Shout it Louder, We Love Our Chowder!
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Mere mortals might quake with fear at the prospect of covering a behemoth like Saratoga’s Chowderfest solo. 86 participants spread throughout the landscape, my trusty sidekick and photog extraordinaire Dev Dinon drafted to work behind the main bar at Gaffney’s (a merit-badge worthy effort unto itself) and unavailable to me.
And yet, as I set out on my odyssey, an eerie calm and steely-eyed determination came with along with me, providing extra zing in every step of my Nikes. I had this! Or, at least, I knew what it took to have this – by sheer will, my momentum carried me through wind-chill factors, jostling crowds of revelers, and, of course – chowder, chowder everywhere. And I saw it all, or at least a mega-dose. And, now you will too.
I began by shooting at stops that showed how far the tentacles of this event have stretched… this is now a regional economic happening. It began by venturing around the corner to Moby Rick’s Seafood Market (they were also downtown, as I would learn later)… scooting over to 23rd and Fourth, where invited guest Next Door Kitchen of Ballston Spa was spooning up smoked haddock… then across Excelsior Avenue to Saratoga Brewing, which was in full flight and flush with visitors. Gold-winning Skidmore Dining donated a beef/veggie take – while Brewmaster Max Oswald contributed to the festivities with a special maple bacon limited edition cask-conditioned brew… all served up to the boogie-inducing sounds of vintage R&B (Think ‘Car Wash,’ Evelyn Champagne King, and The Temptations).
Now in its third year as a participant, it was obvious to me that many people in attendance were making this stop THEIR Chowderfest, or at least were going to think long and hard about moving… I however, had stopped thinking, apparently, for I left the cozy brewery and headed across the arterial to visit friends at a first-time starter.
Destination: Healthy Living
Yes, yes, Chowdermania has infected Wilton! This is the second year for the park-and-ride for the Wilton Mall at Chowderfest, and capitalizing on that fact are our friends at the Healthy Living Market & Café, who were making their debut at the event with a double dose of chowder goodness. The HLM crew was gleefully ladling up both Chicken and Vegan Corn Chowders and had a $100 gift card contest going as well. They set up near the shuttle stop, the mall itself strategically shielding people from the wind’s fury. Meanwhile, inside the café itself, Kyra was conducting a ‘Kids in the Kitchen’ class inside the learning center, and the market was doing its usual brisk Saturday business… Shuttle buses were coming every 15 minutes like clockwork throughout the day, and people who came from points far and wide were pleasantly surprised by the fact that their Chowder experience began even before getting on the free shuttle! Kudos to GM Duane Hendershot, Marketing Guru Richie Snyder, and the happy, Healthy crew. It says here that given their strategic location and yummy offerings, you will be looking at a major contender for Chowder prominence in years to come.
Into the Vortex, on the Magic Bus
Right on schedule, a yellow school bus pulled up outside Dick’s, with a fab friendly driver who dispatched his full load and picked us up efficiently. A 12-minute jaunt, and the happy travelers disembarked at the corner of Lake and High Rock, adjacent to the Hampton Inn. Behold! Chowder central awaits. A similar team of free buses was also operating between Saratoga Casino and Congress Park all throughout the event.
A quick jaunt up to the Saratoga Springs City Center, where several guest chowder servers were cranking it out along Ellsworth Jones Place. Inside, the elated Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau staff was vending souvenirs – the 2017 theme color was an electric sky blue.
Along Broadway – if you had the feeling that you were not alone, you were right. Now in rapid-fire stick-shoot and move mode, we picked up on Moby Rick’s, Saratoga Olive Oil, Burger Fi (cheeseburger chowder!), Cantina and The Saratoga Stadium.
Backtracking to Caroline Street, turning the corner – Oy!
It was no surprise that defending champ Gaffney’s was wall-to-wall… City Tavern too. D’Andreas was consistently brisk. No surprise that Putnam Den was Melvin Seals-quality jammed, either. The folks from Spring St. Deli were holding court at the Den.
But the big, big surprise to me was the throng that gathered on Sperry’s patio. Recently reopened, they were clearly making up for lost time. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they ran the Belmont Stakes on Sperry’s outdoor patio TV’s – they had a first Saturday in June crowd, maybe bigger.
Over to Phila. Approaching the final hour. Keyword: packed. Packed at Bailey’s. Harvey’s too. Packed at Peabody’s. Packed inside and out at Seven Horse Pub. And packed on Hattie’s patio, where this reporter was happy to meet the annual VIP gathering of the Trojan Book Club, where apparently the motto is: When we don’t read, we drink! Yes, yes. This also was the place where we ran into our City’s Mayor Yepsen. Our camera caught it all.
Exhausted, Achilles tendons barking, I got home to find the list of winners in my inbox from Convention and Tourism’s Superstar Angela LaTerra:
People’s Choice: Thirsty Owl Bistro, seafood chowder
Best On Broadway: Thirsty Owl Bistro, seafood chowder
Best Off Broadway: Gaffney’s Restaurant, Southwest shrimp corn chowder
Best Non-Downtown: PJ’s Bar-B-QSA, veggie corn chowder with optional choice of BBQ meat
Best Newcomer: Dunning Street Station Bar & Grill, shrimp and lobster chowder
Best Dessert Chowder: Sweet Mimi’s
86 participants /120,000 bowls served
I have to give a shout-out to my pal Chef Kevin Meyers at Gaffney’s, who repeated as one of the Champs on a day of many winners. They were coming after you, Kev – an all-out blitz. Yet, you read it and beat it back like Phil Simms in his prime!
But the biggest winner, as always, is you. Name a town that has a pre-game show on BIG GAME weekend like this! Congrats to everyone. See you next year!
Feb. 4, 2017