A Sweet Showdown
The third annual Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown took place at the brewery's brand-new location on Sunday afternoon, a day which closely resembled last year's Showdown in cold weather and cheerful competitiveness but not in food. While many of last year's competitors entered chilis, stews and gumbos -- all pretty typical foods to serve in one pot -- this year saw a burst of beer-inspired creativity.
From the tent manned by ninjas who created teriyaki meatballs to the Italian-inspired tent decorated with giant pieces of pasta (and with a coin toss where winners could win a Mario-and-Luigi-style mustache) that served up macaroni and cheese, the competitors seriously branched out this year. The rules of the One Pot Showdown are simple enough: Everything must be cooked on site, in one pot and with at least one Saint Arnold product (beer or root beer) as a featured ingredient.
Last year, there was much dissension after the winners were announced: Other competitors believed that third-place winners Los Carnes TamALEs had prepared and cooked their Lawnmower-enhanced chicken tamales off-site, a clear violation of the rules. Lennie Ambrose, special events and marketing manager for the brewery, made sure that wasn't the case this year as he carefully inspected every single tent and pot of food himself.
As the guests milled around the tents, sampling food and quaffing pints of Elissa IPA and Winter Stout, a panel of judges convened upstairs. Again, Ambrose wanted to make sure that no judges' credibility could be called into question, so he composed the panel carefully: Chris Shepherd, owner and executive chef of Catalan; Jake Rainey, general manager of the Flying Saucer; Doak Procter, previous One Pot competitor and certified beer judge; television reporters (and husband-wife team) Joel Eisenbaum and Amy Davis; and me.
Some of the entries were flat-out burned and received poor scores across the board, a common problem when cooking with one pot and one burner. Once the batch is burnt, there's nothing you can do to salvage it. Other entries were simply bizarre, such as the gumbo that tasted entirely of water and nothing else and the chili that contained three different Divine Reserve beers. While using Divine Reserve in a dish isn't a new tactic, using three at once and shooting the entire proverbial wad was certainly new, if not appreciated. Divine Reserve numbers 7, 8 and 9 couldn't have been more different in taste and complexity, leading to a very confused and ultimately horrid chili.
Choosing the winners was easy this year, though. The standouts were one of the several macaroni and cheese entries, a hearty green chile and pork stew, an Amber-infused chili with cilantro, a potato salad heavy on whole-grain mustard and an intriguing sweet potato soup (called "Grandma's Sweet Potato Pie") made with root beer and topped with marshmallows. After tallying the judges' votes, the winners shook out easily.
The award for Best Booth (which was chosen by the public) went to the team who also won third place. For winning best booth, they took home a six-pack of every Saint Arnold beer as well as a DVD of The Neverending Story (the theme song to which brewery owner Brock Wagner sang over the bullhorn as he announced the winners) for their third-place entry, which was a crowd favorite: a savory and sharp Winter Stout macaroni and cheese.
Second place (and $200) went to Robe and Kandy Belgau, Pete Little and Dana Loudon for their tasty and chunky German potato salad made with Amber ale. And the first place prize of $500 and the golden pot went to a team that no one expected to even place this year, let alone win.
One Man & A Monkey -- a team composed of Andy Lee and Justin Renfrew-Hill -- came in dead last place last year. Figuring they had nothing to lose, the duo went all out and came up with a Thanksgiving-inspired dish that was the only entry to feature Saint Arnold's root beer. The judges unanimously agreed that the Grandma's Sweet Potato Pie was not only the most creative entry, but the most delicious.
What will next year's One Pot Showdown hold? If the increase in tasty, original dishes this year holds true for 2011, it might just be the most talent-filled cookoff in town. It's already the best, after all.
For more photos from the day, check out our slideshow.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.