Saturday, July 10, 2010

City Hall Chowderfest

I returned from Cape Cod after the long holiday weekend mid-afternoon on Monday July 5th. Since it was about 90 degrees and humid, I made a wise decision to attend an outdoor clam chowder tasting. Presenting the Boston City Hall 29th Annual Chowdahfest.
I actually found out about this event via one of the many "tourist" pamphlets I read through on the car ride home that Adam picked up when we made a pit stop at Exit 5 off Route 3. The event itself only cost $10 so I figured, why not?
Seven restaurants entered this years competition:
1) Mr. Dooley's Boston Tavern
2) Yankee Lobster Fish Market
3) Anthem Kitchen + Bar
4) The Fish Pier Restaurant
5) Oceana, Long Wharf Boston Marriot
6) Farmer Brown's (Middelton)
7) Parkers Restaurant, Omni Parker House Hotel

You are allowed to sample each restaurants chowder as many times as you like and then vote for your favorite.

I began at Mr. Dooley's Boston Tavern, where the chowder sample escaped the camera.
Their chowder was thick and hearty, exactly the kind of chowder you would expect from a traditional Irish Pub. The richest of the seven by far, I would call it more of a clam stew. I thought it was flavorful and well done, but I pondered would I really be able to eat an entire bowl full?! Maybe if it was my main course!

Next up: Yankee Lobster Company.
In sharp contrast to Mr. Dooley's - Yankee Lobster was actually the thinnest clam chowder of the bunch, and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. The picture below doesn't do it justice, but there was a perfect balance of clams to potatoes. The briny ocean flavors of the broth as well the clams tasted extremely fresh. Nice work Yankee Lobster.

Anthem Kitchen + Bar is a new spot located right down the street in Faneuil Hall's South Market Building.
I walked by the other day and thought - oh that looks like a relaxed bar that would be nice to check out sometime.
The texture was right in the middle between Dooley's thick creamy stew and Yankee's thin briny broth. Which sounds ideal - but at the time I remember thinking - "pick one". Be thick or be thin. I guess just wasn't convinced that Anthem truly achieved a spot on creamy texture. It didn't stand out to me and if I do visit their bar, I'm not sure the chowder would be at the top of my to-order-list.

Moving right along. Wow, it's hot out and I'm getting full.....
The Fish Pier was my least favorite chowder of the day.
Not only does it look flavorless and unappealing, the taste was bland and lacked anything reminiscent of the sea. The potatoes were undercooked to boot.

Oceana at the Long Wharf Marriot hands down wins first place for booth presentation.
The chowder presentation on the other hand had me slightly skeptical.
I know it's clam chowder but believe a good clam chowder has a balanced ratio of clams to potatoes, and there were no potatoes to be found in Oceana's sample.
But I was impressed by the creative spread!

Farmer Browns was the only non-restaurant to participate and they are also not located in Boston.
Their unpictured chowder was decent, but apparently not enough to stick out in my mind. That's my way of saying I can't remember what it tasted like and I'm about to turn into a bowl of clam chowder if I take one more bite.....

Press on. Two more to taste. Parker's Restaurant at the Omni Parker House Hotel stood out for one main reason.
A light, fluffy, buttery bite-size roll accompanied their sample. I desperately needed something, anything other than oyster crackers to eat with my chowder. Thank you Parker's. Your attention to detail is duely noted.
Parker's did a good job. I thought they nailed the creamy broth, however the potato and clams were insignificant. I could taste them but their texture was off. They aren't supposed to be minced!

Last but not least - The Chart House was present to showcase their Hall of Fame chowder. Restaurants who have won three times are entered into the hall of fame and are no longer eligible to compete for our votes. I just dined here last month, although I did not eat their chowder. I was delighted to be able to sample it today. It looked amazing and tasted pretty darn good too. All the elements of a great chowder are achieved. A nice balance of clams to potatoes which are just the right size and a thick broth that is both salty and creamy. The Hall of Fame induction was well deserved.
Chowderfest Hall of Famers include:
Captain Parker’s Pub: 2000, 2001, 2006
The Chart House: 1989, 1990, 1995
Mass Bay Company - Sheraton Boston Hotel & Towers: 1982, 1983, 1992
Ned Devine's Irish Pub: 2004, 2005, 2009
Turner Fisheries Bar & Restaurant - Westin Hotel: 1984, 1985, 1986

So who won my vote after I made my way through the Boston EMS cooling station? I was having a tough time. It wasn't a hands down easy choice. But I voted for Yankee Lobster Company. I think my vote was a combination of outside factors aka the intense heat, that allowed their lighter yet flavorful chowder to shine through and leave a lasting impression. Had it been a chilly winter day I might have voted for Mr. Dooley's creamy thick version. Drum roll please....
The 2010 Chowderfest Winners:
1st Place - Anthem Kitchen + Bar
2nd Place - Mr. Dooley's Boston Tavern
3rd Place - Yankee Lobster Fish Market
Well, you know how I feel about the 2nd and 3rd place! As far as Anthem taking 1st? I chalk it up to the staff behind their booth that were super friendly and more so than any other restaurant, encouraging folks to vote for them. But, I'm sure it was well deserved. Congrats Anthem!


  1. Woo hoo, chowdafest! I will never forget when we moved to Providence and I had my first cup of Rhode Island clam chowdah. I was so excited because I thought it was going to be thick and delicious, and it was, well, RI chowdah, salty and watery. Yuck, never again! XO!

  2. Seems like a fantastic event. Gotta have potatoes in the chowdah!

    Great photos.


  3. I lived in Acton for a couple of years about 20 years ago and I was lucky enough to enjoy Boston and clam chowda! Loved it.

    It was about 90 here in So. Cal just now and it started to pour down rain! Now that was weird!

    Love to visit your blog and I will be back!

  4. I love chowder so much! It is tricky trying to find it here in LA withouth ham though!

  5. chowder!!!!!!!!!!!!you are so lucky! I would have gone back 15 times for more samples ;)

  6. A Chowderfest?! So much fun!! I think Boston is one of my top 10 places to live one day. OR at least visit - it seems like a foodies dreams lol (:

  7. How the heck did I miss out on Chowderfest?! Arggg! Next year I'm totally keeping my calendar open... Looks like a fabulous afternoon :)

    I haven't tried Ocean Spray's new juices yet, but I'm really excited to!


  8. thanks Kristen! Hopefully someone out there will have a delicious recipe for me!!

  9. Great recap! I don't know what it is but I never ever want to have clam chowder during the summer! I wish they would have this in the winter!

  10. Oh. my. goodness! A day of chowder?!? Totally jealous. If we had one of those in Florida, I think people would be a bit confused why we'd serve hot chowder in the summer! But jealous nonetheless.

    Also, is it odd that when I saw that Ocean Spray sign it reminded me that I've had a little crush on the younger guy for a while? Is that just me?! Hope not ;)