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Westport's Chowdafest Serves Up Delights To A Seaside Crowd

Meredith McGlynn and Alex Fletcher Hirsh serve up samples from Stefano’s in Long Beach Island, N.J., at Sunday's Chowdafest in Westport.
Meredith McGlynn and Alex Fletcher Hirsh serve up samples from Stefano’s in Long Beach Island, N.J., at Sunday's Chowdafest in Westport. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
Hillary Gibson and Kate Albrecht, volunteers with Community Plates, explain the nonprofit's mission. The Chowdafest in Westport benefits the hunger nonprofit.
Hillary Gibson and Kate Albrecht, volunteers with Community Plates, explain the nonprofit's mission. The Chowdafest in Westport benefits the hunger nonprofit. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
Pike Place Chowder traveled from Seattle to take part in Westport's Chowdafest. It was a favorite of author Roy Fuchs, with the servers.
Pike Place Chowder traveled from Seattle to take part in Westport's Chowdafest. It was a favorite of author Roy Fuchs, with the servers. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
Volunteer food runners for Community Plates get a button to show their commitment to getting unwanted food to where it's needed.
Volunteer food runners for Community Plates get a button to show their commitment to getting unwanted food to where it's needed. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs
The Chowdafest banner waves on a beautiful fall day at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport.
The Chowdafest banner waves on a beautiful fall day at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs

WESTPORT, Conn. — Sunday’s Chowdafest in Westport has grown from a few local restaurants competing in Westport’s Unitarian Church, to larger venues in the cafeteria at Bedford Middle School and the Arena at Harbor Yard. On Sunday, it headed outdoors on a beautiful fall day at Sherwood Island State Park.

This year, 40 restaurants, from as far as Seattle and as close as Main Street, offered up samples of their finest chowdas to nearly 10,000 prospective judges.

Chowdafest supports the Norwalk-based Community Plates, a nonprofit whose volunteer food runners “rescue food, move it from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, supermarkets and restaurants, where it’s not needed, to food pantries, shelters and similar places, where it is [needed],” said CP volunteer Hillary Gibson.

Participants got your wrist band, a spoon, a ballot and a pencil. From there, happy eating. Everything served up was free.

Chowdas were judged in four categories: New England, Manhattan/Rhode Island, Creative (anything but New England, Manhattan or Rhode Island) and Soups and Bisques.

I sampled about half of the offerings and liked most of them. There wasn’t a bad eat among them.

First a disclaimer — I’m from Boston, so I have a bias for the creamy white chowdas of my youth. My New England favorite? Surprise! It was Seattle’s Pike Place Chowder. It was creamy, it was rich and it was just a touch spicy. Truth will out — I went back for seconds. They are, according to the event’s site, “the No. 1 chowder in the country.”

Two other New England favorites were served up by Westport’s Little Barn, and Luke’s Lobster, a chain with a number of locations in New York City.

My favorite Manhattan chowda was from Westport’s Dunville’s (“The Original Social Network,” according to the sign in its tent). They have won in prior years. A second favorite was from Dino’s in New Haven, a tasty broth with lots of potatoes.

For bisques, two I enjoyed were from Bobby Q’s, a Main Street favorite, and a frequent winner in barbecue and chili competitions but new to chowda, and Norwalk’s Simply Delicious catering.

Altogether, it was a great event with a big crowd but not crowded at all at the beachfront state park. And when you left, you had to know where you’re going for your next seafood meal.

Here are the winners:

Classic New England Clam Chowder:

  • 1st: Pike Place Chowder of Seattle
  • 2nd: Sedona Taphouse of Norwalk
  • 3rd: Luke's Lobster of New York City

Traditional Clam Chowder:

  • 1st: Dunville's of Westport
  • 2nd: Stefano's of Long Beach Island, N.J.
  • 3rd: Grow of Shelton

Creative Chowder:

  • 1st: Our House Bistro of Winooski, Vt.
  • 2nd: Ri Ra of Portsmouth, N.H.
  • 3rd: Smithsonian Chowder House of Northhampton, Mass.

Soup/Bisque:

  • 1st: Simply Delicious of Norwalk
  • 2nd: Post 154 of Westport
  • 3rd: Bobby Q's of Westport

For more information, visit www.chowdafest.org/results.html

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