Sunday, July 1, 2007

Chowderfest 2007

Harborfest is a week of events leading up to the 4th of July, and Chowderfest is one of the biggest draws. This year, nine local chowder purveyors competed for the title of Best Chowder.

When we stepped out of the T, City Hall Plaza was abuzz with activity. There were tons of vendors handing out free samples - Fruit2O, Pepperidge Farms, some chip company, Crystal Light, Dunkin' Donuts. After a little wandering, we bought our tickets and headed inside the gates.

Nine booths lay in front of us in a line. Some had long lines, while others had no wait at all. My favorite of the group was The Skipper, followed closely by Christopher's. I had a hard time deciding which I liked better, but Skipper ended up with my vote.

My thoughts on all the different competitors:

1) Christopher's - Very good. The potatoes were buttery and smooth, and the large chunks of clam were tender and not tough at all.

2) USS Wasp - The only non-restaurant competitor, the crew of this Navy ship produced a very different chowder. This chowder had a lovely presentation, with a whole shrimp in each sample-size cup, but the flavor was not great. I think the base was lobster, which is fine, but not what I was expecting. It also had a lot of kick to it, and way too much bacon.

3) Great Bay - This was probably the most gourmet of all the offerings. They were cooking up the clams and other solids in pans in the booth, then serving a small scoop of this with broth poured over it. This left the chowder too watery, and there was very little integration between the solids and the broth. There was also on overpowering celery taste.

4) La Morra - This was also very watery with lots of celery. It did, however, include whole (small) clams with bellies, bringing in a more authentic clam flavor.

5) Ned Devine's - The broth on this had a nice, thick consistancy, but it wasn't overpoweringly heavy. The potatoes, however, were undercooked and the clam pieces were big and rubbery.

6) Daily Catch - Oily and watery, this tasted more like chicken soup than clam chowder. Not a good showing for a seafood restaurant.

7) The Fireplace - Bacon. All I could taste was bacon. The potatoes were also undercooked. They did include clam bellies for the fresh-from-the-sea flavor, but it didn't pair well with that much bacon.

8) Skipper's - My roommate's words after taking his first bite were "This is what I think of when I think of clam chowder." It had a thick broth, very soft potatoes, and clams that were chewy but not rubbery. Leave it to a restaurant from Cape Cod to show everyone else how it's done.

9) Grille at Hobbs Brook - This chowder was way too thick, almost gluey. There was no clam flavor; all I could taste was potatoes. Very institutional, but not surprising for hotel food.

Note: Why were there so many Redcoats around? Do we get to ceremoniously kick them out of town on Wednesday?


Unknown said...

I would mostly agree with these ratings. Our four favorites were Christopher's, USS Wasp, Ned Divine's and the Skipper's.

After having the Skipper's last, we went back to christopher's to make a direct comparison between the two. I thought that Christopher's was the hand's down winner after that.

I actually got a real kick out of the USS Wasp's chowder which was my second favorite. I'm pretty sure that theirs was the most polarizing, primarily because it much less traditional chowder. I disliked it at first, but after having the entire cup I was very impressed with it.

Anonymous said...

"Too much bacon"? I'm sorry, when you string those words together like that, they don't make any sense. How can there be too much bacon? It's like having too much sunshine. Wait, that is a bad thing. It's like... having too much love in your heart.

Pam said...

J., I agree with you... in most cases. I'm a big bacon fan, and I can't wait to make the bacon placemat on . However, I don't see the place of it in chowder. Maybe it's just that I'm so used to my mother's chowder, bacon-less, but I want to taste clams in my clam chowder, not pig.

wheresmymind said...

I couldn't handle another 'festival'...had too many of 'em already :D

Pam said...

Wheresmymind, did you go to the Phantom BBQ thing? From what I heard, that was enough to drive all desire for "food festivals" out of anyone.

Liney said...

pig chowder is a great idea...

John Burt said...

My favorite was the chowder from the USS Wasp, because it was the most original interpretation of the theme. I expected to like Great Bay's chowder, because they were cooking up the clams right there (so they weren't from cans), but I agree with you that they didn't get to integrate it with the broth. My second favorite was Christophers.

Anonymous said...

What about 2008.
We attended and after several taste test, we all agreed that once again Christopher's hands down was the best.

Anonymous said...

I agree, I spent a few hours at Sundays 27th Chowderfest. I thought that there were big differences between all but Christopher's did it the best.
I liked how they decorated the booth. It appeared clean at all times and I saw the Phantom Gourmets Dan and Dave speaking to one of the owners. Winning once says a little, winning two years in a row says a lot.
Hats off to Christopher's.