From Mary Lou to Tom; Jim Dandy to Fourstardave; Siro’s to backyard tailgating; and morning workouts to give aways; Saratoga has a cast of heroes, customs, and institutions which make it, in our opinion, the most unique sporting venue on Earth. Over the next 40 Days, we will profile 40 of these legends and traditions, adding our own memories and experiences from 30 plus years of summering at the Spa. It’s our Salute to Saratoga. We hope you enjoy following along.
Any place that has been in business for over two hundred years as a daytime sporting event location must have some special and unique concessions to keep the fans nourished all day. Saratoga Race Course is no exception. As “the summer place to be”, many people think of Italian ice, lemonade, hot dogs and sausage and peppers as the staples on the race track diet. We have seen concessions come and go. The Italian Ice Truck is no more, as is the delicious Saratoga Chicken Company. The years haveseen new, more mainstream commercial items added to this “regular” list. Current track-goers list Mac and Cheese, Moe’s Mexican Tacos, Shake-shack Burgers and Hattie’s Chicken Sandwich as the favorite go-to places for on track eats.
But there has been a constant figure at Saratoga in the 25 plus years we have graced its hallowed grounds. Often overlooked by the causal observed, but beloved by many regulars and members of the old guard, the Chowder Bar, located under grandstand section G, dishes out what we believe to be the unofficial food item of Saratoga Race Course: Manhattan Clam Chowder.
At first glance, it seems strange that hot seafood soup would take the lead for food vendors at summer destination in the foothills of the Adirondacks. But people flock to the Chowder Bar and its standing tables day after day to get a bite of that clam-filled tomatey-spicy goodness. And although it is summer, on a chilly afternoon where the track itself might resemble soup, a bowl of chowder provides the perfect meal to make the day a winner no matter how cold your picks are.
Many who venture here are gluttons for punishment (like myself) and douse the stuff with as much black pepper and Tabasco as can fit in the steaming bowl. It’s like some sort of pagan ritual, where everyone is trying to sweat out the demons of a previous bad-beat. Curious first-timers often balk at the Chowder Bar serving Manhattan instead of the more mainstream New England Clam Chowder. But those who try it, almost always come back for more. Served with saltines, the tomato-based soup is full of other potatoes, carrots, celery onion and of course chopped clams to make a salty-spicy flavor like no other.
So if you haven’t been, or have been side-tracked by the Mac and Cheese Truck, make a trip down to the Chowder Bar and experience a Saratoga tradition that does not always get it’s due.