restaurant of Darien was awarded second-place in the New England clam chowder competition at this past weekend's Chowdafest in Westport.
Mansion Clam House of Westport did what no other restaurant has been able to do until now and won their category back-to-back, earning the championship trophy for best New England clam chowder again.
“To win against such good competition, let along twice, is quite a good feeling” said Chef Rigo Lino. Their trophy was awarded at the conclusion of the event in their restaurant, getting cheers from staff and patrons alike.
Nine restaurants competed in this category with O’Neill’s in Norwalk taking third place with their New “Irish” clam chowder.
According to event organizers, Chowdafest has more restaurants competing than any other event in New England. While summer events draw bigger crowds, an estimated 2,400 people came to judge the event on a perfect winter’s day.
This was an increase of 40 percent versus last year. The crowd slurped over 600 gallons of 30 different soups, bisques and chowders which was 50 percent more soup than last year. While the event’s net profits weren’t finalized as of yet, donations are also expected to be 40-50 percent higher.
Chowdafest is conducted by members of the Unitarian Church in Westport, benefitting The CT Food Bank and was declared by WTNH as the ‘BIG EVENT’ in CT last weekend.
Nearly 20,000 votes were cast to determine the best New England chowder, creative chowder and soup/bisque.
“Adults and kids alike can vote for up to 3 entries per category as it’s just too hard to narrow down your choice to just one,” said Jim Keenan, event organizer. Student volunteers from Sacred Heart University were busy tabulating the votes throughout the day.
Newcomer Crab Shell of Stamford took the soup/bisque crown with their aptly named “NY Giant Lobster Bisque”. The Crab Shell also took 2nd place for their New England Patriot Crab Chowder in the creative chowder category, equaling the record set by Southport Brewing Company for taking home two trophies in one event. Southport Brewing Co. of Stamford, Southport, Branford, Milford and Hamden added to their trophy case, with a 2nd place finish for their Sausage, Egg & Cheese Sandwich Soup.
“Thankfully, their soup was so much better than its name” said Keenan laughing. “SBC has been the most awarded restaurant in this competition over the years proving they are so much more than just a brewery. They come gunning for top honors every year and just narrowly missed taking home another 1st place trophy. They put the bulls-eye on their back and relish watching the competition take aim at them year after year.”
Taking 3rd place was perennial favorite Liquid Lunch with their roasted cauliflower entry.
The Ginger Man of Norwalk won the creative chowder category with their Sweet Potato Clam Chowder for the 2nd time in three years. They have entered this same chowder three years in a row, daring the competition to best them. They won in 2009 and came in 2nd in 2010 but ran out of soup, coming in 2nd by a mere 5 votes. “We made sure to have enough chowder this year” said Chef Jamie Pantanella. “Watching this event grow like it has, we expected the big crowds.”
Coming in 2nd was Crab Shell and 3rd place was earned by another rookie entrant, Dunville’s of Westport with their Louisiana Seafood Chowder. Dunville’s certainly made the most of their first year appearance with arguably the best decorated table, volunteers in football jerseys and two stellar entries. “We’re just warming up for next year” said Steve
Chowdafest also introduced a new award, exclusively determined by the restaurants themselves. Each chef was asked to rate each soup except their own. The entry with the highest overall rating was declared the best overall. Top honor went to the Ginger Man, mirroring the populist vote, but the rest of the top ten did not. Newcomer Cactus Rose Cantina earned 2nd place honors with Tavern on Main third.
Super Duper Weenie Dog among the top 10
Both Super Duper Weenie Dog and River House placed both their entries in the top ten joining Da Pietro’s, Nicholas Roberts and Mansion Clam House in the top 10. “It’s interesting to compare what the public thinks against the chefs themselves” said Janine Scotti of Da Pietro’s.
“How cool is it that a place like Super Duper Weenie Dog is recognized by their peers for terrific soup, especially when the general public doesn’t even know they offer it” said Keenan
Also competing this year were Ash Creek Saloon of Norwalk, Blue Lemon of Westport, Bobby Q’s of Westport, Boathouse at Saugatuck in Westport and the Brewhouse in Norwalk.
The crowd was entertained again by the SHU pep band again. “The kids love performing at this event and then are rewarded with unbelievable food” said SHU music director Keith Johnston. “It’s a good cause to support and it’s a treat to be involved” he added.
Kids of all ages were also entertained by BB the Bluefish and the new Chowdafest mascot Chef Quahog, a “soup-er” hero.
The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company - New York Metro Division was the sponsor of this year's event. Chowdafest was promoted in 22 of their Fairfield County locations throughout the month of January, and 15 restaurants hosting mascot appearances. Stop & Shop also sponsored the kid’s cove area where children were given free chef hats to decorate with markers and stickers.
Stop & Shop has already agreed to be a sponsor again in 2013. Also sponsoring this year’s event was Success Mailing and Printing who provided almost all the event collateral, WEBE 108 and the Norwalk Hilton Garden.
“It’s a great cause and we wanted to be involved, especially for the kids,” said Arlene Putterman, Manager, Public and Community Relations for the Stop & Shop. “We had no idea that everyone, regardless of age, attending this terrific event feels like a kid – what fun."
Editor's note: This announcement originally was posted by Jim Keenan on Westport Patch.