Clams, and shellfish in general, seem to be a staple of the Mid-Atlantic and New England region’s diet. Our ultra local region of Westchester County, Putnam County and Fairfield County seems to focus on shellfish even more than our surrounding neighbors.
There is a raw bar around every corner and even a not-for-profit aiming to clean up the waters of the Hudson River with these tasty bi-valves. (Billion Oyster Project https://www.billionoysterproject.org/) It’s no wonder considering our proximity to New York City and it’s vibrant history in raw shellfish stands and a chowder style named after the island of Manhattan!
With a large amount of shellfish beds lining our coast, it comes as no surprise that locals would gather together annually for the extremely popular “Chowdafest”. This year was the tenth annual celebration. If you plan on attending the 11th, I would recommend arriving early as the festival fills quickly.
Restaurants from across Fairfield County – and even the country - compete in different categories (Classic New England, Traditional, Creative, Soup/Bisque, & Vegetarian) hoping to score big in their division and go home with the trophy and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
The setting is one that reminds you autumn is the absolute BEST season in the region. Nestled on the beach in Sherwood Island State Park, you are offered reprieve from sampling dozens of chowders by absorbing those last bits of sunshine oceanside.
This year’s festival, sponsored by big names like Stop&Shop, Ocean Spray, Cabot & The Farmer’s Cow – all locally started companies in New England, mind you; had 41 participating competitors, some of whom entered multiple chowders. For a third year in a row, the Seattle based restaurant Pike’s Peak took home the coveted gold medal in the category of New England style – much to the chagrin of this locavore. (I hope they were at least using locally harvested clams!) Two local restaurants took home the silver and bronze – B.R.Y.A.C and Sedona Taphouse, respectively.
All three winners in the Traditional category were local and all three competed with a Rhode Island Style chowder. I find it interesting that with the proximity of this competition to NYC that a Manhattan Style chowder didn’t make it into the top three.
Chowders in the creative category ranged from the Fried Seafood & Sweet Potato Chowder (complete with a full toppings bar!) to a Caribbean Clam Chowder and a Smoked Chicken & Corn Chowder. My personal favorite in this category was the Montauk Clam Chowder, presented by 2013 Snail of Approval recipient, Tarry Lodge of Westport, CT. Chef James Piccolo combined the Manhattan and New England styles to make a one of a kind and addictive entry – think tomato bisque, but with the sweet and briny characteristics that adding clams should bring.
Amongst the winners of the Soup/Bisque and Vegetarian samples were a traditional Lobster Bisque, a Truffle Mushroom Bisque and even a Zucchini Blossom Bisque.
To make the day complete, The Farmer’s Cow was scooping mini ice cream cones and donations were taken to help victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Overall the day was a spectacular, sunny, crispy autumn day in New England. I don’t think that Chowda’ will ever need to make it onto the Ark of Taste – endangered foods and recipes – list, but if it ever gets close, you can be sure I’ll be the first in line to nominate it!