Westport restaurants get ready for competition

Photo of Erin Kayata

WESTPORT — Connecticut seems to have it all when it comes to trails: a chocolate trail, a signature cocktail trail, even a dinosaur trail. Now, restaurants across Fairfield County will be some of the 40 stops on the new Chowda Trail, a guide to where diners can find the chowders, soups and bisques that are competing in the annual New England Chowdafest.

Chowdafest, the largest chowder and soup competition in New England, is held each October in Westport. Participants compete in one of four categories: creative chowder, classic New England clam chowder, traditional (for Manhattan and Rhode Island chowders), or soups and bisques.

The Chowda Trail gives diners a chance to access these restaurants by way of virtual maps that show where each restaurant is located and what category of soup it serves. Stops will change each year to reflect the participants in that year’s upcoming competition.

The Chowda Trail can be found on multiple websites, including on the Connecticut Office of Tourism site. Jim Keenan, Chowdafest founder and “chowder chairman,” said he got the idea to create the trail a year ago as a way to further promote Chowdafest and help “foodies” who came to him looking for chowder recommendations.

“The state has a bunch of trails,” Keenan said. “And I thought I have this whole trail of incredible restaurants. Each year we have 10,000 foodies come [for Chowdafest]. Let’s give them a reason to keep coming.”

The trail will also help promote restaurants, something that was Keenan’s goal when founding Chowdafest in 2008 when many eateries were struggling in the economic downturn.

Stephen Carpentieri, owner of Dunville’s Restaurant in Westport and a previous winner of Chowdafest for his Manhattan chowder, thinks the Chowda Trail is a good way to get diners prepared for the upcoming fest.

“It’s a great way to get our name out. I think it helps build up anticipation [for] the event,” he said. “People can go and taste the soup in the intended environment. Everyone should come out and try it, even if you’re not a chowder fan. It’s about the chowder, but there’s so much more going on.”

Other stops on the Chowda Trail include fellow Westport restaurants Little Barn and The Boathouse at Saugatuck, as well as Rory’s Restaurant of Darien and Fairfield eateries The Chef’s Table, Old Post Tavern, Crave and Geronimo.

For the ninth annual festival, 32 of the 40 contestants are from Connecticut, including the eight from Fairfield, Westport and Darien. Eight states are represented in total, ranging from Washington to Vermont. For more information, visit chowdafest.org.

This year’s Chowdafest will be held on Sunday, Oct. 9 at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport. But until then, chowder lovers can use the Chowda Trail to, as Keenan would say, “chowder on.”