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Despite leaving Westport, Chowdafest should be 'souper' today

Updated 7:35 am, Sunday, February 3, 2013
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CHOWDAFEST V
When: Sunday, Feb. 3, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Webster Bank Arena, 600 Main St., Bridgeport.
What: Chowders, soups and bisques prepared by 24 area restaurants.
Tickets: At the box office. Adults $10; children 5 to 12, $5; children under 5, free.
Parking: $5.
Beneficiary: Proceeds benefit Connecticut Food Bank.
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In a scant few years, it became the "Soup-er Bowl" of hot-liquid-food contests.

Last year, Chowdafest drew nearly 5,000 people to Bedford Middle School in Westport to sample and judge clam chowder and other soups prepared by a host of area restaurants.

But, alas, Chowdafest has outgrown Westport.

Started in 2008 as a small church function, the charity event now has a half-dozen corporate sponsors and is moving into the largest indoor space in Fairfield County.

On Sunday, Feb. 3, Chowdafest V will take over Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena, where organizers expect 10,000 people will show up to taste chowders, soups and bisques prepared by 24 restaurants.

The fest has grown so rapidly that Westport simply doesn't have a venue big enough, Chowdafest spokesman Jim Keenan said. Last year's fest at Bedford Middle School proved that.

"We had to turn away hundreds because there was no place for them to park," Keenan said.

Both the Bedford and nearby Staples High School parking lots were filled, and, at some points, nobody could enter until somebody left.

Chowdafest is organized by members of the Unitarian Church in Westport, and, as in previous years, proceeds will benefit the Connecticut Food Bank.

This year's fest is planned from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday. The two previous fests have been the day before the big game.

The event is being billed as family friendly, with reduced-price tickets for children under 12 and a Kids' Cove area featuring temporary tattoos free chef's hats that can be decorated with stickers.

The first two Chowdafests were two-day events that took place in the fall at the Unitarian Church on Lyons Plain Road. Each year they attracted 400 to 500 people, Keenan said.

The third fest was moved from fall to February and to the larger Bedford Middle School, where it took off.

Last year's Chowdafest IV featured 40 different chowders, soups and bisques -- including various classic New England clam chowder recipes, oyster and pork belly chowder, lobster bisque and some creative mixes such as cheeseburger soup, and sausage, egg and cheese sandwich soup.

Keenan said Chowdafest grew mostly through word of mouth, but with the move to the sports arena, promotion has ramped up tenfold. Although still organized by church members, the event this year has six corporate sponsors

The move to Super Bowl Sunday from the day before the game was not so much by design but rather when the arena was available. But Keenan sees advantages to staging the event on the day of the game.

Chowdafest's 4 p.m. closing time gives people plenty of time to get themselves in front of a TV set in time for the Super Bowl's 6:30 p.m. kickoff, he said.

"People aren't going to watch 8 1/2 of pre-game (coverage)," Keenan said. "People are going to be looking for something to do, someplace to go with the family before the game."

Restaurants will compete for first-place ribbons -- patrons all get votes -- in three categories: Classic New England Clam Chowder; Creative Chowder; Soup/Bisque.

Participating restaurants are Bloom Brothers, Blue Lemon, Bobby Q's, Bodega Taco Bar, The Brewhouse, Close Harbor Seafood, Crab Shell, Donovan's, Dunville's, Ginger Man, High Tide Gourmet, Liquid Lunch, Mansion Clam House, Nicholas Roberts, On the Rocks, O'Neill's, Old Post Tavern, Restaurant at Rowayton, Rory's, Southport Brewing Co., Super Duper Weenie, Tavern on Main and Valencia's.

Corporate sponsors include Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Star 99.9 radio, Fiat of Fairfield County, Farmer's Cow, World Centric and Hearst Connecticut Media Group (the Westport News' parent organization).

CHOWDAFEST V

When: Sunday, Feb. 3, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Webster Bank Arena, 600 Main St., Bridgeport.

What: Chowders, soups and bisques prepared by 24 area restaurants.

Tickets: At the box office. Adults $10; children 5 to 12, $5; children under 5, free.

Parking: $5.

Beneficiary: Proceeds benefit Connecticut Food Bank.