Nothing cures cabin fever like a hot bowl of chowder. At last weekend’s 20th annual Chowderfest in Saratoga Springs, more than 35,000 chowder fanatics gorged themselves with $1 sample cups served up by eateries across Saratoga County—and ultimately crowned the Thirsty Owl’s chowder the best on Broadway and beyond.
“From its humble beginnings in 1999, Saratoga’s Chowderfest was created to drive business to downtown restaurants in what was normally a quiet time of year,” says Todd Garofano, President of Discover Saratoga. “Since then, Chowderfest has grown from a handful of restaurants and bars with a few thousand people enjoying downtown to over 90 restaurants, bars and venues participating throughout Saratoga County. The event regularly draws more than 35,000 people annually, coming from around the region and as far away as New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, Western New York, Boston and Montreal. It has truly become an economic driver.”
Chowderfest is one of the most popular events of Saratoga’s Winterfest. Last year, in addition to the slough of musical acts and chowder-themed family-friendly activities, local restaurants served more than 130,000 cups of chowder to tourists and townies alike. At this year’s festivities, which took place on Saturday, February 3, nearly 140,000 cups of chowder were served.
“Our secret is simple; make a lot of chowder and spend a few bucks making it,” says Josh Cupp, General Manager of People’s Choice Award-winner Thirsty Owl Saratoga. Thirsty Owl also won last year’s coveted People’s Choice Award, as well as Best on Broadway both years. “Our hook last year was a U12 shrimp wrapped in bacon with a candied coating.” This year, the restaurant won with a simple seafood chowder.
Looking back, Cupp says, “Thirsty Owl has won one category or another three of the four years we have been in existence. We love that folks come from both our neighborhood and far and wide to visit our amazing city to participate in Chowderfest and we hate to disappoint.” While the crowds are always intense, Josh looks forward to the unique challenge that Chowderfest poses to local restaurants each year: “Our staff loves the competition, but more so the energetic crowds that such an event brings to our great city at a traditionally quiet time of the year. The Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau does a fantastic job at proactively bringing great people to town, and we are fortunate to have such a terrific driving force.”
Additional 2018 Chowderfest category winners included Ravenous (Best Dessert Chowder); PJ’s Bar-B-QSA (Best Non-Downtown Chowder); Courtyard by Marriott (Best Off-Broadway Chowder); Dizzy Chicken Wood Fired Rotisserie (Best Newcomer); and Bookmakers Restaurant and Lounge at the Holiday Inn (Best Chowder Made With Saranac Beer). The Thirsty Owl won both the People’s Choice and Best on Broadway awards.