This past Saturday, the 10th annual Chomp & Stomp Chili Cook-Off and Bluegrass Festival took place in Cabbagetown Park. More than one hundred varieties of chili were present—30 from local restaurants, the rest from individual competitors contending for chili fame. For five bucks per plastic tasting spoon, attendees milled throughout the residential neighborhood tent by tent, wooed by home-based chefs and their professional counterparts hawking grub over the din of hundreds of tasters.
Food was promptly served up around 12:30 p.m. following the morning’s Romp & Stomp 5K. I’ve never understood why people feel the need to “earn” the right to indulge in chili and beer for one afternoon, but whatever gets you going. Chomp & Stomp certainly caters to a morphing crowd—those who arrive early and get out while the chili is still hot, and those who prefer to set up shop in the park for hours of Bluegrass and typical festival fare. I am decidedly in the former group. I had chili with chicken, chorizo, bison and duck. I had chili that was smoky, spicy, sweet and salty. By the end of my group’s tasting spree someone would ask, “How is it?” and the response would inevitably be, “Tastes like chili.” But, as they say, the cream rose to the top. Here are my top five Chomp and Stomp moments:
1. Korean BBQ Brisket Chili and Magpie Chili. Way to start the cook-off on a good foot. These individual teams had prime real estate and solid recipes. The Korean version boasted slow-cooked beef brisket, kimchi, and “magic.” Magpie was simply a strong standard recipe that proved hard to follow.
2. Los Pollos Hermanos Chili. Perhaps it takes a die-hard Breaking Bad fan to appreciate the ingenuity of this approach, but hell yes, I’ll have my cup of chili from a dedicated team in hazmat suits. Their take packed a slow-building heat that was only assuaged by blue-raspberry rock candy moonlighting as Walter White’s infamous crystal.
3. The Albert took first place for restaurants with their five bean and beef recipe. The contest was judged by an array of well-known locals including Shane Deveraux of The Lawrence, Hector Santiago of Pura Vida, and Steven Satterfield of Miller Union among several others. The restaurant also featured a white bean and chorizo option, but the judges were right on—the beef was where it was at.
4. The Vortex Bar and Grill fried corn bread mash. Depending on which end of the map you started on, by the time you got to restaurant row, chili was likely coming out of your ears. Leave it to the Vortex to cut the palette with a little fried bread mixed with cheese and chiles to soak up all that meat (and SweetWater brew).
5. I affectionately dubbed my stack of paper cups the “tasting tower of power,” but no other attendee committed to maintaining her track record quite like Miss Cate. Adjusting for wait times and tents that either ran out of chili, tasting cups, or both, dedicated attendees could easily have chewed their way through 25–50 kinds of chili within a couple of hours. Anyone who looks this happy after a tour like that deserves some recognition. In my case, I ate so much, it will probably be next year’s Chomp & Stomp before I jump back on the chili bandwagon.