Blue Water Café, Stefano’s and The Chicken or the Egg Cook Up Grand-Prize-Winning Soup at Chowderfest
While last year’s Chowderfest was a complete washout after being canceled due to Hurricane Joaquin, a bit of gloomy weather didn’t stop chowder enthusiasts young and old from tramping through the muddy Taylor Avenue ball field at Bay Village in Beach Haven to chow down on delicious, hot soup during the Cook-Off Classic on Sunday. Thousands of festival-goers indulged in all-you-can-eat samples from 16 local restaurants vying for first place in the red (Manhattan) and white (New England) clam chowder categories along with the first-ever creative seafood category.
The Blue Water Café and La Bamba Mexican Restaurant, two competitors in the new category, were both named chowder cook-off champions.
Blue Water of Haven Beach took the category’s grand prize for its lobster bisque, a staple that has been on the restaurant’s menu for the past five years. Chef/owner Steve DiPietro whipped up 150 gallons of the flavorful soup, featuring tender Maine lobster meat, for festival tasters to try that day.
“The recipe’s not really a secret. It’s heavy cream and a lot of lobster, basically,” he told The SandPaper between serving up samples to chowder-hungry individuals.
This was the café’s first time participating in Chowderfest, though Stefano’s Restaurant, which is owned by the same family, has won the festival’s red and white categories multiple times and has also been named world champion of New England chowder at the international Great Chowder Cook-Off in Rhode Island.
Stefano’s, located in North Beach Haven, was named the Manhattan Chowder grand prize winner on Sunday. First runner-up went to Lefty’s Restaurant and Tavern followed by second runner-up Black Whale Bar and Fish House, which also won a booth award for best shore motif. Shore Fire Grille took third runner-up in the red category.
La Bamba, another Chowderfest first-timer, was named second runner-up in the creative seafood category as well as rookie of the year for its chipotle clam-ato. The spicy soup, 186 gallons made with clams, sea bass and crabmeat along with a touch of chipotle for a south of the border bite, was concocted just for Chowderfest. Chef/owner Valentine Madrid, who began preparing authentic Mexican dishes with family after spending many years as an Italian chef, said the Brant Beach- and Manahawkin-based Mexican restaurants’ menus “focus more on seafood than tacos and burritos.”
Other creative category winners include first runner-up Buckalew’s Restaurant and Tavern for its rich and creamy she-crab soup, a popular menu item for more than 15 years. Citing a want to continue to add more interest to the festival, chef/owner Allan Menegus said he helped create Chowderfest’s new category, which he entered in support as well as to give the restaurant’s culinary staff a chance to create something opposed to just preparing menu orders.
“Plus, shucking clams gets a little old,” Menegus said, noting the restaurant has competed in and won the red and white categories in previous years.
Cuisine on the Green at Atlantis’ scallop bisque, named third runner-up in the creative category, was prepared by the culinary arts school/restaurant’s students. The inspired chefs concocted 230 gallons of Cuisine’s house soup, which Ian Smith, executive chef and instructor, said was enough to serve 25,000 samples. Dedicated to creating and serving fresh, local fare, the recipe was chock full of vegetables to make up for artificial fillers, Smith explained. He said the soup will be gluten-free by next year.
After winning first and second runner-up at previous Chowderfests, The Chicken or the Egg’s creamy New England chowder topped with hot sauce was named the grand prize winner in the white category, a feat The Chegg had been after for some time. The Island restaurant favorite, known for its juicy chicken wings and signature hot sauces, also received most enthusiastic in the best booth winners.
Halfway through the festival on Sunday, husband and wife David and Pat Duleba of Maplewood, who had been planning to attend for the past three years after vacationing on the Island for quite some time, both told The SandPaper that The Chegg’s chowder was the best they had ever had. Though David Duleba used to make his own Manhattan clam chowder, he said he had stopped most likely because his wife prefers New England. Neither of them at that time had selected their favorite red chowder.
First runner-up in the white category went to Howard’s Restaurant, followed by second runner-up Country Kettle Chowda, which also won a booth award for best interpretation of the theme. Mud City Crab House took third runner-up as well as most creative booth.
Other festival competitors included Sea Oaks Country Club, The Shack, Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club and Southern Smoke Foods.
The delicious chowder and talented culinary artists, however, weren’t the only ones being praised at Chowderfest. Members of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event, also thanked the Beach Haven Police Department, Ocean County Sheriff’s Department, New Jersey State Police and Homeland Security for their presence that day.
— Kelley Anne Essinger