Can't believe we lucked into 50 degree weather and it's snowed twice since then in 3 days - someone upstairs must be a chowder fan.
OK - now for the fun stuff. I was curious as to how my personal favorites would stack up to the actual winners. All the restaurants are great (or they wouldn't be in Chowdafest) but someone has to win right? Growing up, my brother Pat (4th of 5 kids) would always ask our mother if he was her favorite. Pat would only ask when the rest of us were around of course and to everyone's surprise, one day Mom said "yes" (I'm quite certain no one was more surprised than Pat). Then with the timing a mother could only have, she pointed to the rest of us, one by one and said "and you're my favorite and you're my favorite" etc. That's sort of how I feel about picking favorites at Chowdafest.
I thought Guvnor's Brewery would unseat Donovan's as champion and came three tenths of a point away from proving me right. What's ironic is that the two restaurants are right next to each other in SoNo - they share a same wall so I'm wondering just which restaurant reached over and stole each other's recipe. Rory's is another personal favorite and they finished top 3 but was surprised Super Duper Weenie's wasn't a top 3 finisher - a perfect blend between thick and light chowder. Mansion Clam House finished fourth. In six years, they've won the category twice and finished top three twice - undoubtedly one of the favorite chowders in the state. FYI - they make a mean Rhode Island chowder that could have likely taken the Traditional category title had they entered that category also. Chef/owner Rigo is certainly a crowd pleaser!
The voting was the closest in the Traditional Chowder category which is for just Manhattan and Rhode Island chowders only. As predicted, the overall category didn't get the same high grades as the others but there's no denying these great chowders need their own category. My top two favorites, finished one-two. I couldn't say which deserved top honors more but the masses voted on Dunville's first, Liquid Lunch 2nd. Both entered Manhattan's and both were excellent. I knew last summer after Chef Bob had whipped up a single batch of his Manhattan for me that Dunville's had to enter it. It was quite an honor to see them hoist their trophy in the restaurant after the contest. However, no one deserves a first place trophy more than Fred & Michele of Liquid Lunch. They have won a ton of 2nd place trophies over the years but the big one eludes them like the Audi Quatro commercial where the tow tuck driver never gets to tow it. You can easily argue that they could have won with those farm fresh ingredients and finishing just one tenth behind in the voting confirms it. Brennan's in Norwalk who had never even offered a Rhode Island clam chowder in their restaurant until 3 months ago should win Rookie of the Year honors with that finish. Blue Lobster was the highest ranking of the Rhode Islands and actually tied Brennan's for third but they ran out of chowder and the tie breaker is number of votes so the tie-breaker went to Brennan's. Seems the general public likes Manhattan slightly better than Rhode Island - could be a Fairfield County thing though.
Creative Chowder, my favorite category, did not disappoint. The Brewhouse rebounded nicely after losing top honors by a spoonful last year and took home the coveted big helmet this year. The Spread with their crab, corn & poblano chowder came in 2nd which was decadent. A very solid showing by this rookie competitor! The Ginger Man barely made top three after breaking a tie with the Rowayton Seafood. Their sweet potato clam chowder was honored as the first soup inductee into the Bowl of Fame as it has won this category 3 out of 5 years now. It might be time to retire the chowder from the competition and 'bring it' with another great entry. Rowayton Seafood had a winter root vegetable clam chowder that really resonated with Chowdaheads but lost the tie breaker on total votes. There were two gumbo chowder entries this year that didn't fare as well but maybe the Super Bowl needs to return to New Orleans to get the love they both deserved. The most creative of this category goes to Liquid Lunch with their Champ chowder - it was a lemon garlic chicken sweet potato chowder that would make anyone call in sick to stay at home to eat.
The soup & bisque category might have to be renamed the Butternut category as the top two finishers, Bistro 7 and Cask Republic used it as the base of their soups. There's something about fall flavors that resonates well in the chill of the winter. If I were a betting man, I would have thought the more main stream entry by Local Kitchen would have taken top honors. A fire roasted tomato soup topped with a grilled cheese crouton that any grandmother would be proud of - still, 3rd place is nothing to be disappointed about. The other soup I thought would be a crowd favorite was Liquid Lunch's Buffalo Wing Soup, especially on the Super Bowl. I was very pleased that we were able to spice up the event with the two entries from Mecha Noodle Bar and Tikkaway. The event has never had an Asian and Indian restaurant compete and they definitely showed great soup can come from anywhere!
We announced our Chowdafest Hall of Fame (called Bowl of Fame) and honored Chef Pietro Scotti of Da Pietro's in Westport. Pietro and his wife Janine have been a huge supporter of our event going back to when we were just getting 400 people at the Unitarian Church Westport. We also inducted Ginger Man's Sweet Potato Clam Chowder. How could you not as they are currently the winning-est soup "evah". Plus, everyone from the G-Man has so much fun and adds so much to the competition.
Special kudos to the mega efforts of Super Duper Weenie, Southport Brewing and Liquid Lunch that competed in multiple categories. Also shout outs to our four fabulous celeb chefs who entertained the crowd with their cooking demonstrations although I'm pretty sure Chef Plum was just entertaining himself. To my friends at OmNomCT, CTbites and Home Place Blogger who helped get the word out to foodie fans everywhere. To Steve & Star 99.9 who broadcasted our Souper Fridays on the Big Jim & Anna show all January long. To Hamlet Hub and other media that always get behind this growing CT event - thanks!
I guess I'll stop rambling except to say thanks to our restaurants, sponsors, volunteers especially my daughter Casey and all those who came out in droves this year!