There are few things more quintessentially Northeastern than clam chowder and colorful autumn foliage. There’s no better way to tour the area than a quest for some of the region’s best chowders and soups. And there’s no better season to indulge in those hearty and warm soups than the fall.
Sharing the incredible cuisine of the Northeast is exactly what founder Jim Keenan had in mind when he created the Chowda Trail. Each stop on the trail is a restaurant participating in Chowdafest, a clam chowder competition that takes place annually in Connecticut. Over the years, Chowdafest has snowballed from a little fair in a local church to the largest culinary event in New England.
The main event is Chowdafest, which will be held on Saturday, October 1st this year. Chowdafest is comprised of five categories: New England classic clam chowder, Manhattan/Rhode Island traditional chowder, vegetarian chowder, creative chowder, and soups and bisque. The event is limited to only 40 restaurants every year, so as they say at the Academy Awards, it’s an honor just to be nominated.
You can find more than chowder, soup and bisque at Chowdafest. Guests to Chowdafest can explore a variety of specialty food sections, like the Mac & Chili Challenge, the K9 Cafe (for foodies with four legs), and Italian and Mexican inspired sections, respectively titled “Ciao”dafest and ChowdaMex.
Keenan thought an interactive trail would be a perfect way to promote the restaurants championed at Chowdafest.
“People email and call us all the time seeking chowder recommendations,” Keenan says. “New England clam chowder and lobster bisque are the most popular requests, but discernible foodies also look for something different … Having the Chowda Trail online where they can look it up and try some of these great restaurants made a lot of sense.”
On the Chowda Trail website, you can see an interactive map of all the different chowder hot spots featured on the trail, as well as a short overview of each restaurant. While each destination is fantastic in its own right, we’ve selected some highlights perfect for warming up with a hearty bowl of soup on a chilly autumn day.
The Crab Shell
46 Southfield Ave., Stamford Landing, Stamford, Conn.
Seafood soup lovers flock to this joint for its classic and creative takes on staple favorites. Menu items include lobster bisque, New England clam chowder and New England crab chowder, as well as a tasty concoction called Crab Shell red clam chowder.
Morgans Fish House
22 Elm Pl., Rye, NY
Morgans Fish House is proud to be representing New York’s namesake: the Manhattan clam chowder. Morgans is a New England style fish house that serves fresh seafood in a casual yet classic atmosphere.
23 Bailey Ave, Ridgefield, Conn.
One of the first entries into the brand new vegetarian category comes from Bailey’s Backyard, a farm-to-table restaurant in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Their soups, chowders and other menu items are all stuffed with fresh, homegrown ingredients.
1561 Post Road, Fairfield, Conn.
His restaurant may be in Connecticut, but it’s the Rhode Island clam chowder that chef Rich Herzfeld has so expertly perfected. The eatery is well-known for all of its soups, which change daily and are served from a buffet-style soup bar, but one of the most popular is chef Rich’s creative take on the clear chowder.
Old Post Tavern
1418 Post Road, Fairfield, Conn.
The Chowda Trail isn’t just about celebrating chowder; it also highlights notable soups, including the Old Post Tavern’s golden mushroom bisque. Chef Patrick Tennaro loves such a variety of soups and chowders that he’s constantly switching up menu offerings, so make sure to call ahead to see what he’s serving.
416 Boston Post Road, Darien, Conn.
Rory’s has been a Chowda Fest judge favorite for the past seven years, wooing crowds with its take on traditional New England clam chowder. Chef Bryan Malcarney’s secret is a sherry base and a sprinkle of dill.
Smithsonian Chowder House
52 Crafts Ave., Northampton, Mass., and 1 West St., West Hatfield, Mass.
Diners here can cozy up with warm soups while gazing at the Pioneer Valley’s changing scenery. Favorite soups include the creamy seafood chowder and lobster bisque, made according to an old family recipe.
“Every year, we work hard to invite the most competitive restaurant line-up,” notes Keenan. “This year’s line-up is arguably the best yet and I expect the voting to be closer than ever … We’re a true people’s choice event. Their votes determine the best in New England.”
It’s time to exercise your civic duty and chow down on some chowda.
Click here to learn more about the different types of clam chowder.
By Molly Clark and Sarah Hopkins