By Jennie Grey
SARATOGA SPRINGS The city's 16th annual Chowderfest drew a hearty crowd from all over the Capital Region, eager to sample unique chowder recipes from 85 participating restaurants and businesses Saturday. Chowders featuring seafood, root vegetables and even Irish whiskey warmed the hearts, hands and stomachs of participants.
Best friends Caroline Cooney, Chris Migliaro and David Webber came from Albany for their fifth year at Chowderfest. The energetic samplers tested as many as 22 chowders one year.
“This year, Gaffney's is in the lead,” Migliaro said.
Webber said, “But we'll test as many as the lines allow.”
Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau hosts Chowderfest as part of the Spa City's Winterfest week that concludes Sunday this year. The streets were generally packed with bundled-up chowder-samplers braving the cold, using cups of warm soup to warm their hands.
“Chowderfest has become a signature event for Saratoga Springs,” Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau President Todd Garofano said. “Last year, we had 25,000 people — both local and from as far away as Canada — out on the streets. In 2013, we had 73 participating establishments; this year, we have 85. Chowderfest just keeps growing.”
Paul O'Donnell, owner of Celtic Treasures on Broadway, partnered with Grand Avenue's Local Pub and Teahouse to create and serve Irish chowder. Some of its ingredients were monkfish and halibut — and whiskey and beer. O'Donnell sampled the very first cup and pronounced it delicious.
“The Local is one of my favorite watering holes, and teaming up with us is a good way for it to get some exposure,” he said.
At the Wine Bar, Manhattan clam chowder was practically flying out of the kettle. Sarah Evans, volunteering to help her family serve, was at her post since 11 a.m.
“So far, so good. We're almost out of chowder,” she said Saturday afternoon.
Sandy Smith and her boyfriend, Patrick Brand, both of Amsterdam, brought along their Chinese pug, Tamara. Luckily for Tamara and all the other visiting pets, several downtown businesses provided special doggie chowder for them.
Dave Ganim, whose wife, Sara Ellis, owns Dawgdom on Broadway, concocted the canine chowder they served at their table. The soup contained natural ground beef, low-sodium bacon and pumpkin, among other ingredients.
“We served 200 bowls,” Ellis said. “It's been a hit. Very few dogs have turned up their noses at it — and those were just being shy.”
This year's winner in the “People's Choice” category was The Merry Monk on Henry Street.