Held each October in Westport, Connecticut, Chowdafest celebrates the delicious diversity of chowder.
By Jessica Gordon Ryan
Oct 12 2016
It was a spectacular day, overcast with a slight chill coming off the Long Island Sound — the type of day best suited for a warm, comforting bowl of clam chowder. I was delighted to attend the 10th Annual Chowdafest, “New England’s Best Chowder & Soup Competition,” last year at the beautiful Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. When Yankee Magazine declares it a Top Event of the Season, attendees know they’re in for some serious chowder — the crème de la crème, (cream de la cream?) of course.
Chowdafest offers up a unique twist, recognizing that chowder comes in many shapes and forms, from the traditional New England style to the tomato-based Manhattan to clear broth-based style, as well as the more creative varieties of soups and bisques. Each year, 40 restaurants participate, from Seattle to the Empire State, as well as the New England states.
Upon entry, guests are handed a spoon and a ballot sheet on which each restaurant is listed, along with its chowder or soup. Each soup is then given a score from 7 – 10.5, with 10.5 being the absolute best. Among a sea of fabulous chowders, there were those who stood out from the rest by offering unique ingredients, interesting flavors, and twists.
Armed with spoons and ballots, we scored them all. Here, chowder tasting is serious business! There were some incredible traditional chowders with ingredients so fresh and flavorful that they had that just-caught taste. From the clean crisp flavors of the broth-y chowders to the smooth textures of the New England ones, everyone had a favorite.
What makes this event so special is the thrill of finding the unexpected —experiencing the non-traditional soups and chowders (especially those that had a unique twist) and sampling offerings from restaurants we’d not yet discovered. In the creative categories, there were shrimp and corn chowders, lobster and corn chowders, shrimp and andouille chowders, spicy clam and sausage chowders, seafood chowders, gluten-free chowders, fried seafood and sweet potato chowders, green chili stews, turkey corn rattlesnake chowders, and bacon cilantro soup. Perhaps the most unusual was a chocolate bisque, warm and rich a perfect after-meal treat. There were a couple of “fun” chowders with toppings like scallions, jalapeno slices, potato chips, bacon crumbles and deep fried onions, where dressing your chowder became a part of the ceremony — “Look what I made!”
This multigenerational afternoon pleased young and old alike, and plenty of furry four-legged friends, too. Everyone, but especially the toddlers, delighted in sampling cones of Farmer’s Cow Ice Cream. Because at the end of the day, there’s always room for dessert!
This fun and delicious event not only satisfied thousands of attendees, it helps in the fight against hunger. In 2015, they raised enough to fund over 400,000 meals.
Sunday, October 1
11:00AM – 3:00PM
Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT