Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bloggers' Bites: Fishtown's 2nd Annual Chili Cookoff

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appétit's blog staff. On Sunday, March 25, we ventured out to Fishtown for its 2nd Annual Fishtown Neighbors Association Chili Cookoff.

Held in the spacious Skybox @ 2424 Studios, the venue was the perfect location for the cookoff with high ceilings and plenty of room for all the challengers. The judges—Drew Lazor (Citypaper Meal Ticket), State Rep Mike O-Brien (175th District), and Joy Manning ( and former food critic at Philly Mag)—may have selected resident Theresa Decker's "Double Decker" and restaurant Loco Pez's "Loco Border Chili," but what did Penn Appétit bloggers think? Read on to find out!

Nicole Woon: 24 types of chili. 5 bloggers. 1 mission: to try them all.

Indeed, this was our quest at FNA's 2nd Annual Chili Cookoff. We rose to the challenge and powered through each challenger's entry. A tip for these types of events: pace yourself. Chili is a substantial food that fills you up quickly, and you never know what you might find at the end!

"Happiness is a Warm Chili," an entry by Andrew McGowan and Dan Friel, captured my heart, stomach, and vote in the resident division. Their epic combination of meats—beef, pork, lamb, and veal (yes, all four in one stew)—with a homemade chili powder was positively delectable. The chili was hearty without being too heavy and was robust with flavor. It was truly happiness in a sample cup. (Plus, I loved the Beatles reference! Major bonus points.)

In the restaurant division, Loco Pez's stellar "Loco Border Chili" wowed my taste buds. Loco Pez took the mundane and made it insane, serving up wild boar chili with bacon, chocolate, stout, and habanero chipotle. The savory stew was topped with a dab of sour cream, a sprinkle of cheese, and a crisp baked tortilla chip. For me, there are five criteria for an award-winning chili: aroma, consistency, red color, taste, and aftertaste. Loco Pez's entry met and surpassed all five. They truly paid great attention to detail with each sample they served up, from the light garnish to the temperature of the chili itself, which was a definite plus in my book!

Now, for a couple awards of my own: The Magnificent Meat Award goes to resident Jed Mecham's "Chili Con Chimi." It was meltingly tender and had the most incredible flavor. One blogger likened it to ropa vieja and I must say I agree with her. While I wasn't a huge proponent for the watery broth, if you served a bowl of just his chili meat, I would be a happy camper.

The Tasty Toppings Award goes to "Murph's Bar Chili," served by restaurant participant Murph's. Each sample cup was filled with a substantial amount of chili and topped to order with fresh chives, crumbled baked tortilla chips, sour cream, and cheesy cheddar. The contrasting textures of the various ingredients was excellent; their chili was delicious as well with an unctuous meaty taste.

Elliott Brooks: My two favorite chilis were actually both resident chilis. I found that by-and-large while the restaurant chilis were consistently good, the resident chilis were allowed more creativity. This meant that while some of the resident chilis were stellar, a few were downright bizarre.

My favorite resident chili was Theresa Decker's Double Decker, which was a tasty Mediterranean spin on chili. It had a really nice texture, and had plump raisins that had soaked in the meat juices, adding a really nice sweetness to the chili. It was served with cilantro sour cream, toasted almonds and jalapeno relish. The flavors played off each other nicely, and the almonds added a great crunch.

My second favorite was Andrew McGowan and Dan Friel's "Happiness is a Warm Chili". The chili was made from a combination of beef, pork, lamb and veal and was, as I described it "meat-flavored heaven". The combination of meats made the stew incredibly rich and delicious.

Of the restaurants, my favorite chili was the Pickled Heron's "Trois Petits Cochons", which was perhaps the least chili-like of the bunch. It was more of a white bean cassolet, with sausage, bacon and headcheese. Even though the thought of headcheese is a bit repulsive, the chili itself was very buttery tasting. I personally really liked it, although other bloggers were not huge fans.

Abigail Koffler: I had a great time at the Chili Cookoff. My favorites were "Loco Border Chili" and "Carne Adovada," both prepared by professional chefs. The loco border chili, served by a charming aussie, was complicated. It had texture, sweetness and meatiness and a salty tortilla tip accent. You didn't want to spoon it down all at once. You wanted to sit down with a bowl and a good book. "Carne Adovada" would have been a delicious dinner. The cornbread added the perfect texture and everyone in our group wanted a big bowl of the avocado cream. Chili cookoffs require a certain strategy. Clever names, perfect temperatures and creative toppings make your bowl of chili stand out from the crowd. With 25 in the mix, only the best were remembered.

Brittney Joyce: Resident chili:
My favorite resident chili by far was the "Happiness is a Warm Chili" batch. The four kinds of meat, beef, pork, lamb, and veal, were incredibly tender. The chili was also warm flavor-wise without being too spicy, making it a deliciously cozy great. The makers of this batch seemed to go light on some other traditional chili ingredients like beans and chunky peppers, but this worked out perfectly because the meat was so tasty.

Restaurant chili:
The "Carne Adovado" chili was my favorite restaurant variety. The chili was not too spicy and had nice texture, but what really took it to another level was the topping. The creators had a cilantro-avocado cream that they put on top, and the bright flavor of cilantro combined with the creamy richness of the avocado paired wonderfully with the chili, complementing its spicier tones. The cilantro-avocado topping was something that I had never associated with chili before, but we saw cilantro at a couple of others tables too and it is now something that I would definitely consider as a topping the next time that I make chili. The "Carne Adovado" group also served a delicious savory chorizo cornbread muffin with their chili, which earned them some bonus points from me. The "Loco Border Chili" came in a close second for me, but was a little bit too salty for my taste.

Vegan chilis:
I tried to be open minded in trying the available vegan chilis at the competition. However, I didn't really like any of them. Most of them diverged a lot from traditional chili flavors, and while many meat-based chilis there did this as well I found that some combination of spices and texture made the vegan chilis much less palatable to me. Oh well, maybe next year!

Jessica Chung: The Fishtown Chili Cook-off was a really great experience. The atmosphere was warm and friendly and the venue was packed with locals. There were the biker type in their leather jackets and bandanas, the moms with kids, and the young couples—all craving chili. It felt like an indoor block party, one in which they only served chili!

There were twenty-five different types of chili to try. At first, that didn’t seem like too much: you only got a sample. However, I got so full by the tenth cup that I couldn’t eat any more! From then on, I would gauge whether or not it was worth it to stuff my stomach with another taste based on the other bloggers’ assessments!

Out of the ones I did try though, I did have my favorites and my least favorites. Of the restaurants’ chili, I liked “Murph’s Bar Chili.” It tasted like a taco in chili form. The meat was tender, which was good, but it was the toppings that made this one stand out. The crunchy tortilla chips, cool sour cream, gooey cheese, and crisp chives made for great contrasts against the warm broth and soft beef. All of the different textures melded well together to create something that was more than just your everyday chili. I also really liked Soup Kitchen’s chorizo sausage cornbread. Their chili was unremarkable, but their cornbread was delicious. It was sweet with little bits of sausage. It was not grainy and was very moist. The bits of sausage lent a slightly salty flavor to the sweet muffin and a bit of a chew.

My least favorite of the restaurants’ chili were Barcade’s and Brindle Café’s. Barcade’s chili consisted of beer-soaked beans and pork belly with a whiskey mole sauce. Unfortunately, the alcohol was so potent that it made me cringe on the first bite. Instead of lending flavor to the dish, the liquor made it taste like a shot! Furthermore, instead of alcohol, it was Indian spices that overpowered Brindle Café’s chili. I tried the vegan version and it tasted more like an Indian bean dish than a chili. I think the idea was good, to infuse Indian flavors into the dish, but it turned out that the spices took the show, allowing no room for the main ingredients to shine.

Of the residents’ chili, I did not have an absolute favorite. I thought that Jed Mecham’s “Chili Con Chimi” had good, tender, flavorful meat, but the broth was not thick enough. On the other hand, I liked the broth of Randy Malone’s “Uncle Jack’s Tennessee Pride.” It had a sweet barbecue flavor that made it different from the usual salty chili. The meat, however, was simple—just ground beef. As for my least favorite of the resident’s chili, it was Kelly and Holly Stevenson’s “Kelly’s Kreation.” This chili didn’t resemble a traditional chili. The meat was chicken and the broth tasted like pure buffalo sauce. It was thin and tangy and would have worked better as a sauce than a broth.

Overall, the Fishtown Chili Cook-Off was a really great experience. I do not love chili, but I really enjoyed getting to try all different kinds. It was a chance to taste various creations—good and bad—without having to commit to one. I would definitely do it again…and maybe next time
on an empty stomach!

Bloggers with happy smiles and full stomachs!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you all for the kind words about our "Happiness Is A Warm Chili!" We feel vindicated after a harsh loss, and will come back strong next year.



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