Sunday, August 12, 2012

GoettaFest 2012

Every year, in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana, the first full week of October is commemorated with a huge street festival.  It is touted as the second biggest single street festival next to Mardi Gras.  This bit of trivia is accredited to the late radio personality Paul Harvey, so make of it what you will.

Fall Festival, bird's eye view
It’s known as the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival…although all the denizens of southern Indiana simply refer to it as the “Fall Festival.”  Although the Fall Festival boasts its fair share of carny-run games and rides, the real draw is the food.  According to this article:  last year’s festival contained 135 food carts culminating in over 400 menu items.

When it was first recommended by Mr. Bob Thacker I do my next blog on goetta I had to come clean: I’ve never had it.  Now, there’s a good chance you have never had goetta either and probably, quite frankly, never even heard of it.  Probably because it is only produced and known in the greater Cincinnati area.  It’s more or less ground meat, sometimes pork sometimes beef sometimes a mixture, mixed with oats.  Yeah, I said oats.

So people around here are often aghast when I mention such a thing.  Their jaws drop.  They scratch their heads in a puzzled manner.  “Haven’t had goetta?!  Well I never!”  And then the obligatory recommendations: Have it here, have it there, buy it at the grocery and cook it up yourself at home.  Etcetera, etcetera.

As luck would have it, right around the corner from the goetta blog recommendation lay Glier’s GoettaFest, a hearty street festival centered around celebrating the much heralded meat product.  After perusing the website, I felt this would be akin to Evansville’s Fall Festival: Games, live entertainment and, most of all, food and drink, even if on a much smaller scale.

It's more crowded than it looks....
So it was on a hot and humid day that my wife and I trudged down to the Newport Levee where, right on the river, Glier’s, the world’s largest manufacturer of goetta, was holding their fest.  As we climbed down the stairs towards the merriments, the sights and smells brought with them a strong sense of nostalgia washing over me like a wave.  A crashing, thunderous, catastrophic tsunami wave.  And there, practically swimming through the 90 degree heat and oppressive humidity, the truth of the matter came rushing back…I fucking HATE street festivals.

Looking down the street I saw the swarm of sweaty, unwashed humanity, standing in long lines to buy food so enormously bad for you one might imagine you are inviting a spur of the moment heart attack.  There were those swilling overpriced beer to wash down their overpriced food.  There was a completely mediocre live band, so loud it was near impossible to speak to any of the nearby vendors.  There were those who brought along their broods of children, assumedly so they could ply them with food so greasy and fattening by the time they would get home they would be nearly catatonic, so mom and dad could watch the newest episode of whatever completely reprehensible reality TV program is currently moderately popular in peace and quiet.  You know, something like Swamp People or, God forbid, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Even when I lived in Evansville, I could never understand the giddy excitement that descended on the town come October.  Literally thousands and thousands of people, elbow to elbow, perusing overpriced rubbish, most of it deep fried.  I printed out a copy of the menu from last year and there were FORTY-ONE items incorporating the term “fried” or “deep fried,” including such delicacies as Snickers, Klondike Bars, Kool-Aid, cookie dough and dandelions.  This doesn’t include items that are deep fried but just don’t say so in the description. 

I like food.  I like it a lot.  I am certainly not saying I don’t sometimes like to eat food that isn’t really all that good for me, because I most certainly do.  But when we went to GoettaFest we spent about $40 on food which left me feeling fatigued and borderline nauseas .  $40.  For goetta products either so deep fried or so covered in cheese I couldn’t actually be 100% sure it was goetta at all.  For all I know it could have been Soylent Green.  Forty dollars should actually be a pretty nice dinner out in a restaurant, where I don’t have to either eat my food standing up or fight for a seat at a picnic table next to a complete stranger.  Where my eyes wouldn’t be stinging from the sweat running down my face and the menu is well thought out and the food comes with actual flavor instead of the sickly taste of overheated Crisco clinging to it.

Upon first entering the festival I encountered this signage describing goetta:

Your fork breaks the delicate crisp and moves carefully through the creamy middle of the morning circle.  Every bite sends you deeper into total sensory engagement, and allows the mind to skip through the collection of stories that decorate your family’s history and your own.  In a moment you are at your grandma’s counter enveloped in tales of her grandma’s kitchen.  Your heart sings.

“Holy crap,” I thought, “this stuff must be what God himself eats for breakfast!”  And I could picture him at a table of four, with Peter Falk, Sherman Hemsley and Richard Dawson.  Oh, the ribald tales they would share with God while drinking morning mimosas around a cornucopia spilling out assorted fruits.  Dawson would brag of the ladies, oh all the ladies.  Falk would tell about the time he lost his glass eye to a dog, and Hemsley would ironically proclaim about how he really had finally made it to a deluxe apartment……… the sky-i-i.  And while they would all chortle with laughter and pat each other reassuringly on the backs, just as the morning feast seemed to be coming to an end and the angels were serving the morning coffee with pieces of apple pie, God would scream up the heavens, “Let there be more goetta!”

And so it would come to pass.

I had high expectations beforehand but this sign, this spectacle, this promise of a semi-hallucinatory state, this raised my expectations so high my first bite of goetta would have probably had to be accompanied by an orgasm in order to match them.  So it was, when I had my first bite of a goetta Philly Cheesteak (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one), it happened that my first thought was “This shit taste like hash browns on a bun.”

This, I think, is the most depressing thing of all.  For all my want to actually try and, hopefully, enjoy goetta, none of the items there really seemed to represent the meat.  The Philly Cheesesteak was so lathered with cheese and onion I couldn’t really taste the meat, but the consistency did come across as hash brown-y.  I finished the day with a “corn dog” because it’s a classic festival treat, but, as far as I could tell, the goetta sausage wasn’t ever covered in any kind of corn flour. It was simply dipped, naked, into its bath, leaving me to eat a thin layer of congealed deep fried grease tasting just like old deep fried grease.  I’m pretty sure God wouldn’t want his goetta sullied in such manners.  And, for that matter, neither would Peter Falk.

Oh, the humanity! 
On the way out of the festival we stumbled on a vending machine filled with pre-processed pounds of goetta for three dollars.  I wanted so badly to purchase meat out of a stand-alone vending machine and I wanted, even more, with all of my heart, just to hear the sickly thud of a pound of processed pig pieces slapping dully against the bottom tray.  But I just couldn’t do it.  On this day Glier’s had already stolen enough of my money, if not even just a little bit of my soul.


My wife was kind enough, in her spare time, to give a handful of honest reviews of the food she sampled.  So if you haven't had your fill of goetta, read on dear reader, read on...

Goetta mac & cheese…apparently an award-winning recipe.  I started with this dish, and I was a little disappointed with it.  First, it was a pretty big helping of mac & cheese. Second, I couldn't really taste any of the goetta sausage in it…I basically felt like I was eating mac & cheese with oats.  As a point of comparison, Ryan and I have recently been eating Hamburger Helper with spicy sausage instead of hamburger for a change, and there is a cheesy rice meal that is AWESOME with said sausage.  In fact, I would go so far as to say our variation on cheesy Mexican rice in a box would whip the goetta mac & cheese's ass in a head-to-head taste test.

Goetta spring rolls…just tasted like spring rolls.  All fried wrapper and cabbage.  I had to add a little spicy mustard to mine to give it some zing, and then all I tasted was spicy mustard.  Definitely not worth the $3 for two spring rolls that are completely basic.

I also got it in my sun-addled noggin that we needed to try Busken bakery's Goetta Goobers, which consists of small fried lumps of goetta-infused donut dough liberally sprinkled with powdered sugar.  What the hell, Voodoo Doughnuts has a Bacon Maple Bar… However, that is an actual donut, and these are just fried nuggets.  In general, all I tasted was frying oil and powdered sugar.  Since we got them to go, I was also stuck with the dilemma of how to store meat donuts.  I can't just leave those in the breadbox, no sir.  I had to put them in the fridge.  

The goetta chili cheese chilito from Chili Rocks was really good.  It was spicy, saucy and tasted just like a good chilito should.  The goetta was not a distraction.  And seriously, my typical gold standard chilito is one from Taco Bell.  That mystery meat is probably less appetizing than goetta.  So this dish gets the best in show from me out of the four goetta concoctions I tried.