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Top Chowder: restaurants compete at 22nd annual Chowderfest

Two-year-old Morgan Maltais of Laconia gets a taste of chowder from her mom, Andrea Wilson. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
October 07, 2009
MEREDITH — Fish, lobster, corn, traditional clams, and a little heat were served up during the 22nd annual Chowderfest at Hesky Park Sunday, to benefit the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.

Before noon, people lined up around the tent in Hesky Park to pay $5 and sample as much chowder as they wanted. Participants then voted for their top three favorites, with ballots tabulated throughout the day.

"This is one of the best crowds at the beginning that I've seen," said event emcee Pat Kelly from WLNH. "We've had the weather work with us; it's just a great fall thing to do."

Some chowder makers arrived Sunday morning to start preparing their chowder in large pots behind their tables, while others prepared it at their restaurants and brought it to the fest.

A total of 10 restaurants participated: Camp, The Hilltop at Steele Hill Resort, the Weirs Beach Lobster Pound, Abondante, Heat, T-Bones and Cactus Jacks, the Café at Laconia Bike Works, defending champion Wolfe's Tavern at the Wolfeboro Inn, Kitchen Cravings, and Patrick's Pub and Eatery.

This is the fourth year in the competition for Abondante of Meredith. This year they served corn and lobster chowder, which is offered at both the restaurant and at the bakery downstairs.

"It's a nice community event and it's for a good cause," said Abondante owner Steve Cataldo. "We like to do things that help promote Meredith as a spot that has a lot of fun events."

Camp, another Meredith-based restaurant, was also serving their chowder for the fourth year. General Manager Sean Brown said the event is good for people to "see what Meredith has to offer."

"Last year we were very, very popular but we were edged out," Brown said.

Laconia Bike Works Café opened this year in Gilford and took part in the Chowderfest for the first time.

"I used to come here before for the Chowderfest," said Ernest Grenon from Laconia Bike Works. "When we opened up the restaurant we decided to get involved, get people to see us."

This is also the first year for Heat, located in the Weirs, who served a seafood chowder with Atlantic haddock, tiger shrimp, salmon, and a light chipotle flavor.

"I love Meredith and I think Meredith is doing a lot of good events down here over the year," said Chris Lopes, kitchen manager of Heat. "We really want to show our face business-wise."

T-Bones and Cactus Jacks made a New England clam chowder and a spicy seafood stew. Their participation also comes during the 25th anniversary of the restaurant chain.

"We're hoping for first place; we've come in second two years in a row," said Tina Vachon of T-Bones and Cactus Jacks. "We're hoping the seafood gumbo will do it this year."

The Weirs Beach Lobster Pound served a clam chowder and a seafood chowder with lobster. Marius Nunu helped illustrate the restaurant by dressing in a lobster outfit.

"Everybody's taste is different some people like having basic, some people like it thin, thick," said Lobster Pound Chef Bob Wilson.

Guests came from all different areas to sample the chowder and vote for their favorites.

Andrea Wilson of Laconia brought her 2-year-old daughter Morgan Maltais and shared some chowder with her.

"She seems to be enjoying it and loves the oyster crackers," Wilson said.

Carol Keenan of Danvers, Mass. and Rose Paige of Peabody, Mass., were attending the craft fair nearby when they saw the Chowderfest tent.

"Saw the line in, figured it had to be good," Paige said.

After all votes were tallied, Patrick's Pub and Eatery in Gilford was voted the winner. Patrick's will have its name engraved on the "chowder bowl" trophy, which will be displayed in the restaurant for a year.

Owner Alan Beetle said the original recipe was a seafood chowder, but somewhere along the line the restaurant decided to add lobster.

"It was such a hit that we've included lobster all the time," Beetle said.

In addition to the lobster, the chowder includes haddock, scallops, shrimp, and clams and is based on a recipe by Jeff Beetle.

Patrick's has been taking part for seven years. The restaurant won three years ago but has not taken part in the past two years.

The first runner up was the Hill Top Restaurant at the Steele Hill Resort in Sanbornton. Abondante was voted as second runner up.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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