The Mercury has developed a Midas touch when it comes to food events. Sure, our events are predicated on comically low prices for ridiculously great food from the city's best restaurants, and that's not really a "clever trick" per se, but it works, and we're sticking to it. Burger Week, for example, just finished its second year, with 20 restaurants unloading over 10,000 hamburgers. (Human cooperation on this scale usually involves helicopters and tear gas, people.) Tacos 'n' Tequila saw Bunk, Mi Mero Mole, Xico, and a host of other top-shelf eateries feed hundreds of ecstatic, visibly drunken revelers. And last year's inaugural Chili Jam was a dense, rippling, tippling, cumin-belching sea of flannel happiness—a sharp slap on the denim derriere of that red-blooded animal normally dormant in each of us.
This year's Chili Jam, held at Mississippi Studios on Sunday, October 5, is divided into two sessions of six different restaurants each. The model is simple: Buy a ticket for one or both sessions (afternoon or night), try every restaurant's chili, and cast your vote for the winner (besides the obvious winner who lives under your hat). Enjoy some fine liquorand beer—perhaps even that of Jack Daniel's or Pabst Blue Ribbon. Do open-mouthed make-outs in front of the whiskeybliterated* live bands with your rootin'est, tootin'est significant other—if you can stand the wind of brimstone wafting hotly from their maw. Then, when the winner is announced, "holler," "whoop," and loudly proclaim upon "tarnation."
We have several returning competitors this year—including runaway grand champion Gregory Gourdet of Departure, whose sweet, clean, and complex turkey rendang chili (which I believe was kind of a Malay peninsula thing) challenged our con carne expectations. It was one of many moments throughout the day that distinctly reminded us that we don't live in the panhandle; another was a long conversation I had with a fellow who made sustainable bamboo motorcycle helmets.
BJ Smith of Smokehouse 21 was hot on Gourdet's tail in the polls last year, as were Rodney Muirhead of Podnah's and Jonathan Berube of Mississippi Studios neighbor Radar. Rick Gencarelli of Lardo is back in as well, and they're each doing something different this time around. Smith promises a pozole filled with smoked hog heads (a hogshead of hogs' heads, is the English which must be said) and garnished with crispy sow's ears. Podnah's floats promises of Texas Street Chili, garnished with free-range Fritos, and Lardo has the brass ambition to offer sliders covered in a Mexican concoction Rick remembers from a spiritual road trip to Ensenada. Radar is also riding the pozole train, with a verde version whose hog head count is unknown at this time.
As is tradition with our events, we like a mix of old friends, new fish, and up and comers. The Woodsman Tavern is throwing their hat into the ring this year, with a no-bean beef and pork chili whose secret ingredient was learned in the darkest back bays of chef Andrew Gregory's Boston salad days. Ken Gordon of Kenny & Zuke's is riffing (smoked tongue planted firmly in cheek) on the Jewish brisket chili "his maternal grandmother made when she was fleeing the Cossacks, but trading matzoh croutons for green chili corn bread," and subbing dark beer for, one presumes, Slivovitz.
Tamale Boy, the greatest thing to happen to NE Dekum since the pavement went down, will build a chili of "slow cooked red beans, chipotle in adobo, seasoned ground pork and beef, pasilla peppers, and roasted corn." This goes atop fried jalapeño masa spheres, which may or may not be a mocking Mexican jab at molecular gastronomy and its hard-on for perfectly round food.
It's Tilt's first year as well, and the burgeoning restaurant family is showcasing their decadent pie cases with a "Pie Break Chili"—slow-cooked kidney beans with espresso-braised brisket, bacon, and jalapeños, served in mini-crusts. That's a lot of work. Bar Bar—who have a strong home field advantage, considering this is being held at their facility—will serve a "deep and complex" Tex Mex-inspired lamb and black bean chili, which chef Sean Torrey has lovingly tweaked over the years.
Dick's Kitchen will serve up Dick's Meaty Chili. If you don't know Dick's, it's where giving a shit about yourself, and the world, meets actual excellent food. That almost never happens. Not for reasonable prices, anyhow. But their head chef Andrew Garrett is getting out there with local venison, squash, and an expertly tweaked heat. (Many know Garrett as the founder of the award-winning NW Elixirs hot sauce line.)
Rounding out the lineup is food press dandy Kim Jong Grillin'—but this cart is keeping the low profile of their namesake when it comes to details. Buy your tickets early, try them all, and discover a restaurant or two you've never tried.
* Depending on what time you get there. This is not a guarantee.
AFTERNOON CHILI JAM
11AM - 4PM with CHILI TASTINGS PROVIDED BY:
Departure, Bar Bar, Kenny & Zuke's, Kim Jong Grillin, Podnah's Pit, & The Woodsman Tavern.
The Earnest Lovers at 12:00, Hook & Anchor at 1:00, & Black Prairie at 2:15.
EVENING CHILI JAM
5PM - 10PM CHILI TASTINGS PROVIDED BY:
Dick's Kitchen, Lardo, Radar, Smokehouse 21, Tamale Boy, & TILT.
The Earnest Lovers at 6:30, Hook & Anchor at 7:30, & Black Prairie at 9:00