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Sunday, October 02, 2016

‘Great Chowder Day’ Draws Thousands to Chowdafest

By James Lomuscio

On one end of East Beach at Westport’s Sherwood Island State Park today defending champion Joe Carpentieri was ladeling out his award-winning Manhattan clam chowder.

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Thousands attended Chowdafest at Westport’s Sherwood Island State Park. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“This is a great chowder day,” said Carpentieri, owner of Dunville’s in Westport’s Saugatuck section.

Across the expanse of chowder serving tents with lines more than 100 persons deep at times, Casey Hillyer agreed the gray skies and chilly, damp air blowing in from the Long Island Sound made for the perfect chowder day.

“The is great weather,” said Hillyer, an employee of Pike Place, another defending champion that took first prize for its New England Clam chowder last year.

Pike Place competitors came in from Seattle, showing just how much Chowdafest, started eight years ago by marketer Jim Keenan in the Westport’s Unitarian Church, has virtually exploded from local to statewide to regional New England, Mid-Atlantic to even bi-coastal participation. Forty restaurants competed.

“It’s a great event; we love it,” said Hillyer, whose group arrived in a few days earlier to buy fresh quahog clams. 

By 1:30 p.m. an estimated 2,500 persons had filled the park, with each adult paying $15, $5 for children 6 through 12 . Parking was free, but not easy to find as the beach lots overflowed.

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- Bill Rizzuto, owner of Rizzuto’s Restaurant, 540 Riverside Ave., and son Avery serve up Manhattan clam chowder. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Each attendee received a ballot, a pencil and a spoon to rate unlimited samplings chowder, soup and bisque.

Participating eateries had set up tents along the beach’s grassy area, each vying to grab or keep a previous year’s title for the best, be it clam, lobster, corn, shrimp, chicken or whatever kind of chowder a creative chef’s mind could conjure up.

“This year we’ll probably have 5,000 people,” said Carpentieri, whose chowder took first place in the Manhattan category last year.

“Do you have enough cups?” asked Joe Carpentieri, the owner’s father who with his wife Roz served up steaming chowder.

“Hang on to you cups,” Carpentieri quipped.

By early afternoon Jeff Spence of Westport’s Little Barn seemed exhausted from handing out small carboard cups of lobster chowder.

“Too many; we went though a whole box of cups,” Spense said. “We did 1,000 already.”

The secret ingredients making his fare so popular?

“Apple smoked bacon and cherry wine,” he said.

WestportNow.com Image
Amy Feder of Westport and Mark Brown of New Canaan check their chowder score sheet.  Feder said, “I’ve been coming to ChowdaFest since it started at the Unitarian Church.” Added Brown, “I skipped a mountain biking trip in New Hampshire today so I could be here.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Accoridng to Keenan, proceeds from the event go to fund Community Plates, a South Norwalk-based organization that takes aim at hunger across the United States.

Westporter Kate Albrecht, Community Plates director for Fairfield County, had set up a tent in the center of the event.

“It’s visibility, and it’s important to us that it’s a food event,” she said. “There’s a lot of invisible poverty in Fairfield County.”

Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce (WWCC), had a booth adjacent to Community Plates.

Mandell said he was there to promote restaurant week that began today and runs though Sunday, Oct. 16.

“What better place than one with a lot of foodies walking around,” he said.

The winners:

Classic New England Clam Chowder:
1st:  Pike Place Chowder - Seattle, Wash.
2nd: 250 Market - Portsmouth N.H.
3rd;  Take Five Cookery - Hartford

Traditional Clam Chowder:
1st:  Donahue’s Clam Castle (Rhode Island) - Madison
2nd:  Dunville’s (Manhattan) - Westport
3rd:  Chef’s Table (Rhode Island) - Fairfield

Creative Chowder:
1st:  Our House Bistro - Winooski, Vt.
2nd:  Gaffney’s - Saratogo Springs, N.Y.
3rd:  Smithsonian Cafe & Chowder House - North Hampton, Mass.

Soup/Bisque:
1st:  Crab Shell - Stamford
2nd:  Old Post Tavern - Fairfield
3rd:  Sam’s American Bistro - Stamford

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Posted 10/02/16 at 04:31 PM  Permalink



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