WESTPORT, Conn. – Thousands of discerning foodies traveled from all over New England and beyond to attend the 11th annual Chowdafest competition on Sunday Sept 30, 2018. Presented by Stop & Shop, Chowdafest determines the best chowder, soup and bisque in New England. Over 2,000 gallons were once again consumed in the process.
“The goal each year is to invite some of the best restaurants from all over New England, thereby increasing the level of competition. Seeing how close the voting is each year, it seems we accomplished our goal,” said Jim Keenan, the event's founder and executive director. Unlike other culinary competitions that are based on the number of votes each entry gets, Chowdafest values quality over quantity in creating a fairer competition. Attendees rate everything they try on a scale from 7 to 10.5, with half point intervals, in filling out their ballots.
“We purposely have five categories of competition because you simply can't compare a classic New England clam chowder to a lobster bisque to chicken noodle soup,” said Keenan. Thousands of completed ballots from the event were tabulated by BlumShapiro, the official accountants and ballot sponsor, to ensure the validity of the results. Attendance figures are still being verified but, at glance, it appears the competition grows in popularity, according to Keenan.
History was made as two restaurants won for the fourth consecutive year. Pike Place Chowder from Seattle, Washington, successfully defended its title of "Best New England Clam Chowder" for the fourth year in a row. The restaurant competes in chowder competitions from coast to coast and has truly earned a reputation as the restaurant with America's best chowder. “It says a lot about the amazing foodies who attend our event each year with regard to putting any geographic bias aside and rating the chowders on their own merit,” Keenan noted. “It also says a lot about Pike Place Chowder -- competing in New England given the region's reputation for great chowder.”
Coming in 2nd place this year was Our House Bistro from Winooski, Vermont. Our House Bistro entered the New England Clam Chowder category for the first time with the hope of bringing the title back to New England. “Pike's has won three years in a row while Our House has won the Creative Chowder category the same three years,” said Matt Pearsall, chef/owner of Our House Bistro. “We've had a fun and quiet rivalry despite usually being in different categories, and seeing who gets the best overall rating. It goes back and forth every year."
Coming in third was B.R.Y.A.C of Bridgeport, CT, whose entry was also the highest-rated clam chowder from Connecticut.
The aforementioned Our House Bistro from VT remained the king of the Creative Chowder category, also setting a record for four straight championships. They defended their title with a new chowder called “Drunkin' Pumpkin Seafood Chowder”. Their Vermont plaid-shirted crew remains the pride of the Green Mountain State. Newcomer Bar 3 Thirty-Three of Milford, CT made an impressive debut, finishing 2nd place with a smoked shrimp & corn chowder. Local favorite Tarry Lodge of Westport, CT also made the podium with a 3rd place finish for their distinctive Montauk Chowder.
Dunville's of Westport, CT continued its amazing legacy winning for the fourth time to go along with two second place and third place trophies, finishing in the top three in all of the eight years they've been in the competition. “Foodies know Dunville's makes award-winning chowders and soup,” Keenan noted. This year, Dunville's successfully defended its title with a Rhode Island clam chowder. Rookie Lucasy Oyster Bar of Newtown, CT was a runner-up with its RI clam chowder. Hale & Hearty's of New York made a little history of its own, becoming the first NYC-based restaurant to win any award for Manhattan clam chowder. They finished third.
Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, with locations in both Fairfield, CT and New Haven, CT, finished in 1st place in the soup/bisque category with a spicy chicken tortilla soup. “If you win this category with a soup, it must be great, as bisques are usually more popular,” said Keenan. J. Timothy's Taverne of Plainville, CT came in 2nd with its popular cheddar and ale soup made with CT-brewed beer, while The Castle on Post in Fairfield, CT, making its debut at the competition, finished 3rd place with its Irish variation of lobster bisque.
Old Post Tavern won the vegetarian category again with their truffle mushroom bisque -- narrowly beating out Harvest Wine & Bar of Westport and its roasted chestnut, apple cider, butternut squash bisque. It was the second time finishing 2nd for Harvest. Hale & Hearty's Boston location finished 3rd with its corn cob chowder. Hale & Hearty's took on the unthinkable and competed in all five categories, making approximately over 300 gallons of chowder and soup, taking home trophies in two of the categories.
Last year's champion, Dunville's of Westport, finished in 2nd place this year. Dunville's is always to be reckoned with as they have placed first, second or third in all six years in the competition. An unexpected tie occurred as both Chef's Table of Fairfield, CT and Parallel Post of Trumbull, CT, had identical scores and the same number of votes, which presented a challenge as the number of votes is designed to be the tie breaking factor. Chef's Table entered a RI chowder, while Parallel Post entered a Manhattan clam chowder.
Attendees also enjoyed sampling chips, salsas, breads, pasta, pasta sauces, cheese, ice cream, cookies, yogurts, teas, coffee, and sparkling beverages. Presenting sponsor Stop & Shop, along with its grocery delivery service, Peapod, pulled out all the stops and treated kids, both old and young alike, to chef hats, coloring books, flying discs and other games/activities.
While it will be a while before the event's finances are finalized, Keenan suspects he'll be able to match the event goal of funding over a half a million meals in the ongoing fight against food insecurity through Food Rescue US.
Keenan announced that the date for 2019 has already been set for the first Sunday in October, which will be October 6, 2019. Sherwood Island State Park will once again host the event. “It's an idyllic shoreline location that can accommodate our growing event. We're honored to showcase the oldest Connecticut park to so many who have never been there and we are so appreciative to their staff who make it a pleasure to hold the event there,” said Keenan, who also noted that Chowdafest's success would not be possible without their numerous volunteers.