It's that time of year for the Wheaton Chili Cook-off. Thankfully my gaming group didn't meet today so I could attend. There were 13 entries, some new ones and some long-standing entries. Instead of breaking down each restaurant, I grouped them together and ordered them in favorite from most to least favorite.
Favorites These were the restaurants who really got into the spirit of the event and worked to make a distinct chili that I enjoyed. I hope the winner is one of these.
Wheaton Meat Company
: they listed their ingredients (I wish they put it on cards so I could make a batch at home) and had several kinds of meats including using pork neck bones for flavor. This was a chili made my people who care about their final product. It's the only place I returned to for a second bowl.
Ivy Restaurant: has won before and with good reason. They had a great chili and offered a decent amount. On the downside they offered too many options when it comes to toppings which could distract from the chili itself.
Muldoon's: another previous winner. They put an Irish slant on their pizza by using Irish beer and offering potatoes and Irish cheddar cheese as toppings.
River City Roasters: this is their first year and while I think they could have done more with presentation the fact they fire roasted the veggies in the chili made it their own. It's not a hot chili but it's solid and I like fire roasted veggies.
Good Solid Chili Sometimes when you make a distinct chili it works, sometimes it fails, and sometimes it's good but not great. These are the restaurants who fall into the latter two. I applaud them for their effort and hope they refine their recipe for next year.
Bricks Wood Fired Pizza: This was an early favorite before I tried the others. Good but not great.
Suzette's Creperie: I'm not sure if they won before or not, but they make a good effort. This had the problems of toppings. In an effort to make it distinct they offered butternut squash and mini cornbread muffins. The muffins were OK and the squash would have been good under other circumstances but it just didn't work here.
The Bank: a winner from years before. They have a popular chili but you get so little of it and a buffet of over half a dozen toppings included cornbread muffins. It's easy for the chili to get lost in the cheese, sour cream, onions, cilantro, tortillia strips, elbow maccaroni, etc. If the winer isn't one of my Favorites, it's this one.
Wok N Fire: A newcomer they made their chili distinctive by adding Chinese five-spice powder to the mix. This is a case of "distinctive" not being the same as "great", but I think with some effort and experiments it has potential.
Token Effort Most of these gave me the impression just partisipated for the sake of partisipating and get people into their place. If they drop out next year, they won't be missed.
El Zarape: The most out of the way of the entries and it shows. I almost put it in the above category since their pinto bean heavy chili gave it a refried bean slant I liked. But they've been doing this long enough to know they should up their game.
Armand's Pizza: I am willing to cut these guys a lot of slack since they're new but their chili was watered down and tasted very generic until I added the hot sauce provided at their tables. There was nothing separating this from fast food (except for chains where chili is a feature). You can do better next year. Make it Armand's Chili!
Cellar Bistro: Another repeated entry. Watery with nothing distinct. Plus the flow of people in and out needs to be redone.
Gino's East Pizza: This is their first year but they've been in business for some time so they don't get the breaks I was willing to give Armand's. They weren't as out of the way as El Zarape but their chili was generic and I think their attitude at the door reflected that. You should know better.
Front Street Cocina: I am so disappointed. I think since chili is a Tex-Mex food I expect more from Mexican places. FSC has been part of it since the beginning and while their service is good they just don't seem to try in the chili department. I never saw a big line going out the door here. That's a clue.