Saratoga Chowderfest 2017 is this Saturday, February 4, from 11 to 4, and with mild weather the downtown should be packed. Here are a few strategies for making the most of this event, in which you can sample endless 3-oz chowder servings for $1 each and vote on your favorites:
- Don’t even think of driving downtown, if you don’t already live in Saratoga. There will be no parking (and a guaranteed parking ticket if you follow the crowd and ignore the posted signs) and Route 9 will be seriously backed up. Instead, park near Dick’s Sporting Goods at Wilton Mall (Exit 15) or the Saratoga Casino (take Exit 13 north, then right on Crescent) and take the shuttle in to town.
Start your tasting at the City Center. Here you can pick up a ballot (ballots are also available, but intermittently, at individual serving stands) and sample several establishments gathered in one place.
Study the writeup at Discover Saratoga (excellent interactive map and listing of participants but, confusingly, some info from last year’s event is still posted so be sure you are looking at 2017 details not 2016) and make a game plan. My strategy is to pick a few destination spots, then sample opportunistically at other places that catch my eye nearby. Be prepared to adjust your plan if you encounter very long lines (though sometimes these move rapidly, as at Druthers) or very short lines (this place doesn’t seem very popular, but it’s only a dollar so what do you have to lose?)
Here are a few chowders I have my eye on:
- Sperry’s: these guys will have just opened after the fire and want to attract new business, so expect something special
- Diamond Grill: another new guy in the Embassy Suites at Congress Plaza; rumor has it they will have 4 chowders and a live band
- Parting Glass: usually something outrageous with an Irish theme (one year there were croutons soaked in Irish whiskey)
- Druthers: another spot that generally puts on the dog (one year there was a big hunk of crab claw in every serving)
- Dango’s: Buffalo chicken chowder with a wing as the “spoon”
- Seven Horse Pub: just damn good chowder
- Peabody’s: “Smoked crab with sweet corn topped with Irish whiskey crackers” sounds mighty good to me though I’ve had a disappointing experience with this restaurant
- Parkside Eatery: these guys make great soup, which I like to sample while waiting for a sandwich, so you can expect their chowder to be solid
- Longfellows: “Pork belly sea scallop chowder” sounds wonderful though it’s not downtown but at their restaurant off Exit 14; maybe worth getting off here then driving back roads to Wilton Mall to park (check the map)
- Mark your ballot and turn it in when you’re done at the City Center or Visitor’s Center—that’s part of the fun. Plus you can buy a garish long-sleeve t-shirt to remember the day for a more than reasonable $10.
According to the Saratogian, 40,000 people visited Chowderfest last year and 130,000 samples were served. That’s less than three samples per person, which is a crime. You and I can certainly do better. I’ve averaged 5 tastes on a casual year (when I also went home and had lunch) and at times far more. Let’s chowder down!