If Punxsutawney Phil’s weather-predicting powers can be trusted, it seems as though we’re doomed to endure six more weeks of winter. But, as luck would have it, the same week that the grumpy groundhog predicted a continued barrage of snow and cold, Saratogians have been able to enjoy a newly reimagined version of Chowderfest in their homes and local restaurants. This year’s event, dubbed the Chowder Tour, is taking place as we speak, through Saturday, February 6.
For more than 20 years, Saratoga has been celebrating Chowderfest, a citywide festival where restaurants set up tables outside on a designated Saturday in February and hand out samples of their best chowder for $1 a cup. Participating restaurants compete for the titles of Best on Broadway, People’s Choice and Best Desert Chowder, among other categories. “In the dead of winter, you have days where you don’t see a lot of people,” says Josh Cupp, general manager of the Thirsty Owl Bistro. Chowderfest is the exception. In past years, it has attracted as many as 40,000 fest-goers, giving restaurants all across Saratoga County a welcome boost in business.
This year, of course, has been different, due to the pandemic. But rather than cancel Chowderfest, host Discover Saratoga figured out a way to make it happen. “Leave it to Discover Saratoga to create a really cool event that was done responsibly during a global pandemic,” Cupp says. (Cupp is also a member of Discover Saratoga’s board of directors.) The solution was to make Chowderfest into an eight-day-long tour, with restaurants selling chowder in pints and quarts for dine-in or to-go orders. The tour started on Saturday, January 30 and will run through February 6, the day Chowderfest would have been.
While there won’t be thousands of people descending on Downtown Saratoga on the 6th this year, there is plenty of the thick, savory, soupy stuff to go around. Thirsty Owl, which is the four-time reigning champion in the Best on Broadway category, is serving up a seafood chowder, while other restaurants are offering Chicken Wing Chowder (Dango’s), Smoked Beef Ribs & Fagioli Chowder (Chianti Il Ristorante) and Mac & Cheese Chowder (Simply Food by Maura). That’s only the tip of the iceberg; there are 37 participating restaurants in total.
If you were wondering, voting is open until Saturday at 5pm, and the winner of the Best Overall Chowder will be announced on Discover Saratoga’s social media at 6pm. So, what are you waiting for? There may be six more weeks of winter, but there’s only a few more days of Saratoga’s Chowder Tour.