Torrential rain and a four-block blackout made it difficult for the organizers of last weekend's Roosevelt Row Chile Pepper Festival to put on a flawless event this year, but the less-than ideal weather didn't stop a sizable crowd from coming out. On the downside, flooding and power outages did keep a handful of restaurants from showing up, which in turn led to a shortage of food vendors and an excess of lines.
Luckily, we got to judge this year's chile pepper contest and though we still didn't get to try everything at the event (for example, we missed out on Welcome Diner's green chile doughnut creation -- we're still bummed about that one), we did get to taste some interesting chile-infused dishes.
The 2014 Chile Pepper Challenge Winner is AZ Food Crafters, which brought a whole slew of chile dishes to the event. Their lineup included Hatch green chile pork hand pies, Hatch relleno hand pies, Hatch chile mac 'n' cheese hand pies, green chile corn chowder, green chile chicken stew, green chile and apple pie, and chocolate chile creme brulee.
One of our favorite dishes of the night was a chile toffee from Urban Beans. The restaurant's dessert struck a perfect balance between hot and sweet, making it stand out from the rest of the crowd. There were other sweet creations in the contest, including two apple-chile pie combinations, but the toffee was definitely one-of-a-kind.
While we liked the creativity behind Treehouse Bakery's jalapeño s'mores, we didn't quite think the piece of fresh jalapeño added much the classic s'mores flavor. We give them credit for creativity but in the end, it didn't pay off for us.
On the savory side of things, there was a lot to like. Gallo Blanco kept it simple by serving its grilled corn with cotija and smoked paprika. It was a safe bet to enter in the contest, but also a pretty ingenious one. With all the hot flavors flying around, we welcomed the coolness of the cotija cheese. It was one of the only dishes we finished entirely.
We also liked the deep-fried jalapeño meatballs on a stick from Jobot. Since they were served in Chinese takeout boxes -- a la the ice cream at sister restaurant Melt -- we had a good idea who had submitted that contest entry. The meatballs were hot and well seasoned with just a hint of cumin that reminded us of a good curry.
Jobot's chef Joshua Nelson will also be named the 2014 Chile King.
We thought the Hatch green chile pork hand pie from AZ Food Crafters featured excellent pastry dough that encased moist, flavorful pork. But we have to admit, we were pretty glad we didn't have to wait in line for them. By the end of the event, the wait for food from the AZ Food Crafters booth reached well over 30 minutes.
Cindy Dach, co-founder of Roosevelt Row CDC, had this to say about the way the festival unfolded in light of the inclement weather:
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Chile Pepper festival was a pretty incredible experience. The power was out for about 4-5 blocks surrounding the festival. We were running on generators. It became a beacon of light downtown. The rain started to pour down. There were some people who left, which made a lot of sense, but there were over 1000 people who didn't want to leave. The crowds huddled under the awnings and their umbrellas. The crowds became a community around this shared experience of a festival in the rain. They continued to eat, drink and listen the the Mariachi band that played through the rain. It became one of those memorable Phoenix experiences that once you were there, you didn't want to miss.
We're not sure everyone felt so positively about the way the wet event turned out -- but hey, blame Mother Nature. On the upside, what are the chances of getting such horrible weather again next year?