and lots more. For more information and tickets, please click here.

That’s all I have for you for today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

For The Love of Chowder – 2017, 10th Anniversary Edition

October 6, 2017 3 comments

Last Sunday, October 1st, we had fun. Too-much-of-a-good-food, coma-inducing fun. The 10th Annual Chowdafest was on – the biggest and the busiest of them all (well, maybe not “all”, as I attended only last 3 – but for sure the busiest of the 3).

When I saw traffic slowing down on I-95 about two miles away from our exit, I jokingly said to my wife “see, they are all coming to the Chowdafest”. As we kept driving slower and slower, eventually pretty much succumbing to a complete halt, the smile disappeared from my face. The joke was on me, as yes, this was the traffic getting into the exit of the Sherwood Island Park, and it was moving really, really slow.

Chowdafest 2017All the fears of looking for parking for a long time quickly disappeared once we managed to actually enter the park, and then to find the parking within a minute. A quick walk, getting your hand stamped and – hello, chowder!

What can I tell you about Chowdafest 2017, outside of the fact that it was a great fun? The format was somewhat the same as the last 2 years I attended – there were again 40 restaurants, competing for the “best” title. In addition to 4 of the staples – Classic New England, Traditional (Rhode Island and Manhattan), Creative and Soup/Bisque, the new category for added for the Vegetarian Chowder. Everybody had a ballot and a pencil and were rating chowders on the scale from 7 to 10.5. The ballots were processed right at the event (I saw that magic for the first time – there are few pictures for you down below), and the winners were announced two days after the event – you can see the names of the winning restaurants here.

Unlike last year, the weather was amazing. And I guess the weather, coupled with a great promotion and the 10th Anniversary nature of the event, really drove a lot of people over. Some of the lines required 10+ minutes waiting, but I really can’t complain, as everything was flowing very efficiently. Here it is, the weather and the people:

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

What a day!

Chowdafest 2017

Chowdafest 2017

You can’t ask for a better weather

Chowdafest 2017

Beautiful day, isn’t it?

Overall, everything offered was very solid – of course, some were better than the others, but the level was quite high – I only had 4 soups rated at 7, and 3 out of those 4 had a burned flavor. Many soups were really, really delicious. in addition to all the chowders, there were lots of other food offered for tasting – potato chips, cheeses, sodas, iced teas, juices, ice cream – there was definitely something for everyone. Here are my notes – in pictures, of course:

These are some of my favorite decorations:

Chowdafest 2017

Pouring chowder requires focus!

Chowdafest 2017

… and smile

Chowdafest 2017Now, some of my absolute favorites:

Our House Bistro from Winooski, VT – all those condiments, super-tasty:

Truffle mushroom bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT and traditional chowder from Two-fifty Market in Portsmouth, NH:

Here are the winners in the traditional category – Pike’s Place from Seattle, WA:

Last but not least, may be the biggest surprise of the day – vegetarian Smoked Corn & Squash Chowder from Harvest Wine Bar in Westport, CT:

Here you can see all the results getting tallied in the real time by the folks from Blum Shapiro:

Here you can see my vote (yep, with a few stains on it):

Chowdafest 2017 Final VoteComparing my thoughts with public opinion, I’m very happy to see Our House Bistro winning Creative Chowder category with Fried Seafood & Sweet Potato Chowder, and with Old Post Tavern taking top spot in the Vegetarian category with Truffle Mushroom Bisque and Harvest Wine Bar taking second place in the same category with Smoked Corn & Squash Chowder.

I can also get on board with B.R.Y.A.C taking the second spot in Classic New England Chowder category, but Pike’s Place winning that category for the 3rd year in the row simply baffles me – their chowder was overdone – super round and super creamy, it lacked the real burst of flavor of the classic New England clam chowder which both B.R.Y.A.C and Two-Fifty Market had perfectly visible. My only theory is that people get intimidated with all the medals at the Pike’s Place stand, and simply don’t want to be wrong when they think that so many people were right before.

Anyway, this one is done and we can already start thinking (and drooling) about Chowdafest 2018 – I know it is early, but still, mark your calendars for Sunday, September 30th, and see you there!

For The Love of Chowder – October 1, 2017 – Be There Or Else

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

chowdafest logoSo the time has come to put your chowder face on … wait, is there such thing as a “chowder face”? I know there is a “game face” and a “poker face”, but “chowder face”? Okay, don’t want to make it too complicated – if you like chowder, then happy face with an ear to ear smile is all you need, as 10th annual ChowdaFest is coming up in mere 3 weeks!

On Sunday, October 1st, starting at 11 AM, at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, 40 restaurants (click for the list) will compete for YOUR vote to become Chowda Champions! I attended two of the past competitions, in 2015 and 2016, and I can tell you from the experience – you don’t want to miss this event. Chowdafest is an incredible amount of fun, good time and good food.

This year, the participants will compete in 5 categories:

  • Classic New England Clam Chowder
  • Traditional Chowder (Rhode Island and Manhattan)
  • Creative Chowder
  • Soup/Bisque (think Lobster Bisque)
  • Vegetarian (new category for 2017!)

2017 Chowdafest will go way beyond Chowder – you will also be able to sample artisan bread and sauces, salsas and chips, farm fresh ice cream, yogurts, cheeses, and lots more.

Just to give you an idea of what was happening in the past years, here is a brief summary:

Chowdafest collage

Everybody get a spoon, a pencil, and a voting chart – you can rate all the chowders on the scale from 7.0 to 10.5, and the best restaurant in each category will be tallied up shortly after the event will end. In case you are curiuous, here you can find the list of the past winners of the Chowdafest.

That’s all I wanted to tell you, my friends. Mark your calendars, cancel whatever non-essentiall activities you had for that day, and just be there, with your family and friends, briging a good appetite and the desire to have fun. You can get your tickets on the Chowdafest website – the link is here for your convenience (note that AAA members get a good discount).

For the love of Chowder – cheers!

Taste of Stamford 2016

March 3, 2016 2 comments

Chamber of CommerceCity of Stamford (that is in Connecticut, not in England) sports vibrant “wining and dining” scene, with more than 300 restaurants (321, according to TripAdvisor – not bad for a city of about 126,000). City of Stamford also is well known for its business culture and as one of the biggest financial hubs outside of New York city, with Stamford Chamber of Commerce always hard at work to have all the businesses and people well connected. To showcase the love of good tasty food and wines, Chamber of Commerce organizes annual event called Taste of Stamford, which brings together purveyors of the fine food and willing patrons of the same, now in 23rd reincarnation.

I had a pleasure of attending the Taste of Stamford event, which took place last Thursday, and sample offerings of many Stamford’s fine restaurants. Even as portions were perfectly sized, it was literally impossible to taste everything – yes, “too much of a good thing” is real. I tried my best, but yes, failed. There were also good number of wines, beers and even some scotch – I limited myself to the wine only, and there were few nice discoveries there. So what I have for you here is [a very long] collection of pictures from the event – yes, most of them are about food, so if you are hungry, proceed at your own risk.

I also want to share an interesting observation – it seems that Southern Cuisine is a king (a queen?) in Stamford – the amount of pulled pork and grits in various reincarnations coming from many different restaurants was staggering – not something you would see even 5 years ago. Or may be pulled pork is the easiest tasty dish to make in the mass quantities – don’t know, but this is an interesting fact any way you want to look at it.

In no particular order, here are some of my highlights from the Taste of Stamford 2016 event:

Brown Dog Fancy Mustards – a very interesting collection of mustard, available in the number of locations in Stamford or over mail order ( free shipping). Horseradish was good, and Honey Dijon was particularly distinct, with expressive taste of honey clearly coming through.

Amore Cucina & Bar – tasty pork belly with polenta:

Sign of the Whale – were serving tasty Ahi Tuna Tacos and oyster shooters:

Judy’s Bar & Kitchen – very tasty pulled pork and Mac’n’Cheese:

David’s Soundview Catering – shrimp and grits, pulled pork and grits – delicious!

The Capital Grille – serving their famous Lobster Mac’n’Cheese and Kona crusted Filet Mignon (tasty!!):

Franklin Street Works offered a nice selection of the bite size appetizers:

Kona Grill – tasty sushi rolls, excellent presentation:

Columbus Park Trattoria – Italian all the way!

Olio Restaurant, Cantina Southwest Grill & Tequila Bar and Tawa all had tasty dishes (curry chicken from Tawa was spectacular):

One of the biggest surprises for me was the display from the local chain of supermarkets, ShopRite. We like ShopRite bakery very much, this is where we get most of the birthday cakes for various family occasions. It appears that ShopRite also offers great selection of the party platters. And the sushi which they were making right there at the event were outstanding:

BevMax, one of the biggest wine stores in Stamford, provided most of the wines at the event. I tasted a number of wines, and most of them were quite good. There were a few of Cabernet Sauvignon wines presented at the event – 2014 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, 2013 Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and 2014 Iron Side Cabernet Sauvignon California – all very tasty, with good classic profile. My favorite wine was 2013 Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Limited Edition California, “A dark red blend inspired by the field blends made popular during Prohibition.” – while powerfully boasting 15% ABV, the wine was smooth, polished and perfectly balanced.

And last but not least – dessert! Di Mare Pastry Shop stand had Cannoli 10 ways (okay, may be not 10, but lots of them in any case), and lots of other pastries – if you like cannoli, this was a cannoli paradise:

That is all I have for you, my friends – definitely was one tasty evening. Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder

October 13, 2015 19 comments
Definition of “Chowder” according to Google:
chow·der
ˈCHoudər/
noun
noun: chowder; plural noun: chowders
  1. a rich soup typically containing fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions

Cup of chowder, anyone? As I happen to live in the area of the United States called New England, the soup, most often known as New England Clam Chowder, can be seen on the menu of many restaurants. In most of the cases, it is called Clam Chowder, as it contains clams; two most popular versions are called New England Clam Chowder (milk/heavy cream based) and Manhattan Clam Chowder (red tomato based).

As Chowder is a type of soup, the question might be “what makes Chowder different from the Soup”. This is why I started this blog post with the definition of Chowder, which is a very good one. I would, however, make one small improvement, based on this interesting article – the chowder should have small chunks of [clams, vegetables, etc], which would perfectly distinguish it from the “cream of” soups , such as Cream of Asparagus, for instance. So the better definition of Chowder can be “a rich soup typically containing small chunks of fish, clams, or corn with potatoes and onions”.

Blue skies at the Chowder Fest

Anyway, why all of a sudden studious exercise in the “science” of soups? On Sunday, I attended 7th annual Chowder Festival, which took place at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. It was really a Chowder deep immersion – 39 competitors from 12 different states brought their best Chowder offerings to be sampled during 4 hours. There were lots of other things to try – juices, Dunkin Donuts munchkins, Cabot cheese, The Farmer’s Cow ice cream – in the other words, lots of fun for all ages.

The competition was conducted in 4 different categories – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowder, Creative Chowder and Soup/Bisque. Focusing just on clam chowders, it appears that there are 4 of them (surprised?). The Classic New England is the chowder which is white in color because of the use of heavy cream or milk. Traditional Chowder includes two different types – Manhattan, which is tomato based, and Rhode Island, which is “clear”.  Rhode Island clam chowder is something I discovered earlier this year for the first time – it simply looks like a thick, rich soup with clams etc, but without milk or tomatoes. At the Chowder Fest I learned that there is a newly popular style – Long Island Clam Chowder, which also can be called “half and half” – it is a mix of Traditional New England with Manhattan. There was one chowder of that type at the festival, served by Parallel Post from Trumbull, Connecticut – it was very tasty.

As I mentioned, 39 chowders and soups were presented at the competition. I didn’t try all 39 (wonder if someone did), but I did try at least 30. Just to explain how competition works: as you enter through the gates, you are given a ballot and a pencil. The ballot contains the list of all the chowders present at the festival – as you taste, if you happen to like the chowder, you give it a rating from 7 up to 10. The ballots are tabulated later on, and voila – the champion and two runner ups are declared in each category.

ChowderFest Ballot

[bad] picture of my ballot

It seems that Festival’s organization is quite efficient – the winners are already announced, right on the next day. Care to guess from what state was the winner of the Chowder Fest 2015 in the Traditional New England Chowder category? Pike Place from (drum roll, please) Seattle, Washington. This was not the first time they are crowned as “Chowder Champions”  – their whole counter was covered with the 1st place medals:

I tasted Pike Place chowder and it was one of my top favorites, with “just enough” of everything – I’m glad to see that this was crowd’s opinion too. If you are interested, here you can find the list of all winners, current and the past.

I’m glad that I was able to attend the event – learned something new and tasted lots of delicious chowders. I plan to make it my annual tradition from now on – and may be you should join too? I have to finish with the question though – do you like clam chowder? If you do, what is your favorite style? Don’t be shy here… Cheers!

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