Searching For a Chili Champ in Easton
Pearly Baker's hosts 16th Annual Superbowl of Chili
As a reporter, if you work in the same city long enough, you're bound to cover annual events more than a few times.
That's definitely true for me, and of all the events I've kept coming back to over the years, Pearly Baker's yearly Superbowl of Chili -- which was held Sunday at the Centre Square restaurant -- is my favorite.
Each year, restaurants from all over the Lehigh Valley compete in the cookoff. People come from all over as well, taste little samples of chili, and vote. This year, the top prize went to Melt in Center Valley, which brought a veal, beef and pork chili bolognese.
I can't say exactly why I like covering this so much. Maybe it's the sense of camaraderie. It's hot, noisy and crowded, and -- if you're not armed with press credentials -- it takes about 90 minutes to get inside, but no one really seems to be in a bad mood.
I think it's also that I like learning how things are made and why their creators chose what they chose. So while it's nice talking with patrons who come back to Pearly Baker's year after year, it's even better to interview people like the guys from Braveheart Highland Pub in Hellertown.
Normally, the restaurant's menu is a lot of Scottish food. Sunday, they had cooked up a pulled beef chili, marinated in Young's Double Chocolate Stout.
"We have chili every now and then, but this is definitely an experiment," said bartender Steve Pinsker.
This isn't like that Simpsons episode where Homer eats the peppers so hot that it causes him to hallucinate. Many of the chefs say they're not out to test people's stomachs, but their palates.
"If something's too salty, you're only talking about the salt. And if something's too spicy, you're only talking about the spice," said Javan Small, chef at the Farmhouse in Emmaus.
It was the Farmhouse's first year in the contest. Actually, there were a few first time competitors in the mix this year, including the Rhyno Cafe in Palmer Township and the Easton Salsa Company.
Owner Art Skrzenski has worked in restaurants that were competing here before -- actually, quite a few of the chefs here could make that claim -- but this was his first year on his own. His was the last table visitors came to during their sampling, and that was fine with him. He wanted them going away with the taste of his chicken and chocolate mole chili on their tongues.
(It was excellent, by the way. I sampled a few of the chilies on display Sunday, but that was the best of them.)
But he also hoped to impress the judges, which meant his fellow chefs. The people waiting in line might go for a more traditional, medium-spiced chili. "With the chefs, it's more creative," Skrzenski said.
Meanwhile, Pearly Baker's took itself out of the actual competition, but continued its tradition of making two types of chili, both illustrated the two Superbowl teams.
This year, that meant Green Bay was represented by T.J. Gillen's short ribs marinated in Pabst Blue Ribbon and topped with Wisconsin cheddar, while Jarad Bohr had cooked up a kielbasa chili with coleslaw and shoestring fries for Pittsburgh.
"It's a fun chili," Bohr said. "It reeks of Pittsburgh."