Maura Pulver’s comfort chowder is now in sneak previews.
Pulver, who owns the Saratoga Five Points Market & Deli, is currently selling her macaroni and cheese chowder for the first time this winter. She hopes more people will sample her dish for the main event on Saturday — the city’s 16th annual Chowderfest.
Pulver and chefs from dozens of local restaurants and businesses will sell their best kettle creations during the city’s mid-winter party, which will be held from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. It’s one of the concluding events for Winterfest Week, which began last weekend and ends Sunday.
“After New Year’s, people kind of take a break,” said Connie Crudo, manager of membership services for the sponsoring Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau and the festival organizer. “By February, they’re ready to get out and do it again. It’s a fun event; we’ve got stuff for adults, kids, dogs. Everybody’s welcome.”
WHERE: Various locations in Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $1 per sample
MORE INFO: www.discoversaratoga.org/chowderfest
People can spend and sample a lot or a little during the soup party. Here’s how it works: Chowder lovers go to participating restaurants and pay $1 for each three-ounce serving. They can pick up ballots at the same establishments and vote for their favorites.
“We want people to try lots of different chowders,” Crudo said. “Some people can eat five bowls; some people can eat 10 bowls. It gets pretty filling pretty fast.”
Pulver, who has owned the landmark grocery and deli on Park Place for the past two years, said two fans of the Five Points mac and cheese chowder last year convinced her the dish had a place on the festival menu.
These diners had visited the store during the morning, sampled the chowder and then proceeded to sip at Chowderfest.
“They came back to the store at like 6 that night and said, ‘We tried so many chowders, but it was so crowded downtown and we had to wait in line for hours. We couldn’t wait to come back and have your chowder,’ ” Pulver said.
The visitors then bought large containers of Pulver’s best, explaining they were hosting a small party later in the evening. “I hugged them,” Pulver said. “I thought that was the coolest thing ever.”
She hopes people will make the 10-minute walk from downtown to sample her chowder, which also includes ham and corn.
“We made it every single day probably through May or so; then the warmer weather came and we stopped making it,” Pulver said. “It’s just a nice warm dish of comfort food that really hits the spot.”
Other places will make sure samplers are comfortable with filling up. “The Irish Times has done seafood chowder with cornbread,” Crudo said. “The Bookmakers chowder [at the Holiday Inn] has been served in puff pastry bowls.”
This year’s chowder servers will work at Bailey’s Cafe, Esperanto, Gaffney’s, the Ice House, The Inn at Saratoga, Lillian’s and Maestro’s, among others. Eight other restaurants and businesses, including the American Red Cross and Fin your fishmonger, will ladle up the goods at the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The Merry Monk on Henry Street is another rookie in this year’s chowder lineup. Craig Carlson, general manager of the bar and restaurant, said his place opened last Feb. 15 — a couple weeks too late for Chowderfest.
Like other places, Carlson’s team wants a piece of the action for 2014 — and hopes to attract roving diners with the restaurant’s European-themed chowder.
“We’re a Belgium-themed restaurant and bar,” Carlson said. “We’re basically going to add that twist to it; it will be Belgium-influenced chowder. We’re looking to use mussels — mussels are big in Belgium. We have a number of them on our menu.”
Crudo is expecting a big crowd. Last year, she said, 25,000 people attended and consumed 115,000 bowls of chowder. “The restaurants call in the numbers of bowls served, so we know that’s accurate,” Crudo said.
Last year, Chowderfest entertained people on Caroline Street with a flash mob performance of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” For this year’s edition, a hat party will give people a chance to compete in a winter version of a favorite summer pastime in Saratoga.
Prizes will be awarded to top toppers in both adult and 12-and-under categories. Crudo hopes the chowder will keep interiors warm; the hats will keep exteriors warm.
“I’ve been making sample hats for friends and family, straw hats, ear muffs made into hats, fancy track hats — anything that goes on your head,” she said.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.