Earlier last week, Forest heard about a Screamin’ chili contest (and country music fest) taking place in a neighboring city of Keyport. So on Saturday afternoon we headed over to Keyport with a friend to chow down on chili! We found the chili ticket tent, paid $5 for a map, voting ballot and 7 tickets that would allow us a sample of chili from 7 different restaurants. Luckily most of the towns in New Jersey are tiny and you can walk from one end to the other in no time flat.
Here’s the map/restaurant list/voting ballot:
So, with maps in hand, we headed off to the first restaurant – Burlew’s Seafood and Steak. It was a bit awkward to get to the restaurant/bar but it looked really cool on the inside. Full of tv’s for any sports enthusiast’s game-day viewing pleasure. And the chili was phenomenal – spicy pulled pork with beans and veggies in the mix. The spice wasn’t overpowering but it did leave my lips tingling, in a good way. And the corn bread got two thumbs up from me! We actually overheard the servers mention that they don’t even have chili on the menu but the chef whipped up the recipe just for this contest.
Next on our stop was Jersey Shore Subs and Soups. Pork was a common theme because this chili was pulled pork with black beans and home-grown vegetables – they had a “garden” out back which we inspected and it looked like a couple buckets with some green sprouting out of the top. It had a little umph to it as well. (Side note – I am not a food critic so most of my reviews will sound repetitive and probably do not do the chili’s justice).
Lenora’s Cafe had a little twist to their chili dish – chili empanadas! This was an unexpected surprise but I thought it was creative and tasted good. And the little restaurant was adorable inside. As a sign to how much I liked the empanada, I don’t even have a picture of one! Please enjoy this picture of the restaurant instead.
McDonagh’s Pub was our next stop and I absolutely loved the restaurant! It was a beautiful day so they had big windows open in the front and the atmosphere inside was friendly and inviting. And I love that the outside is a great red color. McDonagh’s chili had pork as well and a lot of vegetables. It had a really nice flavor to it and they topped it with cheese (a must for me when it comes to chili!) and served it with a side of colorful tortillas. No complaints here – this was definitely a contender!
Gina’s Brick Oven and Ristorante served up a beef chili with tomatoes and (I think) Gouda cheese. This chili was cold (whomp whomp) and super salty. I wanted to like all of the chili’s so I kept tasting it in hopes of a less salty bite or a more prominent flavor but nothing stood out except for the saltiness.
Which lead us to the next place, Uptown Bar & Grill. Their chili included beef and beans and was served with a side of corn bread. Despite the less-than-friendly server, the chili was ok. It didn’t have any special-ness about it (yes, I make up my own words). And the cornbread was a pancake consistency. Not terrible but not chart topping. (Please excuse the absolutely terrible quality of this picture…)
Last but not least on our map was Drew’s Bayshore Bistro. A cute, modern-looking little place tucked at the end of the street, Drew’s dished out a verde chili with pork and veggies. Despite the green-ish color, this chili tasted great. It was lacking beans (a must for Forest’s chili) but the corn was unexpected and enjoyed. They also served us a nontraditional side of popcorn made in pork fat.
After we returned to the chili ticket tent and cast our vote (Forest and I both voted for Burlew’s!) we wandered past the tents and whirling rides to end up watching a pumpkin pancake eating contest. What a great Saturday afternoon!
I would encourage everyone to look for similar contests in their neighborhood/town. Not only did we fill our bellies with chili, we got to explore a new town. We’ve been to Keyport before but never to any restaurants. And now we know there are several we want to try. I see a date night in our future!
Until next time — Cindy