April 13, 2013

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the second annual Buckhead Chili Fest hosted by Charlie Rigby at 5 Paces Inn (http://www.5pacesinn.com/) with all proceeds going to the great philanthropy, Burt’s Big Adventure (http://www.bertsbigadventure.org/).

Sampling delicious chilies with a side of Knob Creek Rye was an excellent way to spend this perfect-weathered spring afternoon.

So what savory eats did we get to enjoy?  Meet the contestants.

Buckhead Chili Fest2013

Joy Cafe

My first taste came from Joy Café.  A place whose name I found reflected its employees and, as I soon discovered, its patrons, as well.  Joy Café offered a chili well balanced in flavor and texture with rich oils from a blend of chuck roast browned in baconey goodness and French chocolate.  Topped with avocado for tempering the heat and providing smoothness, chives and cilantro for crunch and color, cheddar shreds for stringy fun and flavor and a squeeze of fresh lime juice to round it off it was an equally tasty and impressive gourmet chili.

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Joy Cafe

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Joy Cafe. See what I mean?

Taste number two was from the host himself.  A totally different chili from what I’d just encountered.  Charlie’s was a pot of pureed brown beauty made from ground bison and a host of “secret ingredients”.  Overall, it had a satisfying sustained heat and though I couldn’t distinguish the secret ingredients I found the herbs used offered a nice earthy taste in contrast to the potentially slightly gamey bison flavor.  I also found if I added minced red onions they made for a nice finish as their flavor and crunch were hidden till the last couple of chews.

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Next was “Traditional Chili” as Danny, the chef, referred to his dish.  It was a classic for sure; tender ground beef complemented by tomatoes, pinto beans, fresh minced garlic, and teeming with spices of paprika, cayenne, chili powder and flakes, and cumin.  For an additional kick he’d included sriracha.  Admittedly, I’m not a big fan.  I find sriracha can be too sour and overwhelming, but in this dish, aided by the cumin the harsh edge was softened and transformed the hot sauce into a pleasing, unique accent.  This one made my top three.

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Danny, Brandon and John Terry

Behind Danny and Charlie I found (another) Danny, Brandon and John Terry.  They were manning a table strewn with mardi gras-looking sunglasses, mini trophies (revving up for their big win, to be sure) and beer bottles, obviously enjoying a party of their own in the back corner of the porch.  With great pride they told me about their chili, starting off by noting they’d begun at 4 am that morning.  It was a slightly sweeter chili offered by the contributions of Abita Strawberry Beer and sautéed carrots which flavored the hearty bites of ground beef, sausage, and the occasional bean.  Points for creativity and the nice slow heat that filled my mouth as I ate.

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Out on the sunny deck I met Thomas with his “Traditional Chili Verde” and Mike and Duncan with their “Sloppy Chili”.  Enticed by the tomatilloes in Thomas’ I sampled his first.  It was excellent—a buttery broth, rich in oils from the pork, partnered with onions, navy beans and cilantro.  As the flavors swirled around my mouth I felt transported to my Southern California home.  Curious to know what spices had made his dish so sensational I asked, but got the reply, “spices…can’t tell you what they are.”  I’ll just have to do my own experimenting if I want to recreate the moment or settle for sumptuous memories.

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Mike and Duncan’s appeared exactly as they had described, “Sloppy Chili”, ready and waiting for a bun and the nickname “Joe”.  But, isn’t that how most chilies look?  It may have looked “the norm” but had its own set of distinguishing features.  To their ground sirloin they had added poblano and jalapeño chilies, ancho chili, as well as chili powder, making for a bitter tasting chili with a bite.  In addition were pinto and red beans, purple onions, oregano, cumin, and their special rub combo of coarse salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic and onion powder.

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Around the corner I found Sarah and Joe who were sampling the only chicken chili in the mix.  I loved the variety of chunky textures of the succulent diced chicken, cakey homoney and smooth white beans.  I only wished it hadn’t been topped with sour cream and pepper jack.  It made the chili a bit too mild leaving it too light in flavor and too heavy in richness.  I did appreciate the slow rising kick at the end though which left my mouth happy.

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Sharing their table was Andy, competitor #1.  A lofty number to live up to.  Another bison chili, but, being a big fan of the meat it already had that going for it.  The hefty bites were a blend of flavorful bison, bacon, tomatoes and a spice packet, the particulars of which the chef didn’t know.  This nice and simple combination worked well allowing the rich flavors and juicy oils of the meats to carry the chili.

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When I’d visited all eight both my mouth and tummy felt quite satisfied.  It was a tough call to decide who would make my top three.  I had to revisit a few now that I had tasted them all.  In the end my pallet fell partial to Danny’s impressive “traditional”, Thomas’ Chili Verde because it was so unique and tasted of home, and Charlie’s bison chili which I found myself go back to again and again for “one more” dang little plastic cup-full.  Glad they were small cups.

Here’s to next year!