Confessions of a First Timer at Chowderfest
From the title, it’s easy to deduce that I had never been to Chowderfest before. As a senior at this school, it may seem hard to believe that this is even possible. To have been in Saratoga Springs for four years and having not gone to a single Chowderfest seems almost blasphemous to say. However, this leads me to my second confession: I don’t like clams, chorizo, bacon, sausage, and many other things that restaurants often put in chowder. Hopefully my rationale for having avoided Chowderfest thus far seems more understandable now--although I understand if my dislike of bacon will baffle many of you.
Nonetheless, last Saturday, February 6, I found myself walking downtown amidst a sea of people who had all gathered and were forming what I am forced to call lines, for one thing: chowder. Even though it was the early afternoon, Caroline Street was swarmed with people as if it had been a Friday or Saturday night. The line for Esperanto’s looped around the corner onto Broadway. Caroline Street Pub had its equally long line along their side of the street as they dished out cups of Druthers’s beer cheese and bacon chowder.
As we traversed the crowds, desperately trying to retain our footing on the sidewalks, it often seemed as if there were more options for doggy chowder than chowder free of chorizo. However, while those puppies were able to chow down, I eventually found those hidden gems that were serving what I wanted. The Crown Grill, right on Broadway next to the Circus Café, was ladling its corn and jalapeño chowder inside, and almost escaped our notice. There it was. My first Chowderfest chowder: corn and jalapeño. For one dollar we received our “cup” of chowder, which we greedily consumed in record time. We left The Crown Grill only to run into and join another line right outside.
While in plain view, but not included on the complimentary Chowderfest map, Char Koon dished out various, non-chowder dishes. Char Koon, the Chinese restaurant adjacent to The Crown Grill, handed out egg rolls, dumplings, and some type of chicken. I contented myself with a couple of egg rolls, and happily inhaled them as we made our way down the street. My friend, a Chowderfest veteran, knew that Hattie’s always had a good chowder and since they are known for their chicken I figured that it would be safe to head over there.
Turning onto Phila Street, I was astounded by the sea of people that had flooded the area. Ben & Jerry’s, Hattie’s, Falafel Den, Phila Fusion, Sweet Mimi’s, all of these restaurants were on this one street, and they were all serving chowder. After a few minutes we finally located the line for Hattie’s. After another few minutes we found the end of that line. Finally, after a few more minutes, we had reached near the front of the line where we could see the flavor of chowder they were serving, and one ingredient stood out: bacon.
Disheartened, we left that line and decided to head back towards Caroline. This time making sure to find the signs before we entered any lines, we found that Spa City Tap & Barrel was serving a buffalo chicken chowder, and the line wasn’t even out the door yet. Although the people who were standing at the bar made the line somewhat indiscernible from the crowd, we eventually made our way to the front of the line and got some bacon-free chowder.
Having had our fill of chowder and waiting in lines, we retreated to the warmth of Uncommon Grounds for some cookies and coffee. I had successfully braved the 2016 Saratoga Chowderfest. I suppose I can check that off of my Skidmore senior bucket list.