Review and results from WMSE’s 2009 Rockabilly Chili Contest
Neither rain nor sleet nor snow – all three of which came down Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee – could deter droves of hungry people from this year’s premier showcase of some of the city’s best commercial chili recipes while listening to rocking hillbilly tunes. Over 35 area restaurants brought 10 to 15 gallons (or more) each of their original spicy creations to the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Kern Center in hopes of bragging rights to title of “Best”.
After running out of space at the Harbor Lights Room in 2007, the popular event was moved to the university grounds which is home to the host radio station. Organizers are now eyeballing the Field House upstairs for next year, which is big enough to host a regulation soccer game let alone a crowded chili contest.
Concerns were even addressed as to the not-so-green nature of the event, which went through many barrels of 2 oz. sample cups, beer cups, and spoons – plus a ton of soda cans. MSOE has recycling containers at the event, but they were not self-evident.
WMSE’s General Manager Tom Crawford says that each year the communication improves between organizers and the school on how they can make these things better and these issues were well known.
As for the food, everyone brought their ‘A’ game to the contest – even the very few that seemed to show up just for the premium advertising. Many of the chefs expanded or focused previous entries by trying exotic spices or meat varieties. Others remained true to the formulas served currently at the eateries in which they worked.
On a special note, it was a bit sad to see two of last year’s winners not around to defend their titles in the Champion’s Corner; both Annona Bistro (2008 Best Veggie Chili) and Great Northern BBQ Company (2008 Best Display) fell prey to economic times and have closed in the last eight months. Still, the representation remains strong from some of Milwaukee’s best restaurants, cafes, delis, and catering.
Without further ado, here are the 2009 winners and runner-ups in four categories as decided through ballots turned in by public voters at the event:
Winner: McBob’s Bar and Grill
Runner-Up: Brewed Café
In an example of simple but elegant over epic, McBob’s display of designed welding helmets won out over Brewed’s Ed Roth-inspired racing display for a consecutive runner-up decision in two years.
Winner: Koppa’s Fulbeli Deli
Runner-Up: Bremen Café
In defense of their 2008 crown for the hottest chili, multiple award-winner Sarah Cordus of Koppa’s brought both a great meat and veggie chili. But it was no match for Bremen’s freshman entry, which boasted Naga Jolokia ghost peppers among 17 ingredients meant to scorch the mouth. Just the right amount was used to prevent real pain, but even two ounces had tasters reaching for beverages immediately.
Winner: Riverwest Co-op
Runner-Up: Fuel Café
Fuel Café has a beautiful standard red that’s served at the Riverwest hovel, but it was the neighboring Co-op’s continuing kitchen sink ingredient-styling that struck a chord with participating voters this year.
BEST MEAT CHILI
Winner: Old German Beer Hall
Runner-Up: Wicked Hop
Despite using a new chef and recipe style than years past , The Wicked Hop’s Texas Beef Brisket recipe still continued domination despite coming in second to a creative 3-Brat recipe from OGBH that seemed to capture the heartburn of voters for a second year.
Other notables: Out of the 16 bowls I sampled and inquired about, there were at least a few non-winning yet adventurous bowls that warrant mention for inventiveness and flavor. They included:
Ball and Biscuit Catering’s Frog-Leg and Andouille Chili – it tasted and had texture like chicken.
Fred Usinger Inc.’s Chicken Andouille Chili – which used Cointreau to give it an interesting tang.
Times Square Bistro and Pizzeria’s Pork Mole Chili – was great even though the chef confessed to thinking it up just days before.
Palms Bistro and Bar’s Duck and Striploin Red Chili – whose chef had the most clever lines, presentation plus a sultry bowl to die for.
Roots Restaurant and Cellar’s Bacon and Egg Chili – with deep fatty cuts of bacon and a salt-cured egg shaving topping that made for a surprising good time.