Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011 NYChiliFest Warms the Heart and the Belly

I was so excited when Meg suggested we check out NYChiliFest today at Chelsea Market.  Being that this market is one of my all-time favorite food spots in the city, and after reading the delicious-sounding description of the event, I was so in.  Tom braved it out in the cold too, and the three of us embarked on a fruitful afternoon filled with lots of spicy meat, beans, delicious broth - and let's not forget the fun and the very full bellies.

The Setting:
Before we entered the festival area, we checked in and received our very own chili mug with a really awesome wide spoon, perfectly suitable for eating chili.

Not really sure what to expect, I first thought the event was going to take place in a large room, where they sometimes hold seasonal events such as sample sales. But that wasn't the case, as the meaty festivities took place right in the middle of all the action, in the main concourse of Chelsea Market.  Each one of the 23 competitors was situated at a small table in front of the main retail outlets in the market.  Some of the competitors like The Green Table, Friedman's Lunch and The Food Network stood in front of their respective establishments, which was a nice way to put a face to the name.

The Competitors:
As I mentioned, there were 23 awesome establishments that took part in the fun, most of them from Manhattan and Brooklyn.  For their ingredients (so they'd all be on a level playing field), they received 100% dry-aged, locally raised beef from Wrighteous Organics as the basis for their chili.  The competitors were:

Bark Hot Dogs

Beer Table
Blue Ribbon Bakery

Char No. 4
The Commodore

Fette Sau
Friedman's Lunch

The Green Table
Jimmy's No. 43
La Palapa
Mile End
Northern Spy Food Co.
No. 7
Vinegar Hill House

My Favorites
While I have to praise the valiant efforts of each and every one of the worthy competitors listed above, there are four that stood out to me most.  And for these, I'll surely be coming back for and visiting their locations to recreate that wonderful, comforting taste of hearty, meaty chili.

Bark Hot Dogs - Even though I wouldn't expect one of my favorites to come from a hot dog restaurant, it was wonderful.  Made with poblano peppers and braised beef that just melted in your mouth, it certainly warmed your palate and as a result, the rest of your body.  It had a hint of smokiness and some sweetness that lingered on your tastebuds like a good wine.

Blue Ribbon Bakery - As soon as we got to this table, we noticed the long line.  "There must be a good reason," I thought, as Blue Ribbon has an impeccable reputation for excellent comfort food.  Meg and I got on line too and indulged in their brisket chili, which was topped with a creamy avocado mousse.  Just amazing!  The mousse did wonders on the already decadent meat, cooling it down but also elevating its flavor from very good to downright fantastic.

Food Network Test Kitchens - Simply nicknamed "Dr. Chili," I had to know what this was all about.  We spied the secret ingredient while grabbing some napkins - Dr. Pepper of course!  The chili was reduced in this nostalgic liquid, giving it a sweet and somewhat syrupy consistency, resulting in what I'll call the dessert chili.  The least spiciest chili of the day, I really enjoyed its mild flavors and tender, juicy meat.

Roberta's - One of the last chilis we tried, I loved its simplicity and focus on the main ingredient - beef.  It was wonderful to bite into large chunks of meat, which were cooked beautifully in a smoky reduction, that included one of my all-time favorite ingredients - bacon!  If I could go back for seconds of this, I so would - and not only because of the chili but because the staff was fun, jovial and downright excited to be there.

The Winner:
While we left before the winner was announced (it got too crowded), the official winner was Northern Spy Food Co.  We unfortunately didn't get to try their chili, but if consensus rules, I'm sure it was fantastic.  Winner got $2,000 and a 2011 Golden Chili Mug :)  Proceeds from the event went to Food Systems NYC to support healthy, regional food growth and to fight hunger. 

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