A fall staple returns: Recap of the Soulard Chili Festival
Fall has arrived in St. Louis. Bright leaves are commencing their mass exodus from tree branches. People are beginning to pull out the first sweaters of the season. And of course, the crisp, cool weather in St. Louis means the return of chili. The city kicked off the season in style with Saturday’s Soulard Chili Festival.
From classic home-style chili to Tex-Mex chili lasagna to white bean chicken chili, I tried as many unique flavors as I could. In total, 17 restaurants participated in the festival, a fundraiser for the Lift for Life Academy, St. Louis’ first charter school. For $12 at the door (or $7 online), I was given a tasting card to try a chili sample from each vendor.
While several of the stands offered a more traditional chili experience (one of my favorite traditional chilies was Big Daddy’s thick, creamy chili), the chili festival also offered a wide array of unusual flavors.
One of these unique flavors was a venison, wild boar and beef tongue chili, created by chef John Johnson of Lumiere Place and River City Casino. Though I was a bit apprehensive, this chili turned out to be one of the best I would try all day. It was zesty with chunks of meat in an almost stew-like consistency.
Pointer’s Market was another vendor that offered a particularly distinctive experience with its two chili samples—smoked pulled pork chili and Tex-Mex chili lasagna. In the smoked pulled pork chili, the smoky flavor of a barbecue was front and center, highlighted by a hint of barbecue sauce. Though the Tex-Mex chili lasagna was more Tex-Mex than chili, I thought the different spices worked well with the pasta and ricotta cheese.
While several of the vendors offered a sweet-and-spicy chili, my favorite came from 1860’s Hard Shell Cafe & Saloon. Most of the chili dishes I ate were overpowered by sugar, but this version’s sweetness complimented the spicy nature of a traditional chili.
While most of the vendors served chilies with some type of meat, a couple of vendors catered to the vegetarian crowd. One such restaurant was Joe’s Chili Bowl, a restaurant that just opened in City Garden. Its vegetarian chili stood out to me in its freshness—it was brighter and lighter than a traditional chili but still had the full-flavored spicy taste.
My personal pick for the best overall chili, however, was the chili served by K Hayden Personal Chef Services. The chicken with Andouille sausage chili stood out to me in both flavor and uniqueness. The chili was creamy with a little spice and wove in elements of a comforting chicken soup.
This is the second year for the Soulard Chili Festival. Though it lost money last year, the festival is gaining popularity. Since last year, the festival has doubled its number of vendors and increased the number of attendees from 700 to 1200.
This year’s proceeds have not been tallied yet, but Executive Director and founder Marshall Cohen estimates that the event will see a profit.
“Everybody wanted to participate in it for a good cause. It’s a better turnout. Everybody had a blast,” chef Kenny Hayden said.
“We’ll definitely be back next year,” said Roxanne Williams, general manager of Joe’s Chili Bowl. “We have been lined up all day long. It has been very, very cool. There were sometimes five to 10 people in line. And everybody is buying and enjoying and trying the chili.”