Some people prefer Manhattan-style clam chowder. Others endorse the New England version.
Roslyn Zecchini hopes a chowder with Spanish flair can win some fans.
“Most would want to do a cream-based,” said Zecchini, chef-owner of the Boca Bistro on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. “We’re trying for something a little bit different. . . . It’s a potato, chorizo and lobster. It’s tomato-based with a seafood stock. To give it a Spanish influence, we’ve added the chorizo fresco, which is Spanish-style chorizo — very similar to sausage except that generally it imparts a little more spice.”
Spicy and saucy chowders will be popular all over Saratoga Springs on Saturday. The city’s 15th annual Chowderfest, part of the weekend Winterfest, will be held from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Seventy-four restaurateurs and assorted stores and organizations will serve 3-ounce cups for $1 each. Pride and bragging rights are at stake — tasters will vote for their favorite foods on ballots available at all chowder stations.
Other Winterfest options will include a Friday night wine tasting at the Holiday Inn and a five-mile snowshoe race that will be held Sunday morning at Saratoga Spa State Park. The race is open to both snowshoe walkers and runners.
For Zecchini and a handful of other business owners, it’s a chance for extra exposure. Boca Bistro, Chez Pierre, the Bon Ton Fish Market and Druthers Brewing Co. will bring hot stuff to the party for the first time.
“We have a wonderful location,” Zecchini said of her Boca Bistro, on Broadway a few steps north of Phila Street in Saratoga’s busy downtown. “There’s a lot of foot traffic here, and we just want to promote the restaurant, seeing as we’ll be going on almost a year in June that we opened. Why not serve some chowder?”
WHERE: Saratoga Springs, various locations
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $1 per cup
MORE INFO: www.discoversaratoga.org
Fellow Chowderfest rookie Pia Baldwin Field has the same idea.
“We’re just trying to reach that area of Saratoga, Clifton Park,” said Field, who operates Wilton’s Chez Pierre with her husband, Lincoln. “This has a huge draw to it. We’ve been here for 48 years and it’s amazing to know so many people don’t realize we’re here. They just don’t travel this far north.”
Field is in this year because she’s secured a spot at the Saratoga City Center. She’ll bring restaurant samples to the people, and hope folks decide to make that drive north another time.
People seem to come from all directions for the chowder party. Last year, a record crowd of 20,000 people took advantage of a mild January and stocked up all kinds of chowder, from traditional seafoods to vegetarian or meat-filled varieties. More than 115,000 cups of chowder were served.
Beating cabin fever
“It’s traditionally a quieter time of the year, so businesses want to get out there and be able to get in front of customers, draw people into their restaurants or into their stores,” said Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, which sponsors the event. “For the visitors, this time of year cabin fever really starts to set in. This gives them a great chance to come to an outdoor event. There’s lots of entertainment, there are lots of people. It really cures the cabin fever, for a couple days, at least.”
The weather does not seem to affect the gathering. Garofano said people come when it’s warm and they come when it’s cold. “A little nip in the air, a little snow, it doesn’t hurt,” he said.
People who don’t like clams or cream will find alternatives. An ice cream diversion will be served at Ben & Jerry’s ice cream: “Phish chowder,” based on the popular “Phish Food” ice cream, will be served with M&M candies subbing for bread croutons.
Fifty South of Ballston Spa, like Chez Pierre, will serve from the Saratoga City Center and ladle gluten-free corn and potato chowder. At the Ice House on Putnam Street, smoked pork and sweet potato corn chowder will be chief attractions. The Inn at Saratoga will serve beef brisket chowder; the Bon Ton Fish Market will enter its first Chowderfest with an exotic swordfish chowder.
“Very few people have had something like this,” said Joel Reingold, who holds the local license for the well-known Bon Ton market headquartered in Greenwich, Conn. “It will be highly fresh, caught just a day or two before.”
Like Zecchini and Field, Reingold is looking for some publicity points.
“It’s wonderful exposure,” he said. “And it’s a logical introduction to the community for us. We just opened in August, and we are about fish, fish soups and high quality.”
Other newcomers just want a piece of the action.
“It’s a big event in Saratoga, it’s always a lot of fun,” said Brian Martell, who with his brother Chris recently opened the Druthers Brewing Co. on Broadway. “We’re from here, so we’ve gone to it every year.”
The Druthers chowder will be simmered with one of the brothers’ handcrafted beers and a smoked meat — the brewery smokes its own corned beef, chicken and other products. “It’s not perfected yet, but we’re getting there,” Martell said.
For Boca, an in-house competition will come with the citywide scramble for chowder superiority. The restaurant, along with Saratoga’s Chianti Ristorante and Forno Bistro and Pasta Pane restaurant in Clifton Park, is owned by the DZ restaurant group. Chiante and Forno have been in the chowder mix before; Boca will try to knock off its brothers.
“It becomes a friendly competition to see who can do the best,” said Nancy Bambara, the restaurant group’s director of operations. “My chefs are very competitive.”