Winterfest Comes and Goes
Sarah Smith spoons up the winning lobster chowder her husband, Sandy Smith, made for Winterfest.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Hundreds roamed the downtown on Saturday looking for some good chowder.
More than a dozen restaurants and food service providers participated in this year's "Chowder Hop" with locations set up from Marshall to Eagle streets. There were no surprises this year; all the top chowders have won in the past. But surprisingly, there was little overlap of the judges' and People Choice selections.
This year's winner was Gramercy Bistro for its lobster chowder, the first time the restaurant's taken a title since it won People's Choice in 2009. The chowder had just the right flavor, consistency and appetizing look to make it the favorite of all three judges.
The judges — Mayor Richard Alcombright, City Councilor Lisa Blackmer and me, iBerkshires Managing Editor Tammy Daniels — were also impressed with the catfish chowder served up by Gramercy's new sister eatery RUB. Of course, they were both made by chef Alexander "Sandy" Smith.
Coming in second was The Hub, which took third last year, followed by North Adams Regional Hospital Dining Services. Both offered up creamy, traditional clam chowders with plenty of clams, potatoes and vegetables. The Hub's chowder was once again made by Matt Schilling and the NARH's by Jon Charbonneau, who last picked up a third in People's Choice in 2008.
We decided to give an honorable mention to Valerie Schwarz of the Berkshire Food Project for her spicy but not-too-over-the-top corn and clam chowder. Schwarz and kitchen manager Adam Quimby were having their own little competition by serving up two varieties at First Congregational Church. Sorry Adam, yours was good but we liked Valerie's better.
The People's Choice winners couldn't be more different: Gringo's got the most votes, a real coup for David Nicholas who reopened the Tex-Mex eatery in Adams this past fall as Gringo's Firehouse Cafe.
More pictures here.
Perennial favorite Boston Sea Foods took second and Aramark Services of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts was third.
Voting was done by ballot; ballots and maps were available at each location. They could be dropped off on Holden Street, where NARH and Red Herring were set up with the SteepleCats and Boy Scout booths.
"People were really taking time to make out their ballots and drop them off," said the city's tourism director Rod Bunt. "We had a decent amount of votes."
"It was a pretty nice spread," he said of the results of the 222 ballots that were submitted. "Other people got respectable votes, too."
Garnering enough votes for honorable mentions were Petrino's, Big Shirl's and NARH. Petrino's Cafe ran out early, but it was the easiest to find: Mark Petrino set up a table right on the sidewalk outside the cafe.
"If I could predict a nice day, I'd say for everybody get out on the street," said Bunt.
It was a nice day, compared to the some we've had this winter. Similar to last year, a severe storm swept into the region on Friday but left in time for Saturday's event, with exception of a few snowflakes for effect.
Last year, the event was moved to Main Street from St. Elizabeth's (St. Anthony's) Parish Center to encourage more outdoor activities and downtown traffic.
Dozens were lined up during the afternoon for a horse and carriage ride around Main Street; stores and eateries were offering specials, there were places to get hot cider and chocolate and, if you were sick of chowder, Girl Scout cookies and ice cream.
Ice blocks were carved into flowers and squirrels and people and First Congregational Church offered a guided tour of its beautiful stained-glass windows.
A list of all the activities and restaurants can be found here.
New Cure for the Winter Blues?
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Winterfest returns to the city on Feb. 27 but it won't be at the St. Elizabeth's Parish Center — this time it's heading back to downtown.
The City Council's new Community Development Committee is taking a hand in the annual event that, to put it kindly, had degenerated into a chowder contest. Everyone sort of stood around in the hall eating chowder. When it was gone, they left.
Oh yeah, there were llamas at the library. Great for kids but, well, eh for many people. And there was a wagon ride — if you were willing to stand out on an often frigid Main Street to wait for it. Oh, and the Mayor's Skating Party down at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink. Again, nice, but late in the day and cut off from anything happening nearly six hours earlier.
The whole affair was a bit discombobulated
This year, there's a concerted effort to focus (like a laser beam) on bringing as many of those scattered activities as possible in close proximity to stimulate pedestrian traffic along the main drag.
The main event returns from noon to 2 but in two locations — 49 Main St. in the former Mohawk Gift Shop ( and Hudson's Antiques) and at 77 Main St. in the former Moulton's General Store. No standing around slurping up chowder; attendees will have to walk between the locations. It's good exercise!
To keep up participants' energy in between the chowder stations, there'll be marshmallow roasting on the sidewalks. Kids' activities will be going on at 107 Main St., which will also offer a place to warm up in-between carriage rides being sponsored by Hoosac Bank from 1 to 3.
Persnickety's Picky the Penguin will do a walkabout with other characters. At least one venue will be pouring hot chocolate.
The llamas will still be at the library for story time from 10 to 11; a tad further out, but still walking distance, will be a "Winter Shadow" light show and children's presentation being offered at 2 p.m. at Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
And, of course, the free skating party runs from 7 to 9 and the Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe tramps the Main Street Stage at 7:30.
Did we mention the ice? Yes, ice sculpting will be happening on Main Street with whichever artists want to get involved. More stuff, too, will be announced in the coming weeks.
Organizers are urging businesses and shops along Main Street to get in on the action. Want to be included? Let Rod Bunt at the Mayor's Office of Tourism know if you've got anything special planned at email@example.com.