Saturday marked the 17th iteration of the “Spring on Fourth! What’s on Third?” festival in Bethlehem. For the second year we were invited to take part in the judging festivities which entail eating far too much chili for one’s well-being and consuming a solid number of beers (4) and margaritas (1) to wash it all down.
The judging works like so: two groups of judges each take 20 or so chilies on opposite sides of the SouthSide. Once each group decides on their top three for their side of town the judges switch sides and taste each other’s top 3 chilies. The event is always a resounding success. Tasting passports sell out before the event begins and the area around The Funhouse and Molly’s is always swimming in festival-goers.
So let’s get down to the chili. Tulum won People’s Choice after taking the Judge’s Choice in 2011. Newcomers Horns took home the Judge’s Choice prize this year. Rounding out the top 6 for the judges were Tulum, Monsoon, Apotheca, Cutter’s and Molly’s. If we had to rate our own top three it would be 1: Tulum, 2: Horns, 3: Monsoon.
Tulum’s chili is extremely hard to beat. It has a perfect amount of smoke, a lingering heat that appears only after you’ve downed your first bite, and is pretty-looking to boot. It’s as close to perfect as chili got on Saturday.
Horns had a pretty polarizing chili this year. Some people disliked it, some (like us) rather enjoyed it. With more of a pulled pork route than a traditional chili, the restaurant combined pulled pork, pork belly, and carrots to create a particularly rich and flavorful dish. They also handed out frosty PBRs to compliment it. Not that we condone drinking shitty beer, but if there’s ever a time to do it, it’s when you’re eating a ton of chili.
Blue Sky had three chilies, one of which (“Some Like It Hot”) didn’t even require a stamp on your tasting passport. The reason? It was so damn hot you had to sign a waiver to try it. And boy, was it raging hot. While looking fairly innocuous and veggie-heavy, even emitting a very neutral aroma, once it went in your mouth you knew you made a grave, grave mistake. Anyone that ate their full portion of it deserves a medal.
The Mint, another newcomer to the event, had a extremely good entry in their “No Counterfeit, Borderless Experience”. Smoked brisket highlighted a hearty chili topped off with jalapeno cornbread and lime crème. It was easily the most haute cuisine chili and a worthy entry to the mix. The meat was great, albeit a little too chunky for a small bowl.
It must’ve been the year for newbies, because another first-timer had a damn good chili. Easy Weenies, the hot dog cart embroiled in controversy surrounding their legality and zoning, had a chili made with NY Strip steak and filet mignon. It must’ve been the priciest-to-produce chili there and tasted astounding. Monsoon Gallery, known for their art and not their chili, came out of left field with an excitingly unique and delicious recipe. Touting a masala/curry taste, their Indian take on chili was superb. And the name? Slumdog Chilionaire. If there was an award for best name they would’ve easily strolled away with it.
Deja Brew had, as they always do, one of the most off-the-wall but still good chilis. Last year they were dishing out a chili featuring coconut that was sweet and desserty. This year they opted to go the fruit route and incorporate mango to sweeten the chili and used sweet potatoes to add a starchy base to their vegan recipe.
Molly’s was serving up a Magic Mushoom chili which the other group of judges favored, but we found to just be OK. Have to give them credit for trying something crazy (making chili with mushrooms) and coming out with something decent, though. Apotheca had a fantastic chili that you could top with a variety of cheeses and either dried, crushed habaneros or ghost peppers. We chose the ghost peppers and it delivered a long, hearty burn in the back of your mouth after the chili was gone. Fantastic stuff and certainly worthy of being in the top 6.
As always, it was a fantastic event. We heard nary any complaints (other than people whining about not getting passports. Seriously, learn to buy them early people!). The weather was perfect. A little overcast, not too hot and not too cold…perfect for eating chili. We capped off the day by hitting The Funhouse to see Trouble City All-Stars and digest all that meat n’ beans.
Tulum’s award-winning chili
Horns serving up pork-based chili and PBRs
Blue Sky Cafe’s table
Blue Sky’s “Some Like It Hot” chili
The crowd outside The Funhouse
BYOS: Bring Your Own Sriracha
Godfrey Daniels dishing it out with cayenne brownies from Back Door Bakeshop
The Mint’s table setup
Tallying up the scores with a post-chili Victory Hop Devil at Starter’s Riverport
Fellow judge Christopher Bennick rocking his golden spoon
The Funhouse after the festival
No one is quite sure
Trouble City All-Stars warming up