Muffin tins, composting and … chowder? It’s hard to find a connection between the three if you’re not familiar with how they all fit together. As the ninth annual New England Chowdafest returned to Sherwood Island State Park in Westport on Oct. 2, the marriage of all three items occurred. Many participants carried around muffin tins to allow themselves the ability to hold multiple samples at a time. Moreover, everything within the festival was recyclable, thus providing a helping hand to the environment throughout Chowdafest.
The event was a fundraiser to help put an end to hunger, according to the Chowdafest website, and is considered to be one of the top food festivals in Connecticut every year.
Out of the 40 chowders, bisques and stews available to taste-test at the event, four were awarded best in show by the attendees for Classic New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Traditional Clam Chowder and Soup/Bisque.
Dishes ranged from a refreshing spiced chocolate bisque to a questionable turkey corn and rattlesnake chowder, as well as a wide range of dishes to fit every desire. Many were also gluten free and clearly marked as so, a plus for those like me who cannot have gluten.
Many local restaurants, like Chef’s Table, Old Post Tavern, Crave 52 and Geronimo, brought soups to the table for the competition and did not leave empty-handed. Chef’s Table’s Rhode Island Clam Chowder took home third place in the Traditional Clam Chowder category after not placing on the podium last year.
Old Post Tavern also won second place in the Soup/Bisque category for their Truffled Mushroom Bisque. Their bisque was an acquired taste that only satisfied those who enjoyed truffles, a food that I don’t particularly care for.
Shell and Bones’ New England Clam Chowder was amongst the best garnished sampling of all the various soups, but the garnish only hid the average taste of the chowder. Looking back, if the sample hadn’t had the garnish, I probably wouldn’t have thought it remarkable in the slightest. The same applies for Gaffney’s Southwest Shrimp and Corn Chowder; the garnish added more to the taste and flair of the dish than the chowder itself.
However, Harlem Yacht Club’s Manhattan Clam Chowder took the cake in my book. The perfect ratio of broth to sustenance combined with the subtle addition of seasoning meshed better than any other soup in contention and I was amazed to find it off the leaderboard, not even mentioned in any way, shape or form.
One of the most creative, tasty chowders came from a restaurant hailing from the small town of Winooski, Vt. The Fried Seafood and Sweet Potato Chowder from Our House Bistro, though not the absolute best, was definitely in the upper echelon of chowders and its repeat first place in the Creative Chowder category was well-deserved.
Pike Place Chowder, a chain restaurant travelling all the way from Seattle, Wash., was another big winner of the festival, winning Best New England Clam Chowder for the second year in a row. Although the chowder itself was just short of perfection, the deterrent for me was its status as a chain restaurant. I felt like I was cheating the other local restaurants at the festival by even considering this chowder as one of the best in show.
A few of these soups, like Capt. Scott’s Rhode Island Clam Chowder, Geronimo’s Hatch Green Chili Stew and Sam’s American Bistro’s Spiced Chocolate Bisque were remarkably average, falling well below my expectations upon first taste. They offered a refreshing change from the heavier chowders, but ultimately just didn’t have the taste appeal of other dishes.
Overall, many of my winning predictions did not hold true, but Chowdafest itself was a hidden gem once discovered and left me feeling full, yet wanting more.
Full list of winners:
Classic New England Clam Chowder:
1st: Pike Place Chowder – Seattle, Wash.
2nd: 250 Market – Portsmouth, N.H.
3rd: Take Five Cookery – Hartford, Conn.
Traditional Clam Chowder:
1st: Donahue’s Clam Castle (Rhode Island) – Madison, C.T.
2nd: Dunville’s (Manhattan) – Westport, C.T.
3rd: Chef’s Table (Rhode Island) – Fairfield, C.T.
1st: Our House Bistro – Winooski, Vt.
2nd: Gaffney’s – Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
3rd: Smithsonian Cafe & Chowder House – Northampton, Mass.
1st: Crab Shell – Stamford, C.T.
2nd: Old Post Tavern – Fairfield, C.T.
3rd: Sam’s American Bistro – Stamford, C.T.