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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.

Why You Don’t Want To Miss Chowdafest 2019

September 25, 2019 Leave a comment

Really, why would you want to miss the Chowdafest 2019? If you like chowder or any form of nice, hearty soup – and note, it can be vegetarian soup as well – you can’t have an excuse good enough to miss the 12th annual Chowdafest festivities on October 6, 2019, taking place at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, from 11 AM until 3 PM.

I attended Chowdafest for the past 5 years, and when I’m suggesting that attending the event is well worth the effort of rearranging your Sunday around it, I’m simply speaking from experience (take a look my reports from past Chowdafests here). Chowdafest is a lot of fun – it is not only soups and chowders but lots of samples of cheese, bread, sauces, juices, tea, coffee, ice cream, and more. It is literally fun for all ages (yes, you want to teach your kids what tasty food is from an early age).

Chowdafest 2017

One of my very favorite creative chowders – and a winning one!

At the Chowdafest 2019, 30 restaurants will be competing for the titles in the 4 categories – New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. Half of the 30 competing restaurants will be participating for the first time, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying new soups such as Mexican style Shrimp Posole Soup, or Buffalo Chicken Noodle Soup. But probably the main question is – will Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington, win the classic New England Clam Chowder category for the 5th year in the row? Well, you will need to be there to see it and be a part of it.

I hope I solved for you the problem “What to do on Sunday, October 6th”. See you at the Chowdafest!

 

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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