Sean Comiskey, executive chef at Druthers Brewing Co., approaches a chili cook-off like developing a restaurant menu: Start with something simple and give it a little flair.
“I like to break the rules. Crazy ideas are good ideas,” Comiskey said.
For the brew pub menu, Comiskey takes iconic comfort food and gives it an innovative twist. His out-of-the-box thinking brings macaroni and cheese to new heights. Druthers’ “loaded mac and cheese” features bacon, smoked chicken, ranch dressing and barbecue sauce. “Mac con carne” includes smoked pulled pork, bacon, ground beef, smoked tomatoes, bourbon and habanero peppers. Even vegetarians can feel the love with a meatless version enhanced with slow-roasted tomatoes, artichokes and spinach.
“We sell an obscene amount of mac and cheese,” he said.
On Saturday, Comiskey will put his chili to the test against four fellow local chefs: Ali Benamti of Henry Street Taproom, Ray Morris of Lillian’s Restaurant, Alicia Bevan of Putnam Market and Jasper Alexander of Hattie’s; for the second annual Chili Bowl event at Saratoga Clay Arts Center. Diners can purchase a handmade ceramic bowl for $15, use it to taste samples and then vote for their favorite entry.
Comiskey already had his creative wheels spinning a couple of weeks before the competition. The restaurant’s house chili includes ground beef, smoked tomatoes, bourbon and habanero peppers.
“I’m going to make that base, and I think I’m going to bring in some game,” said Comiskey, who is participating to raise funds for the Upstate New York/Vermont Chapter Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Although Comiskey said he was reluctant to take on the role of executive chef at a restaurant opening in such a competitive market during an iffy economy, he was won over by the Druthers concept, which promotes quality and creativity.
“Druthers doesn’t just sell beer; we encourage good-humored, freethinkers who would rather do it their own way to shake free, go for the gusto and live the lives they have always wanted,” a statement on the menu reads.
For Comiskey, the creed has become a culinary challenge. The chef works with local and seasonal items to glorify staple pub fare.
I’m taking a new approach to the cuisine of the Americas, including Latin America, South America and New England,” he said.
Crispy confit chicken wings — available with smokey, Thai, hot or mild sauces — add a gourmet edge to the finger food. A sandwich featuring chipotle-glazed meatloaf, wrapped in bacon, kicks up the American favorite.
As a response to customers’ requests, Comiskey created a number of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes for the menu. Sandwiches and burgers also are available on toasted gluten-free bread.
Because the restaurant was developed around the brewery, most dishes were devised with the beer in mind.
“We match up the flavors. The servers can recommend a beer to go with each course,” Comiskey said.
Saratoga Springs is often thought of as a tourist town, but Comiskey has found that his business, despite its Broadway address, attracts more of a local crowd.
“Nearly all of our business is from regulars now,” he said. “People come for the beer, and we like to keep them here with the food.”