SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Saratoga Chowderfest attracted thousands of people, and as someone who delights in trying different foods, it was an opportunity that I could not pass up. The sun was shining, and expectations were soaring as I made the 40-minute drive from Albany. What could go wrong?
As soon as I reached Saratoga Springs, I faced a challenge all eventgoers had to deal with: lack of parking. As I toured the surrounding neighborhoods, I lamented how many cars were parked where they should not have been. I was tempted to do the same, but I could not bring myself to do that. Instead, I eventually made it back onto Union Ave and found a decent parking spot.
As I made my way across Congress Park, I could see the swarms of people walking around Chowderfest. I questioned how long the lines were at each vendor, and almost as soon as I stepped foot on the crowded streets, I heard a passerby complain that the wait times were too long. I just drove 40 minutes to eat chowder, so I wasn’t going to let myself be swayed so easily by one dismayed individual.
Chowderfest featured over 80 different vendors serving 4 oz. samples for $2. To try and cover as many chowders as possible, I enlisted some help from Capital Region residents and our very own Jessie House from NEWS10.
Lines varied, but while many appeared long, they moved at reasonable speeds. I had nine chowders and could have eaten more, but I made an egregious decision towards the end of my adventures.
You might be asking, how can one even make a mistake during Chowderfest? Simple. I went to Ben & Jerry’s.
At this point, I had seven hot chowders, and the temptation of a Ben & Jerry’s “chowder” made with my favorite ice cream, Phish Food, was too much for me to pass up. Much to my amusement, the “chowder” was a scoop of ice cream with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and M&M’s. Again, you may be asking, how is this a mistake?
After polishing off the Phish Food chowder, I lost all my appetite for another hot chowder. The thought of transitioning back and forth from a hot chowder to an ice cream left me puzzled as to what to try next. Coincidentally, I ran into a former colleague who pointed me in the direction of more dessert! Sweet Mimi’s Cafe & Bakery offered a Nutella Mousse Crunch, which put the nail in the coffin for more hot chowder.
My acquaintances and I decided to make our unique awards from the chowders we sampled. It was difficult to narrow down who we thought had the best chowders, so we put a spin on some of the awards. Note, these awards are based on our opinions, and our taste buds might differ from yours.
Pay It Forward Award: The Cock’n Bull
Despite the heavy emphasis on using “grass-fed” chicken, it was a sign on Cock’n Bull’s table that caught my attention. According to their sign, all proceeds from Chowderfest benefit the Crossroads Center for Children, a center that enrolls children diagnosed on the autism spectrum or those that can benefit from a behaviorally based educational program.
Most Hospitable Award: The parents of the Saratoga Central Catholic Varsity Baseball team
Not only did they serve a tasty chowder, but the greeters and servers made this stop the most welcoming station at Chowderfest. Their table was not listed on the virtual map, but keep your eyes out if they decide to return next year!
Best Chowder with a Twist: Rhea’s Seafood Ramen
Winners of the People’s Choice Award for 1,001 – 1,500 bowls, the seafood ramen chowder was one of my favorites. The idea of combining ramen noodles and chowder has never crossed my mind, and I admit, I was skeptical at first, but wow! The chowder was delicious, and the noodles complimented the dish nicely. I would have happily gotten back in line for another serving, but Ben & Jerry’s was calling.
Best Non-Chowder Chowder: Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream “Chowder”
As mentioned earlier, Phish Food is my favorite ice cream and as a native Vermonter, I usually don’t have anything negative to say about Ben & Jerry’s. I enjoyed the addition of simple toppings and will probably make my own Phish Food “chowder” at home.
The Jessie House Best Chowder Award: Harvey’s Cajun Chicken Corn Chowder
“I really liked the Cajun flavor, and I hadn’t had one like that before I stopped at Harvey’s. Oh, and it also came with a chicken wing but I would have liked it if the chicken wing had hot sauce on it.” – Jessie House
Most Unique Chowder: BurgerFi’s Cheeseburger & Beer Chowdaaa
I love burgers and I love chowder. Did I like both of them together? Still wrapping my head around this one, but at least the creativity was not lacking.
In summary, Chowderfest was fun, and I left with a full belly. It was intriguing to see what each vendor served and get varying opinions on the definition of a chowder. I saw clam chowders, corn chowders, chicken soup, vegan soup, ice cream, mousse, and more.
One concern I heard from eventgoers was over sanitation. While some vendors handed out utensils to their patrons, others had a communal container so patrons would have to grab their own utensils.
As per the parking issues, I reached out to Saratoga Police and event organizers, and it is an issue that is on their radar for future events. “Unfortunately, with such a large influx of people, parking restrictions are either ignored or not considered by those parking their vehicles,” said Sgt. Paul Veitch in a response. “For most of these types of events, Parking Enforcement is working and enforcing the parking rules throughout the city.”
“The City Center parking garage peaked during some parts of the day, but there was availability as well,” wrote Darryl Leggieri, President of Discover Saratoga. “When we have our post-event meeting to discuss the event, we will review our plan going forward. I think we can find ways to promote the free shuttle more than what we are doing.”