**74 Vendors (including 12 First-timers)**
**83,931 Bowls of Chowder Served**
**Over 30,000 People in Attendance**
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Delayed, yet not denied.
Saratoga’s Chowderfest emerged after a two-year hiatus on an overcast, but dry and seasonal Saturday, March 26, in full regalia. The winning vendors and their categories are listed at the end of this post, yet the real winners on this day were the 30K+ people who happily navigated long but moving lines, crowded sidewalks, and other minor inconveniences that today seem laughable when viewed from a post-COVID perspective.
Simply put, this was an Olympic-sized long jump on the road back to normal – and how sweet a leap it was!
Our coverage, like your participation, involves choices. With so many vendors, it isn’t humanly possible to visit all of them in the 5 hour window. I know some hard-core Chowderheads who map out a strict itinerary to maximize their time, and just as many who merely show up and let the winds of fate decide where they will go. Neither way is right or wrong.
For our part, we (correspondent Jill Perkins, her fiancé and myself) made a tentative plan, but were prepared to deviate from it if need be. As it turns out, our plan got twisted in some places, and not necessarily in a bad way. For instance, I had allowed extra time for parking as we were hitting Downtown Saratoga in prime time, But, we had a minimal wait to enter the City Center Garage and our hunt for a space was fairly short too.
Yet what time we gained in some places was eaten up by unplanned, but still welcome, diversions to others….
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Our game plan was to show some love to the perimeter vendors, before heading to downtown and ditching the vehicle. And that maneuver began, as it should, with
A Visit with the G.O.A.T.
Chowder is definitely part of this man’s pedigree. A multi-time Chowderfest winner during his time at Gaffney’s; Chef Kevin founded The Ribbon Café “…in 2018 in honor of Jennifer Myers who was taken from us in September 2017 by breast cancer.”
Chef Kevin took tremendous pride in all of his winning chowder entries while at Gaffney’s , and rightfully so. I must admit that I was worried about him competing in Chowderfest at his new digs, because the Ribbon is in Ballston Spa (11 Prospect St.,), which, being miles away from the vortex of Broadway and Caroline, might severely hamper his chances…
The Ribbon’s entry – 4 oz. of Southwest Shrimp Corn Chowder Topped with Tequila Lime Bacon and a Wonton Popper – was a meal in itself! And definitely a solid contender… as usual.
I left feeling convinced that Ribbon Café Chef/Owner Kevin Meyers could win this contest even if he set up shop in Atlanta… or Alaska!
Onward… we were intending to spread some “newbie luv” along West Avenue on our way back to town, but it turned out that several that we wanted to see (including The Brick at 2 West, West Ave. Pizza and West Ave Chicken, as well as the Saratoga Winery) were being imported into the ground floor of the City Center’s new parking structure, which was making its first use at Chowderfest, and was planned to be the destination for our vehicle.
So we tabled all those folks for the moment, and made one stop to a fave on the way….
A Cape Cod Classic
Back in town , but not quite downtown yet. A final dose of leisurely chowder tasting, as the pace promised to pick up after this…. chosen because, If there is any place I might contemplate leaving Saratoga for, Cape Cod would be first on a short list.
It’s still my chosen getaway place to recharge for a week or so to escape to for a week of rejuvenation prior to track season’s assault upon 12866. And no place captures that spirit of carefree Cape Cod cuisine like our friends at Eddie F’s Eatery at 199 Clinton…
When dining at Eddie F’s, my pro tip is to stick to the basics for maximum satisfaction. That means: Fried Clams, Fish Fry baskets, and (hot or cold) Lobster Rolls.
Their chowder offering fit perfectly into that basic goodness category…
Behold, simple yet elegant (and tasty) Lobster Clam Chowder. Whereas The Ribbon’s offering seemed to have 192 ingredients and garnishes, Eddie F’s appeared to have about 4 (“Lobsta'”; New England “Chowda'” Broth; Clams; Croutons). But it was a delicious 4 – and yes, I know there were more ingredients involved (“Hey, more Sherry over he-yah!”) but the basic concept was to be basic, and to me, they hit a basic bulls-eye.
Even though they were radically different in approach, I have to say I enjoyed both of these first two chowders, which was a good thing because I was about to move to a phase where I went from eating chowder, to photographing y’all eating chowder downtown, which requires a different skill set, yet the same pair of hands….
Speaking of hands, I’m happy to divert a bit and note that it’s just my pair of hands that is doing the work of bringing coverage of events like this to you. I couldn’t do it without some brilliant contributors – past and present. Their POV and perspectives have been, and are invaluable. In that connection, let’s take a quick side trip to ….
Mandy Weinerman – beloved alumni blog contributor and friend forever, is an intense foodie who epitomizes the Chowderfest “planner type” as noted above. On this Saturday, we didn’t actually see each other as she had targeted a different area than we did, but we kept in touch via text all afternoon.
Mandy’s voyage took her around the classic streets of Phila,, Caroline, and Broadway between those two streets. She went around with high hopes for some extremely upscale places that left her disappointed (she asked us to leave it at that – Mandy has a much tougher grading system than most, but also a tenderer heart), but she did find some terrific offerings. In no particular order, these were her three biggest Winners:
- Seneca Restaurant – Wood Fired Corned Beef Chowder
- Brasserie Benelux – Saratoga Loaded Potato Leek Chowder
- Spa City Tap & Barrel* – (The Chowder there was provided by The Hideaway at Saratoga Lake Golf Club) – Buffalo Chicken and Philly Cheesesteak Chowders
This speaks to the depth of this event. Three great choices and I bet many of you had others. Feel free to give us your top 3 in the comments if you wish.
Anyway, fortified and sorta relaxed, we now prepared to voyage into the belly of the beast – the City Center Garage. I had mentioned to Jill that if there were long lines of cars, we would take pictures of long lines of cars. But there weren’t any really, maybe four at most ahead of us in the take-a-ticket line.
And considering that it was prime time (about 12:15 pm) and considering the amount of people around, we found a spot relatively easy, and very close to the place we wanted to be – which was the event space on High Rock Avenue, where five more chowder purveyors were.
The only critiques I’ll give the garage experience is that it seemed rather dark on some ramps where the daylight couldn’t shine through – perhaps they can look into having the lights on 24 hours in those areas. Also, it was strange that they didn’t let us pay our dollar tab (bargain!) with an actual U.S. Dollar. We had cards, but not everyone does, and I wonder what they would do.
It seems a little signage stating such would be a good idea at the entrances, but I didn’t notice any. But these are minor points, and I was glad we chose to do it rather than circling the block and detouring around closed streets. I would certainly use it again.
And, once there, we came upon a VERY merry Discover Saratoga contingent – the event wasn’t even half over, but these organizers could sense that they had another winner on their hands.
And, while they were mostly pinned down on the garage’s ground floor, there was plenty of action happening within their field of view that gave them cause for said elation.
And there will be plenty more in the Gallery, which is coming, I promise…. but we still needed to get up to Broadway via Caroline. But, having had 8 cups of coffee since this a.m., let’s say that having Jacob & Anthony’s across the street was a welcome sight…
And what a surprise! This wasn’t on our itinerary, but with a DJ, Pick Six Vodka samples, great food/drink AND … Jacob’s Chowder the place was packed!
So much so, that I made a point of telling the Manager on Duty that “this place has got it going on.” And I realized, for some people, THIS is Chowderfest. You find a nice place, plunk yourselves down, and enjoy the day with friends and perhaps, some wonderful people-watching while staying warm. (Spoiler Alert #2: Having seen the activity at J & A’s, it came as no surprise to me that they nailed the People’s Choice Award in the “Big Boy Category.)
Having made our ‘deposit’ I was ready to roam and hopefully, refuel. I like my chowder, I like my adult beverages, but on this day, when I dream of an Oasis, this is what I visualize….
Yes, yes! Our homegrown caffeine-nation heroes! The Death Wishers on the scene dispensing FREE samples of their hi-test with a smile!
Thus fortified again, we made our way up Caroline to Broadway, where our journey ended with more of the same… although not quite always the same…
If you liked these pics, prepare for a bunch more, for it is gallery time. Just one last thing: Thanks very, very much to my partner-in-crime on this gig, Jill Perkins. You’ve been doing great photo work since coming aboard recently, and on this day’s assignment, made a big job much more digestible, and much, much more fun! I’ve even learned to love your “dog-dawdling…”
Hearty congrats to all the “Official” winners (the list which of follows.) And enjoy this Gallery, which shows that everyone in Saratoga won big on this day.
Arthur Gonick – March 29, 2022
Gallery: 24th Annual Chowderfest
Here’s to the Official Winners:
- People’s Choice 500 bowls or less: The Mill on Round Lake, Bubba Gump Chowder
- People’s Choice 501-750 bowls: Dizzy Chicken Wood Fired Rotisserie, Brazilian Smoked Seafood Chowder
- People’s Choice 751-1,000 bowls: Ribbon Cafe, Southwest Shrimp Corn Chowder Topped Tequila Lime Bacon and a Wonton Popper
- People’s Choice 1,001-1,500 bowls: Wheatfields Restaurant & Bar, Crawfish Cajun Corn Chowder
- People’s Choice 1,501- 2,000 bowls: Henry Street Taproom, Bacon and Pickle Buffalo Chicken Chowder
- People’s Choice 2,001-3,000 bowls: Parting Glass, Luck of the Irish Chowder
- People’s Choice 3,001-4,000 bowls: Cantina, Creamy Chicken Jalapeño Chowder
- People’s Choice 4,001+ bowls: Jacob & Anthony’s American Grille, Jacob’s Chowder
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