Campbell's Place in Chestnut Hill won for Best Traditional Chili and The Firefighters' Favorite (Best Overall Chili) at the Chestnut Hill Rotary Club's annual Chili Festival. From left: Stephanie Renne, Kirby Coughlin-Toomey, Vanessa Mullen, the owner, and Tim Zeigler, a member of the Chestnut Hill Rotary Club. (Photos by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

While mother nature may be a bit slow to warm things up this spring, the Chestnut Hill Rotary’s Fifth Annual Chili Festival had no trouble turning up the heat on Sunday, March 22. More than 400 people attended this year’s festival to answer that burning question “Who has the best chili?”

This year’s festival, held at Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, 7301 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy, had something for everyone, with live music, a magic show, face painting, caricatures and tons of wares from the Smak Parlour Fashion Truck filled with women’s indie clothing and accessories.

And lets not forget the chili. Whether you like your chili sweet and savory, exotic, vegan, traditional or burning hot – this year’s attendees found something to tantalize their taste buds. Firefighters from Engine 9 and Ladder 21 in Mt. Airy were on hand to judge the 16 varieties of chili.

This year’s chili teams were Blue Monkey Catering, Campbell’s Place, Earth-Bread & Brewery, El Poquito, Fatty’s Bar and Grill, The Hill at Whitemarsh, Hungry Bear Cafe, Iron Hill Brewery, Keystone Hospice, Malelani Cafe Mt. Airy, McMenamin’s Tavern, Trolley Car Diner and Weaver’s Way Co-op.

Megan McCrea, who serves on the Rotary’s Chili Cook-off Planning Committee, said all proceeds from the festival are used to fund the Rotary’s community and international projects. She added that the club was “very pleased with this year’s turnout.”

“We were happy to have some of the same teams come back this year as we welcomed some new teams,” McCrea said. “Our firefighter judges once again did a fantastic job. They tasted 16 chilis – some teams made two varieties – and voted for their overall favorite and their favorites by category.”

She added that attendees also voted for their favorite chili.

This year’s winners were Campbell’s Place in Chestnut Hill for Best Traditional Chili and The Firefighters’ Favorite (Best Overall Chili); Weavers Way Co-op for Best Vegetarian Chili; Iron Hill Brewery in Chestnut Hill for Best Exotic Chili, and McMenamin’s Tavern in Mt. Airy won the Peoples Choice Award for the second year in a row.

Rob Axelrod, a participant, said his favorite was the chorizo chili from the Hungry Bear Cafe, 429 S. Bethlehem Pike, in Fort Washington.

“The Chili Cook-off was an amazing event that really showed off the great restaurants of the extended neighborhood, but what a great community we have in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy,” he said. “It was our first year and we didn’t have a single bad chili.”

Axelrod added that his daughter Claire’s “favorite [thing] was the fantastic balloon magician and a close second was the ice cream.”

Margo Turtureja, of Erdenheim, said this was the family’s fourth year attending.

“We wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “It’s become an annual tradition.”

Turtureja’s 4-year-old son Stevan was all smiles as he sat rummaging through his loot – stickers, candy, and a wooden toy airplane – courtesy of the many vendors including Angel Flight East, Cradles to Crayons, Teenagers Inc. and many more.