Seafood diet? No, I prefer the “see food and eat it” diet. Block Island is home to many great seafood dishes. One to highlight on a chilly rainy May day: chowder.
There are different types of chowder, and I am going to break it down clearly because you don’t want to order one type and expect another. That would be a tragedy. So to be clear:
New England Clam Chowder–This is a cream based chowder, definitely the heaviest of the bunch. It is thick and creamy and likely served with oyster crackers. Fun fact: In 1939, Maine legislature introduced a bill hoping to make tomatoes in chowder illegal.
Rhode Island Clam Chowder– This chowder brings all the ingredients of New England but substitutes the cream base with a clear broth.
Manhattan Clam Chowder– This chowder has a tomato-based broth that actually was first cooked up in Rhode Island. GASP.
Long Island Clam Chowder– Less well know, this variant of chowder takes the cream-base New England chowder, but it adds chunks of tomatoes to the stew. See can’t we all just get along?
So where does that leave Block Island, an island located in Rhode Island, in New England, but just a stone’s throw from Manhattan and Long Island?
Luckily every year on Memorial day week Block Island Maritime Institute (BIMI) hosts CHOWDA’ FEST. I had the pleasure of attending this event. There were chowders from 12 local restaurants and I was able to try them all. I was sent on assignment from the paper so below is an honest unbiased journalist take.
So if you are looking for some solid stew when you are on the island the top three prizewinners are a surefire best bet. The winning chowders were:
First Place: Winfield’s-This cream-based chowder included muscles, leeks, jalapeño peppers and an extra smokiness from the added bacon. Be warned this is not a regularly appearing dish on the Winfield’s menu, but its top place speaks to the quality of Winfield’s cooking. If you want to try it, you better ask nicely (with a hundred).
Second Place: The National-This was also a cream-based chowder that was a crowd favorite for its traditional flavor. Creamy, nothing unexpected, but rich. Plus this one is one the menu.
Third Place: The Oar– Another cream-based top finisher. What could be better than a bowl of chowder with a heck of a view? I didn’t try this one but it surely was a crowd favorite.
Honorable Mention: In talking with others at the Chowda’ Fest, Bethany’s Airport Diner was mentioned multiple times. Plus when I was at the airport making a hotel pick, I loved the feeling of fabulousness that is small plane travel. Plus the prices at Bethany’s are reasonable.
On Block Island restaurants typically flirt with both New England and Rhode Island chowders, but the democratic blind vote of the Chowda Fest seems to speak for the masses (or at least show some statistically significance right?): Block Island prefers New England Clam Chowder.
So grab your spoon. I’ll bring the oyster crackers.
What type of chowder do you prefer? Is there a favorite place that you like to get chowder from on Block Island? How much do you want some chowder right now?