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June 17, 2014 at 6:15 AM

Seattle chowder wins big in the East

File photo by Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times

File photo by Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times

Think clam chowder is just an East Coast specialty? Pike Place Chowder competed in a longstanding national contest in Rhode Island recently and brought back a second-place win for best clam chowder and a first-place award for having the most spirited team. Judging was done by the thousands of attendees. (First place for clam chowder went to Stefano’s Seafood Restaurant in New Jersey.)

It’s far from the business’s first honor at the 33-year-old Great Chowder Cook-Off. This year, owner Larry Mellum said, was actually the first time in a decade that Pike Place could compete in the chowder division, after sitting out a mandatory ten years when it was installed in the cook-off’s Hall of Fame for three previous first-place wins.

Mellum described on his website how the chowder, originally developed at the former Charleston Street Cafe in West Seattle, won local and Northwest competitions to the point where staffers raised money to compete in the big Rhode Island event.

“About 20,000 chowder lovers attend every year. In 20 years, no restaurant outside New England had ever won the prize. BUT, WE DID! Three years in a row, we were named, “Nation’s Best Chowder,” entering the competition’s hall of fame,” the website said.

Mellum told me in an email that “after being retired for a few years I asked them how long we would have to wait if we wanted to return with the same recipe? They told me ten years but we could compete in other divisions. So we did that in 2006 and 2009 in the Seafood Division with our Seafood Bisque and won a First and a Second. In 2011 and 2012 we competed and won First Place, People’s Choice, in the West Coast Chowder Competition held in Monterey CA. The Clam Division in the Great Chowder Cook-off, in Newport R.I. though is of course the big one so we decided to go back.” They received second place wins (both times to Stefano’s) last year and this year.

“I’m proud to say we serve some of the best chowder in America and continuously competing in these events rather than resting on our laurels keeps us sharp.”

A Times reviewer described the clam chowder in a bread bowl this way in a 2003 review: “Best in the country? I can’t fairly judge that, but I can say…it’s plenty terrific. Maybe the fine dice of vegetables is the key to the beautifully integrated flavors, or maybe it’s the generous hand with the firm, fleshy clams. Or maybe it’s the brave restraint with the bacon. Or heck — maybe it’s just all that cream. In any case, it’s both luscious and down-to-earth, and particularly nice when served in a munchable bowl.”

Looking to try it out? Pike Street Chowder is located at 1530 Post Alley, with another branch on the fourth floor of Pacific Place, and it’s delivered via Amazon Fresh. The New England clam chowder, the seafood bisque and a smoked salmon chowder are also now available in the refrigerated deli case of QFC markets throughout the Northwest.

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