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25th Chowderfest brings record crowds to Saratoga Springs

Taking advantage of an unusually warm day, record crowds flooded the streets of Saratoga Springs Saturday for the city’s annual Chowderfest.

More than 40,000 people are jamming the Spa City for this 25th Chowderfest.

85 vendors in and around the city serve up bowls of their own creative chowder creations, with this year’s menu ranging from the Saratoga Hilton’s Maui fish chowder to Bailey’s “Luck of the Irish” chowder.

Katie Clark is in line to get a cup of Mulligatawny chowder from Karavalli, a local Indian restaurant.

“So, I’m not looking at them as chowder. It’s more like soup fest to me, I think at this point. And it’s warm today so I’m not even really in the mood for like a chowder sort of. So, the lighter soups where maybe—like in past years when it was cold, like last year when we were all bundled up in our snow gear, those thick, sort of hardy chowders. But since it’s so warm, I’m enjoying some of the less traditional chowder. But, definitely soup fest I feel like would be a more apt description of today,” said Clark.

As for Karavalli’s so-called chowder?

“Yeah, it’s like a curry soup. I’m not kind of getting kind of any like chunks of like meat or anything in it,” said Clark.

*accapella* Some fest-goers, like Sandy Fitzgerald, are just here for the company and entertainment; no chowder for them.

“I never come downtown in August or during these things so this is kind of like a good one, you know what I mean to get out, the sun is shining, you know, it’s perfect,” said Fitgerald.

Rick Sleeper is stirring a massive cauldron filled to the brim with his pot roast chowder, raising money for Crossroads Center for Children.

“The high note is the weather, right? I’ve been here for Chowderfest when it’s been 10 below, 15 below and it’s a long day standing on the ice stirring. This is great to see people out in the sunshine and the lines have been incredible all day long,” said Sleeper. “Right, it looks just like a Phish concert, it’s great, people are out, it’s good. It’s good, you know, in our industry we saw a lot of empty years, right? It’s just great to see people out having a life again, it’s great.”

Tim Geren and his wife have been unable to find a good, old-fashioned bowl of clam chowder. But with the array of delicious concoctions, they’re not too crabby about it.

“We have heard there’s a Manhattan, but we haven’t found that yet either. So, we’re looking. We’re looking. But everything we’ve tried so far is pretty good,” said Geren.

Only eight vendors are selling traditional clam chowder, including Jon Fisher of Ted’s Fish Fry, who says after years of innovation at the yearly festival, there’s a niche for the classics.

“Typical feedback. Everybody’s getting fancy with the chowder, then everybody just wants a traditional chowder. And that’s been a lot of the commentary today, is people have been trying it, they’ve been happy to come across it,” said Fisher.

Matt Reichel is walking out of Harvey’s, with one of the nearly 120,000 cups of chowder sold today in hand.

“They stick a whole chicken wing in their chowder, which I think is a phenomenal idea. And I know that they’re trying to bribe me for my vote, but it’s definitely working,” said Reichel.

Reichel doesn’t mind fishing for votes.

“But over at Morrissey’s they’ve got these strips of these thick bacon hanging off of like a clothes line, oh its delicious, fantastic. They’re cheating because it’s not chowder, but I’m not going to complain about that,” said Reichel.

Reichel says he’d like to see the envelope pushed even further next year.

“I’m walking around, I got a 20 dollar bill, I can get 10 chowders, I’m willing to try all kinds of different things. So, I guess if I’m going to tell Saratoga next year what—anything that I want to see? Put even more chicken wings in chowders, I’m good for it, I’m willing to try it,” said Reichel.

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