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For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

Blogging is all (mostly?) about traditions, isn’t it? I’m talking about topics, things or experiences we like to write about. If you blog for a while, you have a number of posts which can be called traditional, as they cover the same subject – yearly, monthly, weekly, daily? (ouch!). For sure it works this way for me – there is a number of experiences I like to talk about on the regular basis – as those experiences take place.

One of such experiences is the Chowdafest, a fall event dedicated to the humble (or not) soup, generally known as Chowder – if you want a bit of an education on what the chowder is, I can offer you the post I wrote after attending my first Chowdafest back in 2015, which provides a few details on the different types of chowders.

The 2018 event took place at around the usual time (Sunday, September 30th), at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. Even the weather was the usual – sunny, bright and not too cold. However, the summer and early fall in New England saw an incredible amount of rain, so the grounds were unusually wet and people had to be careful walking around.

As we entered, all visitors were given a ballot and a pencil, to mark down their favorites. The back side of the ballot had a map of the event, as in addition to all the competitors, there were lots of vendors (sponsors) offering other tasty treats, so one didn’t have to survive on the chowder alone. Cabot Creamery, Harney & Sons Tea, Ocean Spray, Stop & Shop, Polar Beverages, and many others were serving Mexican and Italian food, ice cream, juice, tea, coffee, sparkling water – you had a lot of fun food options beyond chowder.

 

Same as last year, there were 5 categories were participants were competing for the title of “the best” – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. The participating restaurants this year represented states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Obviously, I’m not going to give you much of a detailed report here about all the chowders I tasted, so here are my overall impressions:

  • For the 4 years that I’m attending the event, I’m happy with the overall quality and variety. It is not boring and once I get out of the food coma at the end of the event, I’m instantly happy to think about next year’s Chowdafest.
  • The overall level of booth decorations in 2018 was less than in the previous years. Many places would just have a serving station and maybe a recipe. It takes away a bit from the “Fest[ival]” experience. Hopefully, in 2019, we can go back to more festive booth settings.
  • A few vendors run out of chowder/soup in the middle of the day. I saw one just pack up and leave, and another one saying “more soup is coming in 30 minutes” – not good for visitors, and really a bad plan for competitors – you can’t win by serving only half of the visitors.
  • I’m still puzzled how Pike’s Place from Seattle always wins the New England Clam Chowder category – I think it is a combination of service – they carry their chowder around so people don’t have to wait in line, and intimidation – they display all their trophies from the past years, and people automatically think “ahh, they must be the best with so many awards” (works the same way as multiple medal pictures on the wine bottles). To me, their chowder is not bad, but for instance, I preferred the one from 250 Market far more than Pike’s Place. Oh well, the people have spoken…
  • I’m happy that at least in one category – Vegetarian – my top choice matched the people’s choice. Truffle Mushroom Bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT was delicious, and it won the category.
  • I’m also happy that Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder from Our House Bistro in Winooski VT took the top spot in Creative Chowder category – their soups are always good, the presentation is excellent with lots of “self-serve” condiments, and the booth is always a pleasure to look at.
  • For the first time, I saw the competition trophies. At first, I didn’t understand the collection of the old ship memorabilia in a middle of the field – until the later when I saw the plaques and realized that those were actually the trophies.
  • Believe it or not, but in the Chowdafest 2018, my favorite soup was not really a chowder at all – it was a Curried Chicken Chowder from Hale & Hearty from Boston, MA – the only soup I gave the top 10.5 rating.

Here is the list of winners in the 5 categories we mentioned before (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, Vegetarian). For the more detailed list, which includes 2nd and 3rd place winners, please use this link.

Pike Place Chowder
Our House Bistro
Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill
Dunville’s
Old Post Tavern

As usual, let me leave you with a copy of my ballot – just to prove that I take the Chowdafest competition very seriously 🙂

You can already mark your calendars for Sunday, October 6th, 2019 – the 12th annual Chowdafest competition.

Before we part, you might want to check out Chowdafest’s sister event – the Great Mac & Chili Challenge, taking place this Sunday, November 4th at 11 AM at the same Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT. The weather should be great! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage: Chowdafest, Champagne in Space, WBC18, Losing the Donuts and more

September 26, 2018 1 comment

Meritage Time!

I have a lot of interesting tidbits for you, so let’s get going.

Clam ChowderFirst and foremost, the Chowdafest. Now in its 11th year, one of my all-time favorite fun culinary events keep on going strong. Same as the last year, 40 culinary teams (restaurants, catering, etc) will compete in 5 categories (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian). Even the lobster chowder is expected to be present this year. As usual, the guests will be sampling and judging. To put things in perspective, 40 of 1 oz samples make it for 40 oz of chowder – that is 2.5 lb of chowder combined! I don’t know how you see it, but this is a lot of chowder! Oh well, if you are anywhere within a few hours drive, the event is well worth it, so see you there!

Next one might be an old news for many (for sure my kids are already all over it) – the famed Dunkin’ Donuts is going to lose the donuts! Not to worry, only in its name. As it seems to be popular nowadays, the iconic chain which had been around since 1948, is going to change its name to just Dunkin’ – as my kids said, this is how everybody calls it anyway, so no big deal. I hope this renaming will be more successful compared to the recent failure of the IHOP->IHOB->IHOP attempt – and it most likely will. You can find more details about renaming at the Dunkin’s (can we already call them like that?) website.

The next subject I want to touch on is something I would typically include into my April 1st posts – but today is not April 1st, so this is actually not a joke and not a prank. It seems that in only a couple of years, anyone who has a spare $10M or so will be able to book their hotel room in … yes, space. It is obvious that such a unique achievement have to be properly celebrated – and what else says “celebration” if not a glass of Champagne? Challenge is that it is hard to pour a glass of revered bubbly in space – but have no fear, Champagne house of Mumm set out to solve the problems by teaming up with the designer Octave de Gaulle. The problem will be solved by creating a special two-chamber bottle which will create a foam out of Champagne, which will then return to its traditional bubbly state directly in the consumer’s mouth. For more details, please see the original article here (thanks to my friend Emil for bringing this to my attention).

Now, let’s talk about numbers – can you not like talking about numbers? When we hear numbers, we think we are in the know – if we can measure something, we are now in control, right? Okay, these are obviously wine-related numbers (you didn’t expect me to talk about Prius production here, didn’t you?) – and they relate to the wine consumption in different states in the USA. Well, not even wine – the alcohol consumption overall. VinePair just published a ranking of all 50 states in terms of the alcohol consumption per capita. Want to guess which state leads the pack? I will give you a moment to ponder at it. Ready? If you said New Hampshire, you won! Wait, I don’t have any prizes here. Well, pat yourself on the back, will you? New Hampshire is leading in terms of alcohol consumption in the USA, with 4.76 gallons per capita per year. Washington, DC is second, with 3.85, followed by Delaware at 3.72. At the bottom of the table is state of Utah (I’m sure we could predict that), with 1.34 gallons per capita. When it comes to numbers, I always remember the old adage of “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics” – I have no idea where all these numbers came from – for example, if most of my wines come directly from the wineries through the mailing lists, is that accounted for? Anyway, the numbers are always fun, so for the full report, please follow this link.

Last one for today, and it is not even really the news. The Wine Bloggers Conference of 2018 (WBC18 for short) will start in a mere week, on October 4th, in Walla Walla, Washington. I will be attending WBC18 (I know a lot of bloggers can’t make it, unfortunately), so if you are reading this and will be attending the conference, please find me and say “hi”. The state of Washington makes amazing wines, and Walla Walla is on the forefront of producing those amazing wines, so I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing the wines and meeting all the wine people next week.

And we are done here, my friends. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the 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!

For the Love of Chowder – 2016 Edition

October 9, 2016 10 comments

Last Sunday I had a pleasure of attending the New England Chowdafest 2016 event at Sherwood Island Park in Westport, Connecticut. The weather forecast was really “meh”, and we had an event to attend in the evening, but remembering a successful 2015 experience, I was determined – the weather will not stop me from sampling 40 delicious chowders (and lots more), no way.

While the weather was not great, it was not terrible either – grey sky but no rain was good enough to walk around for 2 hours trying all the different chowders, soups and lots more (ice cream, cheese, or Bigelow teas). Similar to the last year, all attendees were given a spoon, a ballot with the names of all participating restaurants and asked to rate what they taste on the scale from 7 to 10.5 (0.5 increments). Juggling soup cups, pencils and the charts was somewhat challenging, but it didn’t stop anyone from voting.

This year I was a bit smarter and remembered to take a decent picture of the ballot before I placed it in the box – have to say that someone else thought of it before me, as this course of action was suggested on the ballot itself (“take a picture before depositing this ballot in the box”) so people would be able to compare their own vote with the official results.

Few fun facts about the event (taken from the summary event sent out by organizers). During 4 hours of the event:

  • Over 2,000 gallons of chowder, soup and bisque were sampled (I believe it would translate to more than 100,000 samples given)
  • Over 3,000 ice cream cones were scooped by The Farmer’s Cow and almost 30 gallons of their farm fresh chocolate and whole milk was sampled

All these numbers easily translate into the main takeaway – lots of fun at the event.

Obviously, I didn’t try to write down tasting notes, just taste, rate and move on to the next. To give you an idea about happenings at the event, let me share you with you the results of the competition, as well as the picture report from the event. In the pictures, you will see my ballot so you can compare my votes with the official results. There were a number of very tasty chowders, but to be entirely honest, my favorite soup was the cream of mushroom with black truffles – the only soup I gave the 10.5 rating. I also have to mention a number of different chowders presented by the Stop’n’Shop, local supermarket chain – as the sponsors, they couldn’t compete, but their soups were simply delicious, I’m sure they would do great if they would actually enter the competition.

Same as the last year, Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington won in the category of New England Clam Chowder. Was it really the best chowder? I don’t think so, I think people were simply intimidated by the huge medal display put out by Pike’s Place. Their chowder was good – but put out for the blind taste, I don’t think it would do equally well. Anyway, New England restaurants should prepare better for the next competition which is already announced for October 1, 2017.

Here are the results:

Classic New England Clam Chowder:
1st: Pike Place Chowder – Seattle WA
2nd: 250 Market – Portsmouth NH
3rd; Take Five Cookery – Hartford CT

Traditional Clam Chowder:
1st: Donahue’s Clam Castle (Rhode Island) – Madison CT
2nd: Dunville’s (Manhattan) – Westport CT
3rd: TIE!
Chef’s Table (Rhode Island) – Fairfield CT
Parallel Post (Manhattan) – Trumbull CT

Creative Chowder:
1st: Our House Bistro – Winooski VT
2nd: Gaffney’s – Saratoga Springs NY
3rd: Smithsonian Cafe & Chowder House – North Hampton MA

Soup/Bisque:
1st: Crab Shell – Stamford CT
2nd: Old Post Tavern – Fairfield CT
3rd: Sam’s American Bistro – Stamford CT

Congratulations to all the winners!

Now I will leave you with pictures (lots of them!) from the event. And next year, make sure to add it to your busy schedule – the event will be definitely worth your time. Cheers!

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One side of the ballot served as a directory

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And another side was an actual ballot with instructions – empty at the moment

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This would give you an idea of the weather – no sun, but still nice

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tasting cups with  are getting ready to be carried around (most times, you had to wait in line, but few participants provided this extra touch

Tasting cups with are getting ready to be carried around (most times, you had to wait in line, but few participants provided this extra touch

Love the way some of the stands were decorated:

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Even with the tasting cups, some of the presentations were clearly a standout:

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This was the top creative chowder winner from Our House Bistro in Vermont – delicious!

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Lots of restaurants offered their recipes/ingredient lists right there:

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The recipe was very intriguing, but in my tasting cups was literally only liquid, no rattlesnake, no turkey – they really have to try better next time

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img_4602Not only their showders won, but their stand desings were a standout –

Our House Bistro from Vermont:

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img_4618and Pike’s Place from Seattle, Washington:

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see what I mean by intimidation? When people see this array of medals, can they not vote for them?

See what I mean by intimidation? When people see this array of medals, can they not vote for them?

Yes, there was more than just chowder there:

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img_4651I’m done with my barrage of pictures – almost. Here is the ballot with my vote:

img_4641Make sure to mark October 1st, 2017 in your calendars as a fun day. Enjoy your chowder!

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