Delicious chili, great music and cold brews were the order of the day Sunday at the Phoenix Hill Tavern, 644 Baxter Ave. A massive crowd gathered for the free chili samples and live entertainment, with the biggest throng there between about 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Coincidentally, that is when many of the contestants began to run out of chili, which was administered liberally in one ounce soufflé cups to the crowd.
At about 6:30 p.m., this year’s winners were announced. In the restaurant division, Julep’s Catering took first place, capturing $1,000 worth of free advertising on radio station WAMZ, $400 in cash and a trophy.
In the individual’s competition, The Devil’s in the Details was announced as the winner, collecting a trip for two to the Bahamas, airfare for two, $400 in cash and a trophy.
One of the individual contestants sampled was booth number 44, Uncle Chunk’s Chili. Chuck Meurer, the man behind Uncle Chunk’s, explained he got the name because his young nephew could not properly enunciate his name. Their fourth attempt, their last two attempts netted them “third place” finishes. This year, Chuck says he smoked the peppers and also says that his secret ingredient is a little “Merlot.”
In the restaurant division, the Backburner Grill of the Backdoor nightclub was represented by cook Troy Mock. Mock would warn each partaker to, “please do not burn your mouth as we just took it (the chili) off the fire.”
The Backburner Grill won first place on their first attempt back in 2009, and Mock says their secret ingredient is “love.”
“Care goes into every pot,” said Mock. He said that they initially made only 15 gallons of chili, but made five more at the last minute, to satisfy the crowd.
And as for the crowd, Linda of Shively first heard of the Cookoff on WAMZ. This was her first time to attend, and she came with her daughter, Lora, of the East End. Lora, her third time at the event, said, “I like the variety of chilies and the people-watching is great.”
Meanwhile, “I love the great weather, the bands and the beer,” said Linda.
Greg, of Germantown, came with his wife and two granddaughters.
“I like the different tastes of chili and the hotter the better,” he said. “I also like the free candy and toys they get and that it’s family-orientated.”
The music at the Cookoff, both outside and inside, was very good. One act on the Roof Garden, the Hi-Tops, stood out in particular.
They are a “girl” group, composed of five young ladies from the ages of 13 to 17. Led by lead singer, Remington Maxwell, they seemed to be very popular with the crowd. They also seemed very precocious—very talented to be so young.
The five celebrity judges had the unenviable task of picking the “best” chili for both the restaurant and individual categories. That meant sampling 61 portions, in a little less than two hours.
Armed with anti-gas medication, these brave chili warriors sat down at their table behind the yellow and black tape and began their “ordeal.”
Dawn Gee, WAVE – 3 TV News anchor admitted that she did not like being a judge.
“I can’t stand it . . . unless everyone wins.” She commented further. “I love chili. Real chili has spaghetti in it. Otherwise, it’s just sloppy joe and you need a bun for it.”
Ben Pine, WHAS – 11 TV meteorologist said he liked eating a year’s worth of chili in under two hours, plus the free refreshments.
“What I dislike is gaining 18 pounds in less than two hours.” said Pine.
Christa Ritchie, Courier-Journal columnist said, “I love chili. I hope I still like it after sampling 61 chilies, today.”
One of those chilies, was booth number 41, or Juke Joint Chili, an individual contestant. Jeff Crane said that they had made about eight gallons, which had run out by 2:30 p.m., serving up more than 1,200 samples.
For the competitors’ at Juke Joint, it’s all about reuniting. They have members from New Albany, Ind., New York, NY, St. Louis, Mo., Ft. Meyers, Fla., and even Ontario, Canada.
“This is our tenth year, and they come back every year. They come back and we get to see each other for this special weekend.” said Crane.
Brooke Boyd, Web master and the acknowledged “chili goddess” of Phoenix Hill Tavern, coordinated most of the details for this year’s event.
“There seemed to be a whole lot more people here this year. I attribute that to the great weather and the “word-of-mouth,” especially by the restaurant contestants. I consider this event to be an extreme success and estimate our crowd at over 6,000 people.”
Photo by Arnold/Inuyaki