Chowderheads

“Chowder, chowder, chowder…!!!” our crew chanted, fists raised, all the way to Long Beach Island. This Sunday it was (finally!) time for the 20th Annual Chowderfest Cookoff! John, Jules and I, along with two of our dearest North Jersey friends, Jason and Beth, packed into our car to get thoroughly chowdered.

There were a few other vendors and some fun tables like face painting and sand art, but we got right down to business and headed for the two main tents where the good stuff was being ladled out. I’d like to say that our decision to do the red chowders first and save the white for last was a carefully planned culinary move in order to effectively progress from the lighter fare to the heavier cream-based soups and to preserve our palates and our judging abilities…but the pathetic reality is that we were hungry and the red chowder tent was the first we came upon (though it certainly worked out that way). First, our own personal winners/runners up and why we thought so:

RED
  • Grand Prize: Greenhouse Cafe – 6th St and Long Beach Blvd, Ship Bottom. 609.494.7333 A good clam broth base, with lovely, big chunks of tender clam. Not too vegetable or tomato-ey tasting. Yum.

  • 1st Runner Up: Sweet Jenny’s – 107 South Main St, Barnegat. 609.698.2228. A little sweeter, more like what you think of in a fish chowder-but GOOD.
  • 2nd Runner Up: Sea Oaks – 99 Golf View Dr, Little Egg Harbor. 609.296.2656. I like that they went out on a limb and added vinegar peppers to theirs. Not to everyone’s taste, but it was spicy and different-John really dug it.

WHITE

  • Grand Prize: Country Kettle – 800 North Bay Ave, Beach Haven. 609.492.2800. A real clam broth base, not too “milky”, nice balance of black pepper and sherry notes, big, tender chunks of clam. As Jason said: “Just what you think of when you say “Chowdah”.
  • 1st Runner Up: Howard’s Restaurant – 24 West 29th St, Beach Haven Gardens. 609.492.2319. Creamy, nice bit of celery, good clam flavor-but maybe not enough actual clams!

  • 2nd Runner Up: Mud City Crab House – 1185 East Bay Ave, Manahawkin. 609.978.3660. “Good and clammy”, large tender chunks of clams, a bit too milky, perhaps.

Other participants for Red Chowder included: Bistro 14 (too many veggies, not enough clams!), Surf City Bakery (overwhelmingly bacon-y and smoky, no taste of clams), Stefano’s (a little sweet, and somewhat yummy, but we took off massive points for the crunch of SAND-if you can’t clean the clams carefully, I don’t think you should score too high), The Gazebo (thick, sweet, no clams, tastes like Campbell’s), and Marlin 308 Deli (we never got to taste this one-the line was LONG because there was only one person pouring verrrry slowly, and any actual tasters surveyed said it wasn’t that great-we skipped it).

Other White Chowder contenders we sampled were: Panzone’s (Last year’s winner, but we weren’t impressed. It had a good “clammy” flavor, but wasn’t creamy enough and, again, had sand in it.), Merrimakers Catering (thin, little flavor, no clams, tasted like “milk soup”), California Grill (sweet and creamy, but not a lot of clam flavor; veggies not well-cut: mine had a big, honkin’ chunk of onion in it), Daddy O (Super-thick and starchy, it probably contained pureed potato to thicken it, as it tasted more like a good vichyssoise than clam chowder), Buckalew’s (thin and overwhelmingly onion-y. I love onions, but this is clam chowder!), and TGI Friday’s (SALTY, devoid of clams. “Tastes like hot ranch dressing.” ‘Nuff said.).

Okay, now that we’ve had our say (it’s our blog, after all), here are the actual results:

CHOWDERFEST 2008 WINNERS

White
Grand prize: California Grill
1st Runner up: Country Kettle
2nd : Howard’s
3rd: Mud City
Critic’s Choice: Panzone’s

Red
Grand Prize: Stefano’s
1st runner up: Bistro 14
2nd Runner up: Greenhouse Café
3rd Runner Up: Sweet Jenny’s
Critic’s Choice: Stefano’s

After all the chowders had been tasted and we voted, we walked up to the beach to enjoy the perfect fall weather and fly Julian’s kite. A drive up to Ol’ Barney (that’s the Barnegat Lighthouse, you know) to take a stroll and work off the chowder in time for dinner was just the thing; and the sunset over the bay was gorgeous. We then introduced Jason and Beth to Sweet Jenny’s in Barnegat for dinner, and Jason pronounced, “Every town should have a little place like this one.” I agreed (over another cup of their chowder), as we summed up the day’s events. Thus, the end of a perfect day spent with good friends.

Sort of makes up for John’s car breaking down on the way to work this morning. Sigh.

-Lisa


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3 thoughts on “Chowderheads

  1. I wish I had been able to make it down. It’s been years since I have been there and I am CRAVIN some good chowder. Alas, family birthdays and the Phils took precedence.

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