PUNTA GORDA — Some two dozen teams dished out hundreds of gallons of their best piping-hot chili Saturday in hopes of winning the right to say, “My chili’s better than your chili.”
And that gave a couple thousand aficionados a reason to soak up some sunshine, take in some rock ’n’ roll and sample the goods, at the second annual Charlotte Harbor Chili Challenge Blues & Beer Festival, held in Laishley Park.
“I’ve had several,” said Mark Langenfeld of Bloomington, Ill., who is wintering in Punta Gorda. “Some of them are really good. The ones with unusual ingredients have really caught my taste.”
Mary Geyman of Port Charlotte, who cooked so much chili in Indiana that she no longer needs a recipe, was not as impressed.
“I may enter (the cook-off) next year,” she said.
The offerings ranged from a vegetarian version served up by volunteers from the Peace River Wildlife Center to gourmet chili laced with chocolate and Guinness. The latter was conjured up by the McCrory law firm.
“This is in case the law thing doesn’t work out,” quipped team member Geri Waksler, as she filled bowls.
“We’re excited to get out into the community and just get to know our neighbors,” added Jeff Kuhns, team member.
The event also included a beer tent featuring 20 craft beers. They ranged from Angry Orchard apple beer to Palm pale ale from Belgium. The selection was hand-picked to offer folks who haven’t sampled a craft beer a chance to try one tailored to their tastes, said Allan Murphy, a specialty beers director for tent sponsor JJ Taylor.
On a soundstage, guitarist Jack Michael, 16, of Punta Gorda performed some classic rock. Detroit blues artist David Gerald also was set to perform.
Attendance was strong enough to make organizer Jerry Cleffi of Smuggler’s Events smile. He pointed out the cook-off represents the kickoff of a half-dozen Smuggler’s events set for Punta Gorda this year.
“These events always bring a lot of people to Punta Gorda, whether its wine or jazz, seafood, arts and crafts or the Taste of Punta Gorda,” he said.
To add to Saturday’s fun, the cook-off entailed awards for people’s favorite, the judges’ choice and the best-decorated booth. The theme for the booths was “Chili in the Tropics.” The prize was $500, and some teams let their imaginations run wild.
Robin Jenkins, a veterinarian for team Peace River Wildlife, wore a raccoon-faced hat.
Team Maui Marc and Luau Lou from North Port enlisted a couple of volunteer conga drummers from Rhythm Inlet to loosen up their customers.
And a group a friends from Port Charlotte who wear gorilla suits to Stone Crabs games monkeyed around with customers like a couple of hairy apes.
“Fun is what it’s all about,” said team member Gerard Polito of Punta Gorda. “We’d be beyond ecstatic if we even came close to breaking even.”