BELLEVUE — Shop Bellevue’s first-ever Chili Cook-Off was a huge success, bringing out nearly 150 people Thursday night to sample entries from 10 Bellevue restaurants and caterers.
It was cold and frosty outside but warm and spicy inside the Green Emerald Family Restaurant and Pub as the dining room and bar bubbled over with people enjoying great chili in a great atmosphere.
And there was plenty of chili to sample. Ten Bellevue restaurants and caterers broke out their best chili recipes to impress and warm up the crowd and compete for bragging rights of best chili in Bellevue.
At the end of the bar at the Green Emerald was a well-organized - and staffed - chili bar, so to speak, where patrons - after paying their $5, could sample six of the 10 chilies of their choice, and then go back for a bowl of their favorite for just $2.50.
Shop Bellevue volunteers took turns manning the ticket booth and ladling out samples and bowls of chili, and the Green Emerald provided bowls of sour cream and chopped onions to accompany patrons’ chili. Bags of tortilla chips were also on the table for anyone to enjoy. Sides of cornbread, muffins, and peanut butter sandwiches, could be had as well for a small donation.
It was a festive atmosphere with folks standing around the chili bar requesting samples and talking about their favorite. Tables in the dining room were packed with families and children eating dinner or sampling chili.
The Green Emerald, Bierkeller, Eagles, VFW and the VFW Auxiliary, The Copper Top Bake Shop, JP’s Restaurant, Mary Magyar (catering), Nowhere Tavern and Bassett’s Market all entered their best chili recipe and attendees were not disappointed.
“I’ve heard someone say there isn’t a bad one here,” said Pam Verhoff, executive director for the Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce, who was volunteering at the chili bar ladling up samples and bowls of chili.
Just the smell of all the different varieties of chilies, all being kept warm in crock pots, was enough to make mouths water.
Resident Pat Custer, who has lived in Bellevue for 23 and half years, said she saw a poster for the event at the Copper Top Bake Shop and decided to go.
“I am happy to see so much life in downtown Bellevue,” she said while deciding which to sample next.
The sentiment seemed to be the same everywhere. Sue Thomson said she thought the turnout for the event was unbelievable. Organizers, members of the Shop Bellevue Committee, were more than pleased as well.
“I’m pretty amazed at the amount of people who showed up,” said Megan Tea of the Copper Top, which also stayed open late during First Thursday, and entered a chili in the contest.
“This is an awesome turn out,” said Bernie Chumley, of the Nowhere Tavern, which also entered a batch of chili.”What great support from the community, and the Green Emerald did good job here tonight. I’ve had a wonderful time and I brought my family.”
The event was so popular in fact that the organizers are all ready to do it - or something similar - again. There was talk of a wing challenge, or rib cook-off in the near future.
“This is a fantastic turnout,” said John McIntyre, owner of the Green Emerald. “I’d love to have it again and go over to the Bierkeller - they have plenty of room,” he said while standing at the chili bar with Matt Strecker of the Bierkeller, who took home some honors himself that night. Strecker’s sweet and spicy variety tied with the Eagles’ for best hot and spicy variety, and took second in the People’s Choice category, after Mary’s Catering to Go.
“I’m pretty proud,” Matt said. “I already texted my wife and said big winner here tonight,” he said laughing.”There are a lot of good ones here tonight. I really liked the white chili that the VFW made.”
Other restaurant owners and employees seemed just as enthusiastic.
“It’s great for PR,” said Tim Dingus of JP’s Family Restaurant. “It gets people involved in the community.”
And JP’s was no slouch in the chili contest either, taking first place in the veggie category and third place in the People’s Choice. Dingus said the restaurant serves plenty of chili and will be adding the vegetarian version to its menu soon.
“The turnout has been great all the way around,” said Cheryl McIntyre, of the Green Emerald, “not only for us, the restaurant, but for everyone who participated and I want to thank all of the participants and all our customers and everyone who supported us.”
“The community support was fantastic,” said Shop Bellevue volunteer Judy Miller. “It was good to see everybody out and about in downtown Bellevue supporting all the businesses that were open and the restaurants and caterers who participated here tonight. I’d like to thank all of them for participating.”
Christine Steele can be reached at 419-483-4190 ext. 213. Follow us on Twitter @BellevueGazette.