I just spent the best two days of judging since I began my food competition circuit years ago. I have judged New England chowders all over the United States including New York believe it or not, and I must say that Mainah's just have a way with chowder. Not to give a back seat to the chili recipes I also judged, but there is just something ingrained in a Yankee that plain loves milk-based chowder. And in Boothbay Harbor, those fishermen and fishermen's wives certainly know how to reel us in. In all fairness however(and a little "truth be told") many other people that aren't "of the sea" or in the restaurant industry whipped up their own version of chili and chowder that truly tempted me to take more than a taste. But from experience and many upset stomachs later, I have learned to curtail my ingestion of creamy chowder and spicy chili so that I can get through each and every entrant.
And that brings me to the entrants. I have never felt so welcomed anywhere than I did in this Downeast area of Maine. Although the old adage holds true that there will always be a bad apple in the lot, I constantly was on the lookout for that one sourpuss who wasn't a people person or simply didn't want to put on a smile. Heck, I even prompted someone to grimace in my own, dry Yankee style, but nobody would have any of it. Regardless of my "pushing their buttons" at times, I walked away with both happiness and "I'll get the next one" attitude. Every single shop owner, restaurant chef, retail clerk and even the tourists, seemed happy to be where they were and rubbing elbows with everyone that crammed into their shops and accidentally bumped into them.
Not only did I have to judge food, but I was also a judge for the displays that many businesses set up in front of their shops. From adolescnet girls in lobster costumes to all out decorations that involved a 20 gallon martini glass, it was all just such a great way to spend a sun-filled weekend on the coast.
But my main object of participation was to taste the chowders and chili's. And staying on track was very difficult. The restaurants, individuals and businesses that contributed to my tasting frenzy and set up beautiful displays included:
(Go ahead, safely click on each of these places to take you to their website or FB page. Beautiful places)
Coastal Maine Popcorn Company
Andrew's Harborside Restaurant
2 Salty Dogs
Boothbay Region Greenhouse
Fisherman's Wharf Inn and Restaurant
I cannot tell you the winner until it is announced next weekend but I will tell you that the winner of the chowder challange is a chowder that I have never had the equal of. I have tasted chowder all over the United States and have judged some chowders from the finest, upscale restaurants in this country, but it was this one recipe in a little town in Maine that won my palate becaue of the one ingredient that many chowder makers never put in anymore. Along with that ingredient, the consistency was perfect for the classic preparation of this New England....well, classic chowder.
The best chili was one of the best I have eaten as well. With that hint of spice that stuck around just long enough to let you know it was there, but not altering the flavor and heat of the next bite.
Please come back next weekend to see who the winner is for best chowder, chili and decoration. Not only will I give you the winners, but my thoughts for those that didn't place. I know, I know. Us Mainah's are never good at taking constructive criticism, but if these folks accept what I have to say with the same gracious and dignified way they treated me while I was down there, maybe that sour, dry, stubborn and unforgiving attitude that Yankee's are known for just may be on the way out.