Scenes from the Chili Bowl 2012 at Potawatomi
Milwaukee holds chili cook-offs the same way our neighbor to the south holds Taste of Chicago: on a large-scale, with bragging rights at stake, filled with music and beverages. This was never more evident than this past Sunday, as Milwaukeefood.com hosted its 6th annual Chili Bowl at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino Expo Center.
Each year, the venue has changed as the need for capacity has grown. There was a maximum audience on Sunday, with more than 30 restaurants competing for bragging rights in five categories including the “Golden Ladle” award. Half the representing cooks were not from the typical roster seen at the “Rockabilly Chili Contest,” the event’s sister competition hosted by WMSE. A swath of chefs and servers hailed from all around the greater Milwaukee area, including Brookfield’s Cafe Manna, St. Francis’s Attebury’s Pub and Eatery, and Dr. Dawg from Glendale.
Two entries, however, didn’t have to go far. The casino’s Menomonee Valley Food Court had an impressive entry and the Fire Pit Sports Bar and Grill had the most interesting presentation of the day. The entry was served in a kind of fry bread which had been formed in cupcake molds and hollowed out to contain the buffalo-style chili with jalapeno/onion strings atop. It was a mixed result in the end, as it was neat, but didn’t allow for much chili to be taste-tested.
Old German Beer Hall brought its 3-Brat Chili, Saz’s brought its very soothing and familiar Red, and Cafe Manna had a vegetarian cup with a cornucopia of veggies including eggplant as the meat surrogate. The Irish Rec Room basically deconstructed a Reuben sandwich. Brocach had a meat Guinness 7-Chili and a vegan italian sausage and butternut squash that was very textural.
I made a point to visit as many restaurants and offerings I have never tried or to a venue offering a special recipe not normally on the menu. Sometimes these recipes worked, but in some cases they did not. While I appreciate Cafe India offering both the Chicken Tikia Masala and vegetarian curry-inspired number, they brought a kind of heat that my body cannot tolerate.
There were entries to really admire. The North Shore Country Club’s offering, “Grandma’s Farm Chili,” dared to have a gnocchi-like noodle and a full palette range. Tomken’s Bar and Grill offered “Timber Chili” with many different cuts of meat and heat. Finally, I came across one man whose eyes were watering and I asked him what he ate. Apparently he sampled his friend’s “OMG Spicy” version from The Trysting Place. While I inquired from the men at the booth what was in the secret bottle, they would not divulge. They never do.
Check out our slideshow from the cook-off, or view the whole set on our Flickr page.