I was at the Funhouse in South Bethlehem drinking a margarita at 11:00AM.
The chili here was not part of the official program and that’s fine- it wasn’t that great. What was great was sitting outside on a warm (soon to become hot) April morning, drinking, and playing an insanely addictive game that involved launching large bouncy balls into baskets. If you sank 2 of 3 – you got a margarita for free. The margaritas were $2.50. I paid to play four times and never won. I didn’t do the math.
My chili traveling group left the Funhouse and headed to a tent down the street a block or so. The tent housed The Bookstore Speakeasy’s chili. They weren’t on the official map but they were out to compete as well. It did not get better than the offering I had there all day. The chili had a velvety texture which I think is one of the most important characteristics of great chili and it is ignored all the time. It was smoky, smooth, a little sweet, rich, and hot at the backend. A couple of other offerings came close – but this was my winner, hands down.
Molly’s. This is your average, I am at the bar and drank too much and it’s a little cold out give me a bowl kind of chili. Nothing wrong with it exactly, it was just pretty average. This one was heavy on the powdered additions (chile powder and garlic).
From there we headed towards Tulum and were assailed at Saxby’s by some young folks who had chili they wanted us to try. Sorry folks, your offering was easily the worst of the day. Lay off the sugar – trust me. It was meat candy soup. Not ok. And then came Tulum. This was the #2 chili of the day. At its base essence – chili is a stew of meat and chiles. Tulum’s offering tasted like real chiles – not chile powder which I love. Unfortunately, the pot lacked a defined meat characteristic and as this was not advertised as a veg/vegan option – I had to dock some consideration points. They had a bunch of toppings on the chili as well which added some textural heft. Great bowl.
The chili at Sotto Santi was Bolognese sauce with cumin. It ranked low on my list.
Full of Crepe nailed a pork and salsa verde chili. It was brilliant. Tangy, porky, with just a little heat. I loved it. Also, the Homebase shirt worn by one the employees was the coolest one I have ever seen. That said, does salsa verde count as chili? This is not for me to decide. If it does count – it’s tied for 1st with the Bookstore.
Next came a brief respite at the Your Welcome Inn. This also involved a shot of Jim Beam and a quick chug of a less than good beer. A great stop. (I did not eat the seafood chili offered there because while I love seafood and chili, seafood chili should be gumbo and I am not eating not gumbo.)
After walking down the South Bethlehem Greenway, our fearless team ended up at Molinari’s. A chili with meatballs, polenta cubes, and some other dairy based toppings that I did not eat. I expected this to be another tomato sauce moment and for a second it was but the flavor expanded and developed into some very distinctive chili notes. This is number 3 for me. You can tell the chef has experience developing deep and beautiful umami flavor from meat braises here. I like that, a lot.
I also ran into fellow blogger and Lehigh Valley ambassador Mr. George Wacker here.
The Social Still. This was my first time trying their spirits and the gin wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t terrible either. The rum and vodka were better offerings. The chili was unremarkable. The rum and vodka were better.
At this point, we ran head long into the end of the official chili cookoff. My rankings were locked. The team headed to the Urban Arts Festival at the Banana Factory. On the way there, I bought a t-shirt at the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society and I earned a free shot. This place was awesome. It’s an old school social house. So, I had a shot, checked the place out, and took this picture:
Arriving at the Urban Arts Festival, I immediately headed to the Casa De Jorge salsa tent. I ate the “Super Hot” variant and earned a sticker. My favorite was the pineapple habanero. I bought some.
We walked about 5 miles around South Bethlehem. We tried over 10 chilis. The sun felt like the sun again. We managed to experience some of the best and defining restaurants and attractions of South Bethlehem in one day – with hundreds of other people doing the same thing on the streets. It was remarkable. We danced with the soul of the city and it danced back. I won’t go on much longer except to say that if you hear about a festival in South Bethlehem – go to it.
At the end of our day we headed to the northside for more beers and food at Hometown Heroes. It was my first time at the bar and it probably won’t be my last. Great sports/dive bar feel with exceptional food and a short but wise draft list.
Funny thing – for all of that described above, there is so much more to see and do in Bethlehem. There will be more posts like this one at future festivals, nights out, or just bar escapes. A 274 year old town, and it is just killing it. What a day.