Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The 36th Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off

I shared a sneak peek a few weeks ago for this years Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, RI. The festivities took place this past weekend, and what a beautiful day we had at Fort Adams State Park, overlooking Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor!

This was the first time I participated in the Great Chowder Cook-Off at this location. Years ago, it took place at the Newport Yachting Center, and although Fort Adams is a bit more of a drive (in Saturday Newport traffic, no less), I found the location to be much better equipped for the event, with ample free parking, tons of space, and epic waterfront views.

In addition to the competitors, there were many other vendors including drink vendors, food trucks, and more.

This made the festival much more of an event than just a chowder tasting, and add to it some fantastic live musical entertainment, and one could easily spend hours in the sun enjoying this wonderful event.

Although in past years I recall many more competitors than we experienced this year, overall I feel that the cook-off has matured and grown into something bigger than just a chowder cook-off.

We managed to get pretty full off of our chowder samples, and although we were eyeing several of the food trucks and other food vendors, we simply washed down our chowder binge with some Ben and Jerry's ice cream, because it was hot and sunny and the best weather for ice cream!

We also visited the Hood truck where we chatted with chef Chris Coombs who was serving up some tres leches cake made with Hood heavy cream and two other leches :)

There was truly so much more to taste and see outside of all the chowders, but let's take a closer look at the chowder categories and competitors before we reveal this year's winners...

Great Chowder Cook-Off Directory and Map

We tasted the chowders kind of backwards, beginning with the Red Chowder category and then moving on to the Seafood Chowder and Clam Chowder samples, so I will share them in the order we tried them (because I'm a rebel like that!).

Now, I'd like to preface this by saying that I've often joked that red or "Manhattan"-style chowder isn't real chowder. I'm a native Rhode Islander, and when I hear the word chowder (let's be honest, it's pronounced CHOWDA), I envision a creamy white broth full of chunks of potato and clams. That to me is "chowda." With that said, I was very impressed by all three of the competitors in the red category.

First up we tried the Rockin' Red Chowder from Bristol Plymouth Regional Technical School. They contributed two different chowders for the cook-off, one in the red category, and one in the seafood category. I love how each chowder had a unique name, and the booths were decorated to go with the theme.

They also made some excellent chowder! Their red chowder was well-seasoned with a little heat. It was very comforting. We loved it!

Next up from The Mooring is a RI red Portuguese clam chowder with chourico, peppers, clams, and potatoes. It was excellent, and had a bit of smokiness from the chourico, and tons of fresh clams! They were our pick for our favorite red.

Finally we have a red chowder from Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar which was also very good, but just paled next to the other two chowders in this category.

The winners for the Red Category are as follows:
#3 Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar
#2 The Mooring
#1 Bristol Plymouth Regional Technical School

Onto the Seafood Chowder category! We begin with Red Stripe, who served up a sweet corn chowdah. As advertised, it was a bit on the sweet side, and we felt it could have used a bit more seasoning to balance it out.

The next chowder came from Portsmouth Publick House, and was our favorite seafood chowder of the day. You could see the chunks of lobster in the samples even before tasting.

It had great seafood flavor, and was super chunky, just the way I love my chowder. Although Portsmouth Publick House definitely got our vote in this category, other tasters didn't feel the same, and it failed to make the top three :(

Brix at Newport Vineyards was next in line. They featured the prettiest presentation for their New England cod chowder with buttery thyme croutons!

The tiny croutons were a lovely addition, and the cod they used was local, but the chowder itself was a little rich for our taste and could have used a bit more seasoning as well.

Next we're headed all the way to Ireland for some award-winning chowder from Nancy's Barn in Ballyliffin! Smoked fish gives a pleasant smokey flavor to the whole chowder, which is nicely seasoned. This chowder from across the pond was quite popular, as it was the top pick among tasters in this category.

The next competitor is from my hometown of Cranston, Rhode Island! Chapel Grille served up a seafood chowder with lobster and clams. Overall this was a good, chunky chowder. It featured dill, which is my least favorite herb of all time, but it was minimal and tolerable. I enjoyed the chowder otherwise :) Chapel Grille won third place in this category, and also won for Most Spirited Team and Best Decorated Booth!

One of our other favorites from this category hailed from Briston Plymouth Regional Technical School (remember them from the red category?). Their seafood chowder was a Portuguese seafood chowder called Liquid Gold.

Once again, their table featured awesome decorations to go with the theme, and their chowder was fantastic! Featuring some smoky Portuguese chourico and turmeric for color, we absolutely loved it! I'm not surprised they did so well in this category either, taking home second place. They actually won in this category last year, and placed second the year before.

The winners for the Seafood Category are as follows:
#3 Chapel Grille
#2 Bristol Plymouth Regional Technical School
#1 Nancy's Barn

Finally, onto the clam category! Our absolute favorite clam chowder once again didn't make the final cut in terms of total votes (wah wah), but we still loved it! It hailed from Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar. It was not too rich, perfectly executed and well-seasoned, with chunks of red bliss potatoes. 

Next up is Open Season Catering, the winner of this year's cook-off. There's really no nice way to say this, but we really didn't care for their chowder. It had no seasoning and tasted like clamy cream. I'm not entirely sure how it won, but everyone has different tastes. This was definitely not our pick. Sorry!

The Woods Tavern was the next booth, and offered a good but not memorable clam chowder. I would have preferred something a bit chunkier/less watery myself. They got enough votes to get second place though, so there were many fans in the crowd.

Crowther's Restaurant was the third place winner, and featured a chunky clam chowder with a bit of heat. It was also a little dilly, but otherwise good. This was probably our second favorite chowder from this category.

The Charlestown Rathskeller Tavern is next. Their chowder had a strong sweet onion flavor, and was on the watery side. It was our least favorite of the event.

Finally we have a clam chowder from Ocean Catch Seafood. The chowder tasted mainly of potato, and could have used a lot more clam flavor and seasoning. Overall, there were a few flops in this category.

The winners for the Clam Category are as follows:
#3 Crowthers Restaurant
#2 Woods Tavern
#1 Open Season

Overall we had a fantastic day at Fort Adams State Park tasting chowder and enjoying the sunshine. Although I don't agree with some of the winners, there are others that definitely were on our list of favorites. Any chowder lover would have enjoyed the opportunity to try so many different varieties from throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and even Ireland!

If you missed this year's Cook-Off don't fret! There will be another one next year, and the year after, and the year after that, each with gallons of chowder to try. I'm already looking forward to next year myself. Until then I will need to cook up a pot of my favorite Maine lobster, leek, and corn chowder to hold me over...


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