Leila Case: A dash of this and that through the chili crawl

Published 9:32 am Monday, February 13, 2017

Here it is almost Valentine’s Day – the day for sending and receiving hearts and flowers, candy, hugs and kisses from your sweetie but chocolate kisses are divine, too. I hope your mailbox, email, Facebook timeline and text messages overflow on Cupid’s special day.
Meanwhile, downtown Americus’ First Friday Chili Crawl was a huge success in my opinion and in what I hear from other people. Everyone we encountered on the crawl was jovial and full of good things to say about the event. Americus has a gem of a Main Street program now led by Patrick Kay, director. Kay and his staff have pumped new energy within the downtown business district with varied projects and programs, and it is exciting to see and experience the changes. Can’t wait for the April 8 — the craft beer and glass blowing extravaganza.
We should have run instead of crawled to the 13 participants in the event because we took our time to savor each bite and chat with others beginning at Bittersweet Book Store and Coffee Shop, and we didn’t make it everywhere. At Bittersweet co-owners Elena Alamonte and Chuck Faaborg greeted us with cheery hellos before we dived into Chuck’s Southwest Texas Trail’s spicy chili. I don’t know what ingredients he used except butternut squash and big, juicy meatballs in a spicy chili sauce topped with salsa and sour cream. Cowboys and cowgirls pouring coffee added pizazz to the overall southwest theme.
Next door at Center Stage Market, a retail grocery specializing in Georgia grown organic fresh foods and products, has brought a new vibrancy to West Forsyth Street since store owner Kat Mournighan opened.   There the queue snaked down the aisle with folks waiting for chili prepared by Furlow Charter School’s Junior Chef Club students, which was very tasty. We had the chance to talk with Valerie Duff, Furlow principal, Deacon Dianne Hall, Erin Farr, and many others.
Our next stop was the Mobile Glassblowing Studios on West Lamar. This is where we lingered but what a treat to watch master glassblower Fritz Dreisbach at his craft, creating a replica of the portable glass furnace. Dreisbach has a longtime friendship and professional relationship with GSW professor emeritus Ralph Harvey and his wife Nancy, having conducted workshops in the glass art studio at the university for decades. Ralph, an exceptional glass artist and potter, assisted Dreisbach, as well as Charles Wells and Phil Vinson, owners of the Mobile Glassblowing Studio, and Jacksonville University students. We were captivated, watching this creation come to life. A real extravaganza — Americus has another gem in our pockets with this business. And the chili — oh my — it was so delicious one bite called for another. Ralph has kept secret his expertise for cooking — at least I didn’t know it. Ralph says it took two days to make the chili from his brother Vito’s recipe and he begins by marinating chuck roasts before smoking them an hour and then roasting in the oven 12 hours. While we were there we enjoyed talking to John and Beth Fowler and their daughter, Kathryn Moore, John and Tiffany Dean, Bob and Georgia Ledbetter, Ben Ledbetter, John Stovall, Patrick Peacock, Carl and Judy Tott, who said they had made the rounds of all 13 chili sites! We realized then we had to leave; the clock was ticking.
Glad we made it to the Hooks Agency for their Cirkus Chili. It was delish and took the first-place award. The recipe was Rhett’s choice, but he added some extra ingredients and love into it, says his vivacious wife Jessi, who helped the headman with the preparation. Others were William and Lisa Rambo, Jenny and Kevin Reeves, Cole Scoggins, Jimbo Griffith and Brian Simmons. The always friendly Bo Musselwhite helped serve. Jessi explains the name “cirkus” has a special meaning to their group of friends so they thought it was the perfect name for their chili.
Second-place winners were Americus Fire and Emergency Services B-Shift with their BA chili prepared by Chris Holloway and Ray Cauley at the Windsor Hotel while capturing third place was Hulme Kinnebrew’s home-cooked chili at the Kinnebrew Co. Hulme’s assistant chefs were Dr. Andy Carlson and Marty McDonald.
Whew! Main Street’s inaugural chili crawl was a whirlwind but worth it. Other participants were Scott Tenormin’s Family Special at Flint Valley Property; Americus Welcome Center’s “White Lighting Chili; Little Bro’s “The Dirty Bird” at Little Brother’s Bistro; Gma’ Famous Chili at Merle Norman Studio; GSW chili cook-off winner at The Look Studio; Lee Harris’ Sweet Georgia Red at Sweet Georgia Baking Co., and Smoked Brisket Chili at Bird Dog Barbecue.
A personal salute to the organizers of the second annual Night to Shine, a Tim Tebow sponsored event at First Baptist Church last night. Led by Valerie Moates, the event was a huge undertaking with 500 volunteers giving their time and talents to entertain more than 140 guests at the prom night event they otherwise would not have had.
-Leila Sisson Case lives in Americus.