WHEATON – Nearly 1,000 community members visited downtown Wheaton restaurants Nov. 2 to help crown a chili champion during the Downtown Wheaton Association's fifth annual Chili Cook-Off.
A panel of judges, as well as the discerning palates of the Wheaton community, rotated between 12 area restaurants to try samples of each eatery's take on the fall comfort food. Attendees voted for their favorites for the People's Choice Award, while children and judges cast their ballots in separate categories.
This year's People's Choice winner was Ivy, which reclaimed the title from The Bank, which was named best in show the last two years running.
"Myself and [owner Dick O'Gorman] are competitive by nature," said Ivy Chef Joe Pascolla. "We won three years ago and we wanted to turn the title back to Ivy."
Pascolla said his chili was a prime rib and bison concoction with a base of dried ancho chiles instead of the more common chili powder.
"We were one of the few places that were doing a very traditional chili done right and done well, and I think people really appreciated that," Pascolla said.
On the other end of the spectrum was the Critic's Choice selection from Genghis Grill. The restaurant relied heavily on its Asian stir fry background, using an array of unconventional spices and ingredients to flavor its fare.
Downtown Wheaton Association Executive Director Paula Barrington said the event was a great success.
"The restaurants had a lot of fun doing it and it generated a lot of foot traffic in their restaurants and generated a lot of business for them," she said. "New customers that hadn't set foot in a particular restaurant could come in and get an introduction to downtown Wheaton."
By having participants physically go into each restaurant to vote, Barrington said, community members were given an opportunity to see what they could expect during a more typical dining excursion.
"We could have had an event in a huge hall somewhere, but it doesn't have the same appeal or novelty of restaurant hopping," she said. "It's a great way to spend an afternoon."
Pascolla said these types of events are beneficial to local businesses because they publicize the entire area, in addition to spotlighting each particular location.
"I really think it's an unpolished gem," he said. "You have to go pretty far to get the quality of food and ambiance you can find in downtown Wheaton."
People's Choice1st – Ivy2nd – Muldoon's3rd – Suzette's Creperie
Critic's Choice1st – Genghis Grill2nd – The Bank3rd – Suzette's Creperie
Children's choice1st – The Bank
• Genghis Grill• The Bank• Ivy• Muldoon's• Suzette's Creperie• Tasting DeVine• Front Street Cocina• The Cellar Bistro• El Zarape• Arrowhead Bar and Restaurant