Last Saturday, nearly 1,600 hungry people stopped by the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City. It was the 28th annual Downtown Chili Cook-Off and this year visitors tasted 20 different varieties from local restaurants.
Dave Mertz was one of those visitors. He’s got a ballot and a tray full of empty chili cups.
“Okay, this is pretty good chili,” he says, taking a bite of a white chili variety from Minerva’s Restaurant.
Mertz is a retired Michigan State Police officer who lives in Traverse City. He has made it to six or seven of these cook-offs.
“It’s a little bit spicy. Some good beans in there and chunks of chili,” he says. “It’s just kind of a nice middle of the road white chicken chili.”
The competition is held in a large event room at the hotel. There are eight different categories of chili including no bean, white and seafood.
“I normally don’t do a seafood chili, but I’m going to do it today,” Mertz explains as he takes a cup from Scalawags Whitefish and Chips restaurant. “Very salty, but good.”
Restaurants go through gallons and gallons of their chili at the event.
By the time Mertz gets to the TC BBQ, they’ve already gone through 30 gallons of their '2-Alarm' variety.
“Something was itching at me that we should have made more," says Jared Chappel, owner of the new restaurant. “Next year we’ll bring more.”
Eventually, Mertz gets all eight of his cups filled with chili and sits down with his ballot
“I think the Red Mesa takes the cake for the white chicken chili for sure,” he says. “It’s just got a nice little sweetness to it, it’s really thick … and chock full of food.”
It includes peppers, lots of spices, butter and cheese. It’s Mertz's top pick for the 'White Chili' category and 'People’s Choice' category. At the end of the event, it’s the winner in both.