It’s here. The time of year I dread the most. The longest, shortest month of the year. The month where you’re tired of the cold, snow, and ice, feeling cooped up with nothing to do, desperately wanting for the warmth of spring. Yep, this Saturday was the perfect example of this nastiness, but hell if Danny and I were going to let that keep us down. Nope! Instead we were determined to trek out in the nasty, cold rain for an all-day sample fest of some of the best food Fairfield County has to offer. Because when the weather fails you, there’s always comfort food to make it aaaaall better!
We started our day out at First County Bank on High Ridge Road in Stamford for the Second Annual Chef’s Challenge to support the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. For those of you unfamiliar with this challenge, three local restaurants and/or catering companies compete against each other by creating impressive maple syrup concoctions. Yeah, heaven! This year the competition stepped it up a few notches to try and take down last year’s champion, Marcia Selden Catering (pictured above).
We started with breakfast, naturally, at David’s Soundview Catering’s station. First up, maple & spiced bacon wrapped grissini, which were fabulous. The bacon was cooked perfect, not overcooked, not undercooked and with the perfect amount of maple syrup and spice so as to not overpower the bacony goodness. Next up was a mini butter milk pancake with (what else?) maple syrup and a maple sausage patty, fresh and hot off the skillet. Both also perfectly cooked, the sausage was so perfect in fact, we had to have two. What? Don’t judge us! It was just such the perfect combo of savory and sweet that we couldn’t resist. Then, last but not least, was their homemade granola which offered a fantastic level of crunch and sweetness you could only hope for out of granola.
Next up, brunch with Marcia Selden Catering, starting with some nicely maple coated mixed nuts. And, at the risk of being repetitive, also the perfect balance between savory and sweet. (Yep, guess these chef’s know what they’re doing). Then onto their maple pulled pork tacos. These were also pretty tasty. The pork was cooked very nicely, but could’ve used just a touch more maple syrup. As the iron chef judges say the key ingredient was not the star. And then we finished with their maple panna cotta which was holy awesomeness! I am a huge panna cotta fan and this did not disappoint with just the right amount of maple, cream, vanilla and berries to balance it all out. Don’t tell, but Danny had two. YUM!
Then lastly, more dessert with Maple Shortbread Fingers from SoNo Baking Company and Cafe. These too, were quite delicious, soft and delicate, though they could’ve also used just a bit more maple syrup to get that flavor across. Being a huge fan of SoNo Baking, I was sad to see that was all they made. I think being newbies to the Chef’s Challenge, they didn’t realize the competitors were going to bring out the whole dog and pony show. Maybe next year, because I know their food could definitely kick some arse!
All in all, the event was a huge success! The two winners, as determined by the people’s vote, will move on to compete in the final challenge at Stamford Museum and Nature Center for Maple Sugar Sunday on March 6, 11am – 3pm. And, you have until that Sunday to sponsor your very own bucket of maple syrup for $50, which not only gets you a pint of magically delicious local maple syrup, but also supports a great Stamford establishment dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of art, history and the natural and agricultural sciences. Guess what? We’ve got the winners! David’s Soundview Catering will go up against Marcia Selden Catering for the bragging rights of the Maple Sugar Sunday 2011 winners!
Chowdafest 2011 in Westport
After some errands and a long stop home for a cleaning marathon to prep our house for a showing (what a food-buzz kill), we beelined it over to Bedford Middle School in Westport for the 3rd annual Chowdafest. The fest was over at 4, and unfortunately we got there at 3:30, so we were on a mission to throw down as many chowder samples as physically possibly in that half hour. We wish we could give you the full report on all the awesome restaurants that participated, but we’ll do our best to entertain you with the highlights of what we did taste (bad food bloggers, BAD… we won’t do it again next year, we promise).
So after sample a variety of traditional to crazy creative soups from Italian Corner Deli, Old Post Tavern, Rowayton Seafood, MacKenzie’s, Liquid Lunch, Nicholas Roberts, River House, Soup Alley, Southport Brewing Company, Chef’s Table, and Da Pietro’s, we had some definite favorites!
Staring in the traditional New England chowder category, we definitely enjoyed them, but were actually not blown away by any of the chowders we tasted. The 1st place winner was Mansion Clam House and sadly we didn’t get to taste theirs. We did have the 2nd and 3rd place winners, however, from MacKenzie’s and Old Post Tavern and both were nice, solid chowders with hearty veggies, plump clams, and not too much thickener. All good go-to chowders.
Moving on to the creative chowder category, well, this is where we did have our socks blown off. What does that mean anyway? Whatever. By far the tastiest in this category was 1st place winner, SBC‘s Corn and Poblano Chowder with a squirt of their very own, unique Romesco sauce made with toasted almonds, roasted tomatoes, peppers, vinegar and more deliciousness! In fact, we got into a nice conversation with Chef/Owner David Rutligiano about his plans to possibly do a nice pasta with this sauce and more. A true foodie that David is, he shared with us some exciting ideas he’s been throwing around for SBC including an organic kids menu and using more regionally source foods within a 400 mile radius. Non winners in this category that we really enjoyed were Soup Alley’s Sicilian Sausage and Clam Chowder and Nicholas Robert’s Guinness and Chorizo Clam Chowder. Both were packed full of sausagey goodness which is probably why we liked these ones so much. It’s funny, we like these two best in this category when we were interviewed by the lovely Vanessa Inzitari from The Daily Westport about our favorites, not knowing what was ahead of us on our way to SBC’s station.
Then over to the last category which also blew our minds, soups and bisques. Here too, the runaway champion for 1st place stood out most in our minds, which was the Lobster Bisque by Nicholas Roberts. OH EM GEE DELICIOUS!!!! Creamy, well seasoned, and generous with the chunks of succulent lobster, this soup was FABULOUS! And we’re not just saying that because we already <3 Nicholas Robert’s. Also a standout in this category was 3rd place‘s Soup Alley’s El Queso Grande which was like literally drinking liquid queso with a little kick of hot peppers. I could slurp a vat of that stuff, though I’d likely gain 5 pounds doing it. Also, 2nd place Liquid Lunch‘s Buffalo Chicken Soup was delish, like drinking slightly hot buffalo wing sauce, topped with crispy celery. And here too, we really enjoyed a non-winner, the Asparagus Soup from River House. This was quite a unique soup, very fresh, light, and tasty using no cream, really allowing the fresh asparagus taste to shine through. This would be a great spring soup to go with a steak on the grill. We enjoyed it very much!
Wow, as you can see, it was an intense day of eating! Yeah, I know, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it, right? We really enjoy opportunities like this to not only try great food from some of the best restaurants in our area, but to also get to know the chef’s and owners behind all the magic. There’s nothing better than meeting a chef and/or owner that is clearly SUPER passionate about their craft. It somehow makes the food taste even better!