The cool logo says it all.
Two dudes and a chick truck down the Northway hippie-style in a vintage VW bus, and below the colorful image, there are the words “what a long strange year it’s been,” tweaking the title of a Grateful Dead album. And yes, two of the characters wear blue face masks.
Because of COVID-19, Saratoga Spring’s wildly popular Chowderfest, with up to 40,000 people jamming downtown on a single day, can’t happen. The laid-back but just as delicious Saratoga Chowder Tour, an alternative eight day event, is on the calendar instead.
“We have to be different this year,” says Darryl Leggieri, president of Discover Saratoga. “For this one year, we’re going to dial down and be safe and focus on what’s important. And that’s supporting our restaurants and businesses. This is normally a slow time of year, and certainly the pandemic has made it even worse.”
Thirty places that serve food, including restaurants, delis, cafes, a taco shop and the Saratoga Springs Knights of Columbus, are making chowder. People can eat inside with limited seating or pick up pints and quarts of takeout chowder to eat at home.
“We are not having closed off streets, we are not having dollar samples outside, we’re not promoting the big crowds this year,” says Leggieri
But with this event, chowder lovers can really indulge. Could someone actually enjoy a different chowder every day for eight days?
“Absolutely,” he says.
As with Chowderfest, restaurants will compete in various categories but instead of casting paper ballots around town, you’ll vote online at www.discoversaratoga.org/events/chowderfest/.
At Spa Café on Broadway, next door to Saratoga Springs City Hall, lobster and shrimp corn chowder will simmer on the stove.
“We actually ran it last year for Chowderfest and we had such a good response with it, we’re running it again,” says owner Darin Palmetto. “Last year we made 85 gallons and sold it out. This year I’m only making 20 to 30 gallons.”
Palmetto is thankful that there’s an alternative event.
“Everybody is hurting for business. There’s a lack of foot traffic. So every little bit helps.”
Earlier this month, The Parting Glass, the city’s 49-year-old Irish pub, was rescued with a grant from Barstool Sports.
“We were closing three or four days a week, but thanks to Barstool, we’re open seven days so we can do the Chowder Tour the entire week. We’re excited,” says manager Linda DeBlasio, daughter of owner Joan Desadora.
The Parting Glass is putting together a shrimp and potato corn chowder that’s a slight variation of their Luck of the Irish Chowder, which has won awards at Chowderfest.
The Tour is “definitely going to be positive,” she says. “As long as we keep it safe, it’s better than not doing it at all.
Downtown and near town, there’s a soup for every taste.
Boca Bistro is doing a roasted pork belly and poblano chowder; 30 Lake will have a classic New England clam chowder; and Chianti II Ristorante is making smoked beef ribs and fagioli chowder.
On West Avenue, you’ll find a vegan lentil creation at Kaffee House and PJ’s BAR-B-QSA on South Broadway is cooking up an American barbecue corn chowder that can be ordered with meat or vegetarian.
Another tradition that’s hanging on is the sale of t-shirts, caps and knit hats bearing the light-hearted logo created by Saratoga Springs artist Hudson Armstrong. Those items will be available online through Feb. 7 from T-Shirt Graphics in Ballston Spa through a link on www.discover.org.
“There are some die-hards who like to collect them every single year. So we wanted to make that available,” says Leggieri. “It’s a very limited run.”
As an event, Saratoga Chowder Tour may be a strange trip into the unknown, but Leggieri promises that the thick, belly-warming soups will be as yummy as ever.
“They do chowder right in this town … in this area,” he says. “There’s a tremendous amount of creativity. That’s what excites me. Just seeing all these restaurants putting their heart and soul into what they make. And that will remain the same.”
Saratoga Chowder Tour 2021
WHAT: COVID-safe, crowd-free alternative to Saratoga Chowderfest
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 30, through Saturday, Feb. 6.
HOW MUCH: If you dine indoors, cups and bowls can be ordered off the menu. Restaurant seating is limited, reservations are strongly recommended. Takeout pints are priced from $5 to $16, quarts from $9 to $31. Curbside service available.
MORE INFO: Participating restaurants and their chowders plus other food and drink specials are listed at www.discoversaratoga.org/events.
Schenectady Soup-athon continues through Sunday
In Schenectady, the annual Soup Stroll event — renamed Schenectady Soup-athon for 2021 — continues this week through Sunday. Participants can sample specialty soups and other promotions for dine-in or take-out at various downtown Schenectady restaurants.
Participating restaurants are: Backstage Pub, Bomber’s Schenectady, Hunter’s on Jay, Johnny’s Schenectady, Katie O’Byrne’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, Maria’s Cafe and Catering, Tara Kitchen and True Juice Cafe.