Table Talk: Eldorado wins big at the vegan chili cook-off : 77-square

The ninth annual Alliance for Animals’ Vegan Chili Cook Off and Silent Auction drew a crowd of some 160 people to the East Side Club this past weekend.

Attendees sampled chilis from seven local restaurants, and I was lucky enough to be one of the judges.

Most of the entrants made traditional chilis, some of which employed seitan for extra protein. The Green Owl made the mildest chili, full of red and green peppers, kidney beans and crunchy celery. A hearty chili from the vegetarian Dandelion Food Cart added chard into the mix.

Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace and Weary Traveler Free House made classic versions, the former with lots of onion and the latter topped with a sweet, dense cornbread.

Some competitors stacked the deck with elaborate toppings. Monty’s Blue Plate Diner offered a pureed green chili with visible hot pepper seeds, piling it with a tropical salsa of mango, red onion, jalapeño and cilantro.

Two years in a row, my favorite chili was made by Bunky’s Cafe. At the 2011 event, one of the owners made a Moroccan-style chili with garbanzo beans, topped with lemon and cilantro. It was different and delicious.

This year, Bunky’s chef Jesse Matz got carte blanche from his bosses, so he made a Thai chili. Bright red with a swirl of “cream” and what looked like a sprig of lemongrass, this chili had a lively heat and chewy wild mushrooms. I absolutely loved it.

But this year’s big winner was Eldorado Grill, which took home both the Judges’ and People’s Choice awards. Their version had tons of tomatoes, a gorgeous avocado topping and a pronounced smoky heat — if I hadn’t been surrounded by vegans, I would have sworn that creator Taylor Anderson had put bacon in it, it was that meaty.

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Table Talk: Eldorado wins big at the vegan chili cook-off : 77-square.

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