Written by Gail Stein of Frozen Moments In and Around Saratoga
Fitbit Statistics (6:00 am): steps=0, miles=0, calories burned=0
Fitbit Statistics (7:00 pm): steps=17,501, miles=8.2, calories burned=2,576
Reason: 20th Annual Chowderfest!
When my good friends at Discover Saratoga, NY asked me if I would help out with Chowderfest this year, I was more than happy to oblige. They wanted me to take photos throughout the day and then blog about it. Given that I love both photography and writing…AND that I love chowder and festive crowds, I was more than agreeable. What a fun day! And what a bonus to have logged over 8 miles on my Fitbit. (I’m telling myself it made up for all the chowders I sampled.)
I have been attending Chowderfest for years. So many great memories…most especially when my daughter lived in the Algonquin right here in Saratoga. Oh, those were some good times! I’ve also always had a lot of fun when out with my friends. Whether we were standing in line waiting for those sumptuous chowders, having a beer or glass of wine in one of the bars to warm up, or even sitting around the outdoor fireplaces and meeting tons of great new people outside Jacob & Anthony’s.
Regardless of who I was with or what the weather was like (and it has run the gamut from bone-chilling, windy days to those sunny, glorious treats of 40-50 degrees), I have always enjoyed this event and the crowds it draws to our beautiful downtown. And, of course, I have ALWAYS loved the chowders!
This year for the 20th anniversary of Chowderfest, I began my day at the Visitor’s Center where I checked in with everyone and made sure I had some sort of a game plan. The forecast was for temps in the mid-20’s, sun/clouds, and breezy. I dressed for an Arctic expedition and I remained warm, even though I was outside all day long. Thankfully, it was beautiful out.
The hours of the event were from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, with the winning chowders being announced and awarded in the Visitors’ Center at 6:30 pm. I began at 10:30 by heading across the street to Vent Studio where they were conducting some high-energy warm-up exercises in front of their building.
I bumped into Mark Mulholland of WNYT News while at Vent and chatted with him for a few minutes. Fun fact: he told me that there are THREE guys named Mark Mulholland right here in Saratoga. Who knew?
Even though it was barely 10:30 when I walked over to Druther’s, the line was at least a block long. Traditionally, this is the spot where many people begin their chowder consumption for the day, and start lining up early. And they were rowdy!
My first chowder sample of the day was at the Falafel Den where I enjoyed a vegetarian chowder with chick peas and cumin. Delicious! From there, I proceeded to Harvey’s, Ravenous (for their salted caramel apple dessert chowder—yum), Bailey’s, and Hattie’s. Truth be told, I only sampled six chowders all day, but I did try to stop in and get photos of both the servers and the crowds wherever I could manage it.
I didn’t have an actual plan to the day and wound up meandering up and down Broadway, with side forays onto Caroline, Henry Street, Congress Street, not in any order. It was very random, depending on who I bumped into, who I wanted to meet up with, and where the lines seemed the most accessible.
It’s tough to explain Chowderfest to someone who has never attended. People see the lines at the various establishments and think that perhaps they don’t want to deal with the crowds, but I found the lines moved very, very quickly. The servers worked at warp speed ladling chowder and collecting money.
But the best part to me is the laughter. There is so much laughter. Everyone is having fun and enjoying vast quantities of chowders.
I had to leave for about an hour around noon for another commitment, and when I came back things had gotten busier. Caroline Street was where everyone seemed to be.
I gave up on trying to keep track of the photos I was taking. There were just too many distractions, too many friends out for the day, and too many people having too much fun. At this point, I just tried to stay out of the way of the servers as I was snapping their photos.
By about 3:00, I was dragging. I had taken about 500 photos and walked over six miles. I had been talking and laughing for about five hours (which is definitely not a hardship). I wound up by the City Center and went in to photograph face painting and balloon sculptures, only to find I had just missed them. So, I did a 180 and dragged my tired feet back to the Visitors’ Center, but not before heading up Congress Street to visit West Side Sports Bar and the Diamond Club Grill at Embassy Suites, where I had my final two delicious chowders of the day.
And what better way to end a perfect day than with a little bit of music by the incomparable Garland Nelson who was performing at the Diamond Club Grill?
The ballots were counted after the close of Chowderfest, and a reception/awards ceremony was held at 6:30 with the winners as follows:
- Best Dessert Chowder – Ravenous
- Best Non-Downtown – PJ’s BAR-B-QSA
- Best Off-Broadway – Courtyard by Marriott Saratoga Springs
- Best Newcomer – Dizzy Chicken Wood Fired Rotisserie
- Best Chowder made with Saranac Beer: Bookmakers at Holiday Inn
- Peoples’ Choice AND Best on Broadway – Thirsty Owl Bistro
It’s really no wonder this is such a popular event, and one of my favorites of the year in downtown Saratoga. It has something for everyone and, even though I took over 500 pics, I still didn’t manage to catch every wonderful moment of this day. But I sure did try.
Kudos to the incredible staff at the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau (Discover Saratoga, NY) who coordinates Chowderfest, and to all the participating establishments and their hardworking servers, and most especially to all the great people who showed up to sample chowders and who made this day the special event that it is.
Gail Stein is a blogger and photographer for Frozen Moments In and Around Saratoga. As an avid photography enthusiast, she finds herself surrounded by the beauty, history and magic that is Saratoga...all just begging to be photographed and shared. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.