I wanted to start my first blog with something I haven't seen in the five years of the event. As you know, it's soup season and this is one of the best times of the year to go around in search of restaurants "worthy" of the competition. It's also a great time to visit the great restaurants that already participate in Chowdafest so last weekend, my 12 year old daughter and I made a pit stop to visit Southport Brewing Co in Milford. Now, neither of us had ever been to this location. Great building, nice location and packed with SBC loyal customers. We got seated and handed our menus including the weekly specials. I ask our server Emma how long she's worked for SBC and she proudly exclaimed "5 years!". So I asked her had she ever noticed the soup special they had on the menu and she said "No, this is the first time. People seem to really love it". We'll why not - something very similar to it did pretty well at Chowdafest but it wasn't by SBC.
Now chef and part-owner Dave Rutigliano is as much a part of Chowdafest than the soups he enters every year. A true showman who brings as much character to the event as his soups & chowders do flavor. No denying that SBC is a fan favorite at the event and they have one of the best records placing four years in a row, winning twice! A true competitor, Dave sizes up his competition every year and always on his radar is Chef Fred Bialek of Liquid Lunch. Now LL has also placed in each of the last four years but has never broken the championship ceiling yet. Dave knows it's only a matter of time before Fred is standing on the highest podium. This year both restaurants "brought it" and their booths were only a table apart from each other. Liquid Lunch came in third with their Buffalo Chicken Soup but it was their Thai Shrimp Chowder that caught the tongue of the sophisticated pallet. While it didn't place, it was easily among the critics favorite. Two time James Beard award winner Michel Nichan thought it was the best entry at the event. Michel has attended Chowdafest every year and has vowed to enter his Dressing Room restaurant next year.
Dave is no fool. He knows a good thing when he sees it (or in this case, tastes it) even if it's not of his creation. What was on the menu at SBC? That's right, a Thai Shrimp and Clam soup. We watched bowl after bowl being ordered that afternoon. Dave tweaked it to be a soup instead of a chowder with a bit of a kick but leave no doubt he saw something in Liquid Lunch's entry this year. Rutigliano is a harsh critic, even of himself. His standards are high and he'll seldom tell the competition how good their soup or chowder might be. However, when you see something similar on his menu - it speaks volumes. He's tipping his hat to Fred. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!