In Fishtown, the 2013 FNA Chili Cookoff spiced things up Sunday by offering locals a chance to sample chilis that were spicy, savory or just plain silly. It was a decidedly delicious way to beat the wintry blues.
Maybe it was the little gummy “burgers.”
Or maybe it was the extra care that went into crafting her very own chorizo sausage and chili blend.
Whatever it was, Phyllis Farquhar, owner of the famed Sketch Burger on Girard Avenue, was holding her head high after the 3rd Annual Fishtown Chili Cookoff. The Fishtown Neighbors Association-organized event, held at 2424 York St., drew hundreds of people on Sunday afternoon to judge dozens of chili recipes made by area restaurants and residents.
Farquhar and Sketch unseated last year’s winner, Loco Pez, for a first-place spot in the critics’ choice category for restaurants. Theresa and Greg Decker took first among the residents in the critics’ choice field with their “Double Decker” chili.
Farquhar said her winning recipe, topped with sour cream and a tortilla chip and served with a gummy candy “cheese” burger on the side, included a meat mixture that was half chuck beef and half homemade chorizo sausage. She also picked out her own chili peppers in making a from-scratch base for the chili.
“I don’t know if people were on a diet last year or what, but they wouldn’t touch the gummy burgers,” she said with a laugh. “We got robbed, but not this year.”
She said beyond the glory of taking home the chili, the event has helped bring people to her restaurant.
The cook-off’s function as both a fun food event and neighborhood showcase was apparent to many in the crowd, which packed an enormous room.
“It’s been amazing, better than we could have expected. Our goal was 500, and I think we easily exceeded that many people,” said Neil Brecher of the FNA. “We have restaurants and residents, so it does double duty in terms of exposure.”
Kristen Simon, who took over Fishtown Tavern with her husband last July, was out of her white bean and turkey chili by 2 p.m. Their special ingredient was Modelo beer, which they used for both soaking the beans and cooking the chili.
She heard it “was going to be nuts,” but was still surprised by the turnout.
“Teaming up with all these other local restaurants and the amateur cooks is pretty cool,” said Simon. “It’s also just fun to be here, put our faces out, and meet all these new people.”
Stanford Gable and Dave Meredith were there to represent “Team Garage Mahal,” and offered their “Fire in the Hole” chili (with a three-and-a-half pepper rating, one of the hottest there) with a side of chocolate-chili Chex Mix. Gable, of East Kensington, said they were there “Just for fun … and to win.”
“We like to be active in the neighborhood, and an event like this adds some fun into the mix,” said Gable.
Walking through the crowd with a clipboard and cups of chili, Philadelphia food critic Drew Lazor singled out Sketch and Barcade as favorites, but said he was impressed with the overall quality of the chili.
“I have to say, it’s been great to see the amateurs hold their own alongside the restaurants,” said Lazor.
Bill Campbell, of Port Richmond, just happened to be passing by on his way to go food shopping when he saw the crowd and decided to check it out. The next thing he knew, he was one of the hundreds of people sampling chili for what he called “a perfect Sunday afternoon.”
He raved about the offering from Lloyd’s Whiskey Bar on Girard, and said he was broadening his tastes on the chili tour.
“I hate turkey normally, but what Lloyd’s had was amazing, the best so far,” said Campbell. “If I had known about it, I might have come down, but I will definitely be back next year.”
He even surprised himself by trying – and liking – a vegan chili.
While there were few super-spicy chili dishes in the mix, many chefs tried to make their recipe stand out with something extra.
“Last year, it seemed like everyone who had a gimmick won, so this year I didn’t go as traditional,” said second place winner in the people’s choice category, Aaron Boczkowski. His gimmick? A boozy shot of tequila in his chili. He said he entered the cook-off just for fun, and that cooking a good chili wasn’t necessarily the hardest part.
“One of the biggest challenges is just making three gallons worth of chili,” said Boczkowski.
Leo Mulvihill and Jordan Rushdie, law partners with an office at 2424 York St., eased off last year’s “Ambulance Chaser,” a meat-filled firebomb, and offered “Occupy Chili,” in honor of 14 Occupy Philly protesters they represented in court recently.
“This is a way for us to reach out to the neighborhood,” said Mulvihill. “It’s a good time with beer and chili … plus, it makes us lawyers look good.”
Reporter Brian Rademaekers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.