BRIDGEPORT -- The biggest football game of the year was still hours away, but for more than 2,000 people at Webster Bank Arena Sunday afternoon, this was the real souper bowl.

The fifth annual Chowdafest raked in customers who seemed quite willing to shell out $10 each to sample soup and determine the cream of the crop among area restaurants -- all to support the Connecticut Food Bank.

"This just seemed to be a no-brainer," organizer Jim Keenan said. "You can come here and try some incredible soups, or stay home and watch eight hours of pregame shows."

By the end of the afternoon, Chowdafest had served 2,400 people and collected 1,400 pounds of food for the food bank.

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Chowdafest winners
Best New England clam chowder: Donovan's of South Norwalk
Best creative chowder: The Ginger Man of Greenwich
Best soup or bisque: Crab Shell of Stamford

Young and old clam-bered for a small, brown cup of the thick mixture that, surprisingly, didn't always contain that tried and true formula of heavy cream, clams and potatoes.

Michael Young, chef of Norwalk's Valencia Luncheria, and Bodega Taco Bar of Fairfield and Darien, presented Venezuelan corn and bacon bisque and a Mexican corn chowder.

"I wasn't skiing this weekend, so I figured why not come here with soup?" Young said.

High Tide Gourmet, a Madison food truck vendor, is known for its clam chowder, but owner Rich Messier came with a chicken masala soup.

"We entered too late for the chowder competition," said Messier, eyeing his wife and guaranteeing himself a long ride home.

A large sign over the stand for Westport's Mansion Clam House read: "Under new management."

"We have new management, but I'm still the cook there," assured Chef Rigo Lino. "We have won the last two years and we will win this year."

His secret ingredient? Rice flour.

The Ginger Man, of Greenwich, drew crowds with its sweet potato clam chowder.

"This is our fourth year in the competition and we've won three out of the four years," Chef Kevin Spaulding said.

If it were up to Joann Cito, of Monroe, and Jennifer Holecz, of Bridgeport, The Ginger Man would be 4-for-4.

Jade Heller and Brianna Goboni had that awkward look on their faces as they stood beside a large empty bowl at the stand for Fairfield's Old Post Tavern.

"We ran out of chowder," explained Heller. "We went through 19 gallons in about three hours."

Beatrice Krawiecki, of Norwalk, sat at a small, round table in the middle of the arena floor sampling chowders with that look of somebody who really knows their chowders.

Turns out, she's been eating chowder for 75 of her 80 years.

"I know a good chowder when I taste one," Krawiecki said.

And there were a number of entries Sunday that just weren't her cup of soup.

"Sweet potatoes, bacon, they don't belong in real clam chowder," Krawiecki said defiantly.

Her ideal cup of chowder is made at a tiny restaurant outside Buffalo, N.Y.

"Nobody here is even comparable," Krawiecki said.

But if she had to make a pick, Krawiecki said she would go with the traditional clam chowder from Donovan's of South Norwalk. However, sources revealed she has a connection to the restaurant -- her granddaughter works there.

"Well OK, but I still have to pay when I go there," she said in her defense.

This was the first time the chowder festival was held at Webster Bank Arena. The first two years, it was held in Westport's Unitarian Church. The last two years, it was held at Bedford Middle School in Westport.

"Last year at the middle school, we got 5,000 people and raised 15,000 meals for the food bank," said spokeswoman Beth Kitchener. "But we also had to turn away 1,000 people because we just didn't have the room. That's when Jim decided to move it to the arena."

In addition to parishioners from the Unitarian Church, they also got help from employees of Stop & Shop and from students at Sacred Heart University.; 203-330-6308; http://