Showdown at the IPA Corral

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Houston's favorite brewery, Saint Arnold, held their sold-out Second Annual One Pot Showdown yesterday afternoon on the kind of overcast, slightly chilly day that was perfect chili (and gumbo and stew and curry) eating weather.  The rules for the One Pot Showdown were simple yet challenging: teams could create any dish they wanted (desserts excluded) as long as it was cooked on site, in one pot and incorporated at least one variety of Saint Arnold's beer.  Oh, and it had to feed 250 people.

The results were stunning.  Of the 30 teams, the creativity and talent on display was unexpectedly wonderful.  Standouts included shrimp tacos cooked with Lawnmower, dressed with cabbage, remoulade and strawberries; a super-spicy curry created by a team of local homebrewers; Recession Ramen, a dish created for under $25 that tasted better than expected; and Hoppy Balls, sausage balls with a cream cheese-beer sauce that was good enough to drink with a straw.  Some booths also offered extras, such as a Hefeweizen sorbet with a wonderful, palate-cleansing citrusy taste.

The competition's winners were equally varied.

The winners were decided by a panel of judges that included Anthony Yanez, morning weathercaster on Channel 2 (and the Press' favorite weather guy); Nikki Eliason, assistant to local big shot chef Scott Tycer; Charles Clark, owner of the highly successful restaurants Catalan and Ibiza; and yours truly.

The $15 ticket to the event bought the crowd not only plenty of samples of the entries and delicious Saint Arnold beer, but also got them a vote for the people's choice award winner.  Even better, $5 of each ticket went to the Houston Food Bank.

The people's choice for best entry happily coincided with the judges' choice for first place, Smokin' Buffalo Ale Chili, which was the kind of chili that true connoisseurs dream about.  In addition to being slightly sweet, ideally spicy and sumptously meaty, the chili had rich malty undertones from the Amber Ale it was cooked with, which made it stand out above every other entry.  The $500 prize was well-earned by this chili.

Second place (and $200) was awarded to a surprising entry, Hopped Up Pumpkin, a velvety all-organic, vegetarian concoction made with Saint Arnold's Elissa IPA.  Third place (and $50) went to Beer Tamales, homemade tamales (heavy on the delicious masa) with chicken and white beans, all cooked down in Saint Arnold's Lawnmower.

The teams that didn't place left the competition this year vowing to be back with a vengeance in 2010.  And judging from the creative energy and talented cooking behind this year's entries, next year's One Pot Showdown will truly be a sight to taste and behold.

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