By Maddy Vitale
Katie Baccala, of Ocean City, may be a chili connoisseur. After taste testing samples at the third annual Chili Chowder Festival at the Ocean City Music Pier on Sunday, she found her favorite.
“The second one is the best. It tastes just like spaghetti sauce,” the 13-year-old said with a laugh.
“She loves spaghetti sauce,” Katie’s mother, Christy Baccala said.
Hundreds of people brought their appetites with them to the Music Pier for the festival, which was presented by the Ocean City Restaurant Association.
The festival featured a wide array of chilis and chowders from 11 local restaurants. The event not only showcased the best seafood chowders from crab to shrimp and chilis from three bean to classic meat style, but it also supported the Ocean City Firefighters Foundation, which raises money for a variety of local charitable causes.
For the third year in a row, the Ocean City firefighters’ fierce, but friendly, competition unfolded during the festival. Firefighters from the three firehouses enjoyed a chili cookoff.
Firefighter Bob Bender sampled some chilis. He tried a three bean chili he seemed to like.
“The event has grown over the last two years,” Bender said.
Bender noted that last year was the first year that proceeds were donated to the Firefighters Foundation. He said the money helps charities and organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Cancer Society. Funds also go to local school programs and athletics.
Katie Baccala’s favorite chili was made by firefighters from Fire Station 2, located at 29th Street and West Avenue.
Nina Baccala, 13, Katie’s sister, said she preferred the chili from Fire Station 3, located at 46th Street and West Avenue.
“I think it’s great. It had chocolate in it,” she noted of the secret recipe divulged by firefighters.
The other ingredients were pork, beef and venison.
So, while firefighters from the three stations all seemed to think their creations were the best, the Baccala sisters demonstrated that at the end of the day, it may be a tough choice to pick the top chili.
Fire Captain John Quigley said people really enjoy the festival.
“The proceeds from the festival go right back out to help different charities,” he said. “It is just a good event,and it is a lot of fun for us.”
Becca Smith and her boyfriend, Brian Leonhardt, both of Collingswood, have been coming to the festival since it began.
“We came for the first one and it was so awesome. We knew we would come every year,” Smith said with a big smile. “We were the first ones here today.”
Leonhardt said they already finished their first loop testing several different samples from the chili and chowder stations.
“We are getting ready to do the second one,” he said.
Their favorite chili by the end of their first round was definitely a chili made with sausage, the couple agreed.
But, they said, they would happily try a bunch more just to make sure.
Julia Newman, 13, was busy helping her parents, Joan and David Newman, owners of Blitz’s Market in Ocean City.
Julia spooned chili into cups for the patron after patron who lined up to try the hot and tasty fare.
This was the first year Blitz’s Market participated in the festival.
“It is getting bigger every year,” Joan Newman said. “It is a great day to do it. It’s cold, perfect for chowder and chili.”
Throughout lunchtime, a steady stream of festival-goers strolled around the tables, with water bottles in hand and small cups of their selections.
“It’s good,” Sara Dunn, of Ocean City, said of the festival. “I like the variety and it is nice to see all of the local businesses sharing the event.”
Ken Spoerl, of Bel Air, Md., was visiting friends in Ocean City and decided to stop by the festival. He admitted he had some pretty high standards when it came to seafood chowders.
“I’m so used to eating a lot of softshell and other crab dishes living in Maryland,” he said. I thought I’d start off with the cream of crab chowder.”
The crab chowder made by the local eatery Cousin’s Restaurant was a hit with Spoerl.
“Now I think I’ll try some chili,” he said.