Chowder can be traced back to the fishing villages along the coast of France, from Bordeaux to Brittany, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Often relegated to fish stew, the soup concoction not only included seafood but salted pork, and was topped with biscuits often found on the ships. Today, biscuits are replaced by oyster crackers, but the numerous ingredients added to chowder run the gamut, including anything from bacon to onions to shellfish.
Coastline cities worldwide hail their own versions of chowder. The U.S. certainly has its fair share, whether slurping on New England’s obligatory clam or traveling down South for a taste of oyster stew. This weekend Pleasure Island will stir its way into year 18 in their annual chowder cookoff. Better yet, according to the chamber’s executive director, Greg Reynolds, there are seven new restaurants participating out of nine.
“Only Havana’s Fresh Island Restaurant of Carolina Beach (2013 People’s Choice winner) and The Grille from Shallotte are returning,” he notes. “This should offer a unique and exciting culinary extravaganza.”
Other participants include Gibby’s Dock and Dine (Carolina Beach), Hilton Wilmington Riverside, Jebby’s on 17 (Hampstead), Mermaid Island Grill (Holden Beach), Nikki’s Gourmet & Sushi Bar (Carolina Beach location), Ogden Tap Room (Wilmington), and Pop’s Diner (Carolina Beach). Each will turn in their own version of chowder, as long as it remains “any soup made with seafood.”
Though cream-based chowders always satisfy attendees most, Reynolds says they encourage chefs to think originally and outside the box. “In previous years, we had a tomato-based chowder place second in the People’s Choice, which had an over-abundance of crab meat, shallots and onion,” Reynolds notes. “We have also had a clear broth entry, as well as a she-crab entry that was very tasty.”
Winners are judged in People’s Choice category and from an official panel of local judges. Two grand prizes of $500 each are awarded. The 2014 tasters will include Dan Wilcox, mayor of Carolina Beach; Bill Blair, mayor of Wrightsville Beach; Michael Cramer, Carolina Beach town manager; Dr. Frank Gabe, Carolina Family Medicine and Urgent Care; Sarah Murphy, WWAY TV3 reporter; Darren Keeler, Z107.5 radio personality; Shelley McGown, owner of Michael’s Seafood and previous winner; Jim Whitmeyer, The Dude 93.7 radio personality.
“The Judge’s Choice spans the spectrum of the population,” Reynolds says. “This is by no means an expert culinary panel, but a collection of representative people who participate in a blind-tasting of the nine entries. The only thing they are told is an associated number. Only the president of the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce knows who represents each number.”
Festival-goers will get their ballot entry when arriving. After tasting each sample of the chowders, they will deposit their votes in the correct restaurant box, which will be tabulated for the People’s Choice award. The chamber also recognizes a first runners-up, as well as awards $100 to both Best Decorated Tent and Most Enthusiastic Tent.
Other vendors are onsite throughout the cookoff. Folks will be able to nosh on funnel cakes, hot dogs, crab-cake sliders, kettle corn, and more. Wine and beer will be sold from vendors like Noni Bacca and Silver Coast. Pelican Printing will sell commemorative swag, such as tees, hats and koozies.
Nonprofits will be represented at the event, including Stand-Up For Soldiers, Carolina Beach Police Department, Carolina Beach Inlet Association, Pleasure Island Turtles, Cape Fear Sail and Power Squadron, Carolina Beach Fire Department, Pleasure Island Parrotheads and Friends of Fort Fisher.
A free kids’ area will be set up, offering face-painting and the obligatory bouncy house. Plus, the Mark Roberts Band will play funk, blues, rock, Motown, beach and country music throughout the day.
Tickets are $6 at the gate (12 and under are admitted free) on Saturday, April 12th, at Carolina Beach Lake Park (corner of South Lake Park Drive and Atlanta Avenue. Gates open at 11:30 a.m., with ballots pulled at 3:30 p.m. Chowder is spooned out on a first-come, first-served basis. All winners are announced at 4:30 p.m. Trolleys by Wilmington Trolley will run from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to drop off guests at the municipal parking lots.
Pleasure Island Cookoff
Carolina Beach Lake Park, South Lake Park Drive and Atlanta Avenue
Saturday, April 12th,
11:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Tickets: $6 at the gate
Music by Mark Roberts Band