Barnegat Leader

Lefty’s in the ‘Red’ as Chowderfest Cook-Off Winner

Oct 18, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill The crew from Lefty's reacts to their win at Chowderfest.

With tears of joy streaming from his eyes, Oscar Morera clutched the championship platter trophy like it was his child on Oct. 1. And rightfully so. The man behind Lefty’s Tavern’s Manhattan clam chowder pulled off what many may have considered the unthinkable, ending a 15-year run by Stefano’s Restaurant in the 29th annual Chowderfest Cook-Off Classic in Beach Haven that day.

“It’s awesome,“ said a humble Morera, surrounded by Lefty’s crew as they celebrated their huge victory. “It takes a lot of effort to win. If you add it all up, it took about 70 hours to make the chowder. But I have an awesome kitchen staff, and it was all worth it. It’s all just awesome.”

It marked the first time an establishment from Barnegat Township won the cook-off.

About an hour before Chowderfest organizer Todd Elsasser and Jillian Panzone, event co-chair with Christopher Schwab, announced the winners, the buzz over Lefty’s chowder inside the voting tent was quite loud. As wave after wave of chowder lovers dropped their red chips into the buckets, it was clear that Lefty’s was in the title hunt from the start.

“I voted for Lefty’s,” said Pennsylvania 10-year-old Nate Quinn, whose 8-year-old brother, Dylan, also voted for Morera’s red chowder. “It was really good and creamy.”

That’s not to say the New York Yankees of Manhattan chowder wasn’t a hit as it tried to retain its title of the past 15 years. Plenty of Chowderfest guests plunked their chips for Stefano’s, which first got into the Chowderfest game in 1993, won in 1995 and 1997, and then in 2001 began its mammoth run. But this time, the game changed. In fact, the Lefty’s victory marked the third time a mainland-side restaurant has won the red category. Behind Lefty’s and Stefano’s was The Black Whale.

“That Lefty’s chowder was great,” said Quinn family friend Katie Pepper of Collegeville, Pa. “It wasn’t just a tomato-based soup with vegetables. It was creamy. It was smooth, and it had a wonderful taste. It was just the way a red chowder should taste.”

Lefty’s first joined the big show in 2012 and didn’t even place that year. During the past three Chowderfests, Lefty’s has hovered near the top, finishing as the runner-up to Stefano’s in 2013 and then again last year. Morera swore he didn’t do anything different this year.

“I’ve really been doing the same thing since we started doing this five years ago,” he said, remaining coy about any tweaks he made to the recipe. “Every year has been pretty good. But finally, this was the year.”

The owners of the establishment, Lefteddy and Jennifer Saropoulos, received congratulations from the Barnegat Township Committee at a recent meeting.

“This was a tremendous accomplishment,” said Mayor Albert Bille. “They’ve been so close before, and now they’ve brought the Chowderfest trophy to Barnegat. Maybe they can win it again next year. We are so proud of them.” 

Lefteddy Saropoulos said the platter-shaped trophy is on display in the dining room.

“Eventually, we’ll find a permanent spot for it on our wall,” he said.

— David Biggy and Eric Englund

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