BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — While O’Donnell Park is often buzzing with activity on Saturday afternoons because of the fall Farmer’s Market by CROPS, this Saturday (Oct. 8) drew a larger crowd for the end of the third annual Best Empanada Challenge.
Sabor Salvadoreno, 3213 Atlantic Avenue., won the 2022 Best Empanada Challenge done by the Chelsea Economic Development Corporation in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
The challenge, though, was more than just an eating contest. For the month the contest ran, it became a celebration of the diversity not only in the Chelsea neighborhood but throughout Atlantic City and a natural way to bring people together.
Ten restaurants participated in the challenge, where the public visited the establishments over the past several weeks to try out their empanadas and voted online. A group of local celebrity judges also voted on specialty categories.
The other restaurants participating included El Gran Chalan, 2641 Arctic Avenue; Rincon Catracho, 2801 Arctic Avenue; El Patron, 3019 Atlantic Avenue; Mr. Taco, 3101 Atlantic Avenue; Nicole’s Corner Store, 3912 Ventnor Avenue; Boom Food Market, 3601 Ventnor Avenue; Mexico Restaurant and Bar, 3810 Ventnor Avenue; Queens Pizza Palace, 3205 Atlantic Avenue; and Sabor Latino II, 3901 Ventnor Avenue.
“We have a lot of great restaurants and they work really hard to make great food,” Elizabeth Terenik, president of Chelsea EDC, told Front Runner New Jersey. “They give wonderful service and we felt we needed to bring attention to that and support it in some way. We did a 10-year plan for the Chelsea neighborhood and people really wanted to support these businesses.
The Chelsea Economic Development Corporation partners with residents, businesses and community organizations to activate projects which expand economic opportunity and improve the quality of life in the Chelsea neighborhood of Atlantic City.
Evan Sanchez, co-founder of Authentic City Partners and Hayday Coffee, said the Empanada Challenge represents the growing influence of the local Hispanic community. Sanchez, an Atlantic City native, was one of the judges who chowed down on countless empanadas on Saturday.
“It’s a celebration of our strength and our diversity through something that everyone can connect with, which is food,” Sanchez said. “It’s a really great way to celebrate small businesses and the diversity of those businesses. In this city, we have incredible small businesses and public spaces like [O’Donnell Park].
“We were able to do this in a fun way and it got people out to visit and enjoy these restaurants. It’s a great win for these businesses, the community and for Atlantic City. I’m excited to see more of this.”
Cookie Till, the owner of the popular Steve and Cookie’s By the Bay Restaurant in Margate, was also one of the empanada judges. Till, well known for her own philanthropy efforts, said the scene on Saturday should be a regular occurrence in Atlantic City.
“I just want to support anything that’s positive in Atlantic City,” Till said. “I grew up here and my heart is here. I want to see people who live in the city do well, prosper and have a good way of life. It was a positive turnout. It shows people will turn out for something like this and that it will get bigger. It’s a great event and would love to see more things like this.”
Terenik said the Chelsea neighborhood is known as an “international food district because of its wide variety of foods, from Latino, Asian and Italian restaurants. She said the Chelsea EDC just completed a brochure documenting the diversity of restaurants in the area.
“The city has a lot to offer and sometimes you have to look just a little bit deeper and not make assumptions and what you read in the newspaper or what you might see as you drive through in your car,” Terenik said. “Get out of your car, go to the restaurant and enjoy yourself.”
Saturday’s event was hosted by Yoely Quezada, Chelsea EDC’s outreach director and local personality AC Mike Lopez.
Local judges included Stephan Johnson, of the Docks Oyster House; Elvis Cadavid, of Vagabond Kitchen and Tap House; Olman Mencia, of Mencia Barber Shop; Luis Rodriguez, of Casa Dominicana of New Jersey; Jonathan Copeland, of Reeds Organic Farms; Felix Perez, of Unite Here Local 54 and the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County; Victor Moreno, of Atlantic Cape Community College; Lisa Savage; and Muhammad “Anjum” Zia, councilman, Atlantic City.
Below are some of the pictures from the Best Empanada Challenge Event at O’Donnell Park:
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