Heating up Saratoga Springs with ChowderFest

Chowder From Hattie's Kitchen Window

Saratoga Springs, N.Y. is well known as “the August place to be,” but the Spa city has its charms the rest of the year too. ChowderFest has become an annual winter tradition, pitting the city’s restaurants against each other to see who can come up with the best chowder. Three ounce samples of chowder are ladled out for a buck a pop. Attendees are encouraged to walk around the city to sample as many chowders as they can, from places known and not yet known. By visiting at least five places and having a card stamped for each visit, an attendee can vote for a champion chowder with the chowder receiving the most overall votes getting crowned the winner.

This past Saturday, unseasonably warm and partly sunny, was the perfect day to partake of my first one, especially since I was already in the area for the Farmers Market. In an effort to be green and to raise some additional funds, the Festival organizers sell special re-usable mugs that can be carried from location to location and be re-used. I bought one, which makes a nice souvenir, but I’m not entirely sold on its actual usefulness during the event. While it did save on cup waste (and probably allowed for a greater fill for the buck spent), I did find myself having to clean it out between chowders with paper napkins, negating some of its “green” benefit. It was also another thing to carry between stops.

Max London's Sweet Potato Chowder

I got there  just before the event started, which allowed time for my mug purchase. My first stop was at one of my Saratoga favorites – Max London’s, where they were ladling out portions of Sweet Potato Chowder with Crab and Bacon. Backed with a base of onions, celery, cream, garlic, butter and flour, the chowder’s flavor was buttressed with scallions and jalapeño. Rich and well balanced, this went down quite nicely.

Down the street, I got on line for the Roasted-chile Corn Chowder with Smoked Lobster and Serrano-Goat Cheese Croutons at the Mexican-themed Cantina. This hearty and smokey chowder was quite tasty and was ultimately judged the “Best on Broadway.”

Chef Dominic Colose of The Wine Bar

Max London’s and Cantina’s were served inside the restaurants. Across the street, The Wine Bar served up Chef Dominic Colose’s tasty traditional New England Clam Chowder. I love a good New England clam chowder and this was, but it was not the weekend for me to be a fan of New England.

Hattie's Bourbon Chicken and Corn Chowder

I ventured off-Broadway and down Phila Street to Hattie’s, where Chef Jasper Alexander put a bit of a Cajun’ touch into his chowder. His Bourbon Chicken and Corn Chowder with a Savory Tasso and Cheese Cookie did not skimp on the bourbon or anything. It was full-flavored and my favorite chowder of the ones I tried.

The Seven Horse Pub's Winning "Sea Hog" Chowder

I also stopped next door to Hattie’s at The Seven Horse Pub and Restaurant, where they fixed-up  nice surf and turf chowder that they called “Seahog Chowder.” This had a lobster and saffron base, but the real kick came from hickory smoked pulled pork that was generously piled on top along with a southern style corn-bred crouton. I couldn’t really taste the lobster or the saffron, but the pork was really good. It must have been, as they were voted not only the “Best Off-Broadway” but also the overall “People’s Choice” winner.

There were many more to try, but alas, these were rich and by the time I left Phila Street I was pretty much stuffed. Regardless of the outcome, everyone was a winner with this event. It’s one I hope to attend again and again!

 


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