Want a taste of the nation's best New England clam chowder? The one that's made in Cedar Key?
Tony's Chowder, which has won the annual Knorr Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., three years running, is now available as a condensed canned soup in about 100 Publix markets from Sarasota to Gainesville, including most in the Tampa Bay area. Kellie Parkin, a spokeswoman for Tony's, says if you don't see it on the shelf, ask. The product is so new it might not be stocked yet.
Chef/owner Eric Jungklaus of Tony's Seafood Restaurant in Cedar Key has been working on the formula to make the condensed version taste identical to the traditionally made chowder for more than two years. Instead of adding milk, it's half-and-half and a tablespoon of butter that is mixed with the contents of the can before it's heated on the stove. The price is $3.79 for a 15-ounce can, which yields a quart of soup. There is already a 51-ounce can available for restaurant service.
Jungklaus rattled New Englanders in 2009 when he walked away with the top prize usually won by someone with an accent that sounds more like a Kennedy than a Southerner. He won again in 2010 and then 2011, when his three-peat forced him to retire from the competition. Some 15,000 festivalgoers vote for the top chowders, so it truly is a people's award.
The secret weapons in Tony's silky and chunky chowder are the volume of clams, many of them from Cedar Key, and Jungklaus' dozen years of eating New England clam chowders when he lived in the Boston area. Also, he doesn't introduce a lot of competing flavors, such as sherry and herbs, which can stand out like a boot in a crab trap.
A Florida native (Jacksonville) and a University of Central Florida graduate, Jungklaus has no culinary training. He owned a chain of retail operations and sold off some holdings, moved to Cedar Key and took over a "sad restaurant in bad shape" in 2005. His brother, Tony, helped him fix up the place at 597 Second St. and was rewarded with his name on the sign outside.
Information from Times files was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.