Friday, January 15, 2010

Alive After Five: Chili Cook-Off

On the second Thursday of every month, First Street in downtown Sanford is blocked up and vendors set up their tables in the streets for "Alive After Five" which runs from 5 - 8 PM. The event has grown over time and now attracts thousands of people, rain or shine. At one end there's live music. Off of a side street beer is served. And various vendors provide various food samples. It only costs $7 for a wrist band which allows you unlimited food samples and two beer tickets.

Each month has a theme, and in January they hold the anual Chili Cook-Off. Anyone can register and bring their chili. This year there were 23 entrants in the cook-off. When you pay your $7 fee, you also get a ballot and can grade each one on a 1-5 scale. There is also a judges panel who tatest them all. At the end of the evening, the people's choice winners were announced as well as the judges choice. The winner got a prize of $300-not bad!Many of them were notable, and some of those for good reasons.

Of the 23 entrants this year, I sampled 21 of them. I found a wide variety of interpretation of chili. For some, it was a white chili with white beans and chicken. For some, it was Texas style with no beans. One chili was more a mac 'n chili. Some used ground meat, a few were more purists with chunks of meat, diced nicely. 

I had five favorites, two of which won awards. Angelo's Pizzeria won both #1 for the people's choice and #1 from the judges for their White Chicken Chili, and it was indeed well done. The chili was rich and flavorful, the "gravy" a perfect consistency. I liked this one a lot. 

Two of the entrants stood out, in a good way, for interesting use of "meats." The first was Stone's Throw Bistro with their Joey Pork N Bambi chili. I do not think i need to explain what those three meats were. But it was a very good chili, rich and with a nice depth of flavor. It also had a nice heat to it. Nice job!

The second one that stood out was from Two Blondes and a Shrimp with their Okefenoke Swamp Chili. Think creatures that may swim in the water and make nice shoes and luggage.... Yes, it was unusual but pretty good. Not one of my favorites, but still tasty and above average.

Another of my favorites which was also unusual was Morgan's Burger Bistro's Lobster & Lager Chili. It was gosh-darned delicious indeed.

By the way each of the three preceeding restaurants have excellent food, I've eaten at each of them several times and plan on many more visits, so I was not surprise to find that they made excellent chili!

The judge's #3 chili was Mimi's Hell Hath No Fury Like Mimi's Chili, perhaps the hottest (as in pepper hot) chili there, which i had no problem with. It was very good indeed. 

The people's choice #2 chili was from Hollerbach's Willowtree Cafe, another very good restaurant, it was their Oktoberfest Beer Chili. This one was not one of my favorites, and I'd put it in the middle of the pack. 

There were lots of other good chilis there as well as some less memorable: One of the tasted burnt. Yuck, when that happens you need to start over. Another was very watery. Some of them suffered from a lack of time....chili needs time to slowly simmer to let the flavors meld. Some used paprika for a bit of a kick, some used chipotle peppers, and some chili powder. Some used jalapeno peppers, and some other peppers. 

In my mind, I was the real winner, because I got to sample a lot of good food. As a matter of fact, towards the end I was actively looking for the smallest size sample, i was stuffed. But that did not stop me from sampling as many as I could. But I will warn you now, next year, I plan on getting my game together and going for the big prize, because the Lake Mary Food Critic knows how to cook, and I've got a year to practice!  


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