New Hampshire’s Seacoast has garnered a reputation as a world-renowned seafood destination, with Portsmouth’s rich restaurant scene serving up a mélange of sea-salty snacks. Its annual Chowder Fest was a seafood lover’s paradise — until the pandemic halted it, and the subsequent food industry staffing shortages prolonged that hiatus. But the dry spell has come to an end; the Chowder Fest is back. “There’s a lot of excitement to get it back off the ground,” says Tyler Goodwin, board member of the Prescott Park Arts Festival and co-chair of the organization’s Young Professionals Group, who helped plan the event. “We want to make a statement that the hiatus is in the rearview and we’re ready to get back to what we’ve been doing for so long.”
Catch the 36th Annual 97.5 WOKQ Chowder Festival Summer Kick-off, presented by Avery Insurance, on Saturday, June 3, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sixteen of the Seacoast’s most esteemed fishmongers plan to spill their sumptuous chowders into salivating mouths, all in hopes of taking home the revered “Golden Ladle.” With two ladles up for grabs — the People’s Choice Award and the Judge’s Award — attendees get the chance to support their favorite chowder of the day, while chowder experts ever-so-carefully weigh the spices and seasonings. Goodwin says winning restaurants are known to display the Golden Ladle “loud and proud in their window — it’s good bragging rights for the community.”
Along with the array of seafood stews, attendees have a variety of engagement activities to partake in, including a tie-dye station, oversized lawn games like Connect 4, corn hole and Jenga, face painting, live music and children entertainment via Sages Entertainment, known for their balloons and bubbles. Goodwin says the Arts Festival hopes to make the event “less strictly-chowder-based and more inclusive for whatever people are looking to do.” Last year, they held a “Summer Social” to replace the Chowder Fest, and Goodwin sees this year’s event as a merger of the two. Additionally, the Portsmouth NH 400 Grand Parade marches through the streets from 11 a.m. to noon, expecting thousands of visitors to flood downtown.
With all participating restaurants hailing from the Greater Portsmouth area, Goodwin believes the event to be a vital part of Portsmouth culture — one that was sorely missed the last three years. Needless to say, he’s enthralled it’s back. “It really brings everybody together in a way that other events might not,” Goodwin says. “We have a great concert series but those bands are primarily coming in from all over the country and maybe don’t have Portsmouth roots, whereas the Chowder Fest is obviously a strictly-local event: mostly Portsmouth restaurants, some greater Portsmouth restaurants, and they’re driving this event and being in the Park with other people who’re interested in tasting what they have or maybe are already huge fans. It’s a hyper-local event that allows us to celebrate the picturesque nature of the park along with the great restaurants we have in the area.”
The Chowder Festival costs $20 per person, granting attendees free rein to try any and every chowder without additional cost (Prescott Park Arts Festival season pass holders get in for free).