Chilling at the 7th Annual Milwaukee Chili Bowl

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If you’re like me, you love chili.

And if you love chili, then the Milwaukee Chili Bowl should be your mecca. 40+ area restaurants putting their best bowl forward in the effort to secure the prestigious Golden Ladle award.

On the last Sunday in January (the Chili Bowl is always the Sunday before Super Bowl Sunday), Michelle and I headed to Potawatomi for the event, to a giant ballroom I’d never been in before. Tickets for the event were $15 per person. I lucked out and won my tickets from @MKEfoodies! Each ticket grants admission, tickets for eight samples and a ballot for best chili. Thankfully, I knew from prior experience that this meant you had to study the chili offerings wisely (I like to pick a mix of traditional and unique) and that you would go home full.

Teeming masses of chili-eaters

Teeming masses of chili eaters

The first Chili Bowl we attended was at the Harley Museum–it was packed. The move to Potawatomi was motivated by securing even more room for the event. I was awed when we received the list. Some of the 40+ local restaurants (I’m pretty sure chains don’t participate) had two or even three offerings. In addition to the Golden Ladle, prizes are awarded for Best Traditional, Best Vegetarian, Spiciest and Most Unique Chili.

The ballroom was incredibly crowded when we arrived at 1 p.m., about half way through the event. We took a moment to study the sheet and determine which chilis we wanted to try.

My Pick for Most Unique: Screaming Tuna's Japanese Chili ... this wasn't really chili but it was savory and contained delicious seaweed and toasted sesame seeds

My Pick for Most Unique: Screaming Tuna’s Japanese Chili … this wasn’t really chili but it was savory and contained delicious seaweed and toasted sesame seeds

The lines for several of the chili stations were rather long, but they moved in a pretty quick fashion. Michelle accidentally cut the line for chili at Screaming Tuna, only realizing after that she had done so.

In most cases, chili was served in dishes that were roughly the size of dixie cups. Many of the tables had extras that you could add yourself, including cheese, onions, hot sauce, etc. Some of the sides were very unique, we tasted one at the INdustri Cafe table that had avocado in it (this was Michelle’s favorite because “it had a huge chuck of avocado”) and one from the Old German Beer Hall that had brats and sauerkraut–those were both pretty delicious.

My pick for Best Traditional and the 2013 Golden Ladle Winner, Puddle Jumpers BBQ's Spicy Smoked Brisket Chili ... which was smokey, spicy and, thanks to cornbread, sweet.

My pick for Best Traditional and the 2013 Golden Ladle Winner, Puddle Jumpers BBQ’s Spicy Smoked Brisket Chili … which was smokey, spicy and, thanks to cornbread, sweet.

Some of the tables also had menus and coupons. Some had signs specifying that the chili was actually on the menu. My favorite chili from my first Chili Bowl was a brisket chili from Port of Call. When a friend went there to try it out, they were told it wasn’t on the menu–the old bait-and-switch.

After a couple “bowls,” we needed something to wash the flavors down. Michelle waited in a long line to purchase a couple of Horny Goat beers, I had their Hopped Up and Horny IPA, which I like, and Michelle had a Baby Got Bock, which was “just alright.” Additionally, there were pitchers of water that were available, self-serve and short-lasting.

My Golden Ladle choice: Fire Pit Sports Bar & Grill's Bison Chili with fire straws in a fried bread bowl ... it was gamey with a nice crunch from the straws and the bowl tasted like Pizza Hut's crust. Yum!

My Golden Ladle choice: Fire Pit Sports Bar & Grill’s Bison Chili with fire straws in a fried bread bowl … it was gamey with a nice crunch from the straws and the bowl tasted like Pizza Hut’s crust. Yum!

Despite how busy the event was, people were mostly kind and accommodating to each other. I saw an interesting and unique chili bowl, which appeared to be made of an onion ring–which turned out to be fried bread–and asked a couple where they got it. When they told me Fire Pit, I couldn’t have been more surprised. I was leery of bison, and have never tried it before, but it ended up being excellent!

Only one chili was unavailable when we went to get some, which is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. Michelle was really interested in trying Solo Pizza’s Mini Buffalo Chicken Chili Pizza, but it was never available when we stopped by. I enjoyed Mr. Webo’s Mexican Restaurant’s Chili Con Carne, which was probably the sweetest chili I had.

Eatery on Farwell's Andouilli Chicken Chili

Eatery on Farwell’s Andouilli Chicken Chili

We both enjoyed the Chicken Chili from The Eatery on Farwell, which was the only restaurant from our ABCs of Milwaukee Dining quest that was on hand at the event.

A chili dump is when a bunch of chilis are poured together. I’ve never done it and it sounds gross, but the result here was basically the same in our stomachs. We were full and ready to go. Michelle gave our few extra tickets out to a couple hungry-looking guys.

The winner of the Golden Ladle was Puddle Jumpers BBQ, which is just a stone’s throw from our new house. We’ll have to stop by!

If you are a chili lover and have never been, I would recommend the Chili Bowl. It is a really fun event, but would be a hard one to attend with more than a small group–Michelle and I managed to lose each other a couple times. In addition, tables are scarce (i.e. Don’t plan on getting one) and it is extremely crowded. It can be a great way to discover new restaurants, get some valuable coupons and fill your stomach with delicious chili.

I know I’ll be back, you just might see Michelle and I there, spoons in one hand, beers in the other!

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