Well, we braved the rain, and we had a ton of chowder, and had a really great time.
Something I noticed was that I was actually disappointed in about 1/3 of the offerings… And indifferent about many more. Which made me very very sad, because I love chowder. I think that a lot of the competitors were trying new things, or trying a little too hard to make their chowders unique and memorable… and in that effort, overcompensated and made their “definining flavor” way too strong, and thus kind of ruined the chowder.
One really big example that stuck out in my mind was one booth that had a dill and thyme flavored chowder. Now, I LOVE dill. So I was pretty excited, right? I got me a little cup, and… ALL I could taste was dill and thyme. Pretty gross at full strength. It was like eating a tree with some chowder smeared on it. And that made me sad. Then there was the chowder that tasted like hot clammy mayonnaise. Lord, that was not right. I was really glad I’d just bought a bag of kettle corn… in a pinch, it was a pretty good palate cleanser.
And we kept running into other problems, too. A few of the chowder competitors added wine or beer into their mix, and it was just… too much. The wine one in particular was notably bad. It was like they hadn’t cooked off the wine at all… it was like drinking dry vermouth straight out of the bottle. Ugh. The beer one was better but it was overly smoky. Again, I think it was over-herbed.
THe biggest disappointment for me was the seafood chowder category. It was just… terrible. There was only one chowder in that category that didn’t totally suck. All 3 of the other seafood ones were spit out practically as soon as they hit my tongue. There was a “seafood stew” that was tomato-based and so soupy I wouldn’t even call it a chowder, there was a bisque that was simply frightful, and then there was that wine-y one that just…. blecccchhh. So that left one competitor in the seafood category that was even palateable at all. Sigh.
The creative one was a very mixed bag. A few of them tried too hard, but there were also some big hits. We had a scallop one that was pretty good, and then the clear winner for us of that tent was a shrimp and corn chowder that was just perfect in every way. They garnished each cup with some crumbled cornbread and… Yeah. It was truly beautiful. I loved it.
The classic clam had some real big bright spots. For the most part, there weren’t any that were truly disgusting. A few fell victim to the too soupy or too much spicing monsters. Two of them were really excellent. One was from Captain Parker’s, which research tells me has won twice in previous years. I really liked them quite a lot, but they overdid it on the celery flavoring. The big winner was #3, and I can’t remember who they were representing but it was everything we ever wanted in a good chowder. We all went back for several more helpings of that one.
The clam cakes sub-competition was just a disaster. There were only two competitors, and they both kind of sucked. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting clam *Fritters*. I think what bothered me the most was that there was way too much fritter dough and like no clam. And one of them was like pure salt. So that was a wash.
All in all though, it was a great event. I had a really good time, and discovered some very good chowders. There was great music, and we had a lot of fun, and that’s what’s important.
Next time, however… I won’t get the oyster shooter.
I can see how the chowder from Robert’s Fish & Chips could totally own in that contest. I don’t think they had so much differentiation when I was there in a previous year.