Goetta goes chic


Porkopolis' own humble breakfast meat is quickly acquiring a whiff of fashion, thanks to Glier's marketing guy

Goetta is almost hip.

They'll celebrate our favorite home-grown breakfast food at the third annual Glier's Goettafest in Covington's MainStrasse Village on Saturday and Sunday, with music, games and goetta served on buns; in parfait glasses with scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy; even (gulp) wedged under maple-flavored fudge. It's a relatively small festival, but there are signs the humble, rich and porky treat is turning trendy, and the rest of the country is taking note.

Ohio and Money magazines have recently featured stories about goetta, and late last year, editors of highbrow foodie pub Saveur named goetta as one of their "100 Favorite Foods, Places and Things." That's pretty incredible considering those editors live in New York, and no doubt just learned to spell goetta. They probably still can't say get-uh.

Closer to home, when German brewery Hofbrauhaus opened in Newport this spring, the menu featured a goetta sausage appetizer with mustard-dipping sauce. In April, Great American Ball Park debuted goetta dogs and goetta burgers at concession stands.

In the fall, chef-owner David Cook of Daveed's in Mount Adams created an appetizer of apples, foie gras and crispy goetta. He's planning a summer appetizer made with rock shrimp, caramelized onions and goetta. Jimmy Gibson, former executive chef for the Jeff Ruby restaurants, introduced "goetta fries" - strips of goetta, battered and fried - at swanky Tropicana at Newport on the Levee in December. When asked to name a dish he was most proud of during his 13-year Cincinnati tenure, goetta fries were first on his list.

"Goetta is a Cincinnati thing," Gibson explained. "No one else is doing anything like the fries. And they're good."

Yes, before there was Cincinnati chili, cheese coneys and Graeter's black raspberry chip ice cream, there was goetta. Based on memories of home, German immigrants made the savory meatloaf well over a century ago by simmering pork with pinhead oats and seasonings and congealing it in a pan.

But until recently, goetta was far from fashionable. It was strictly a cold-weather breakfast for Cincinnati old-timers, or a delightfully greasy snack for late-night prowlers. People didn't put it on fancy menus.

That has changed the last few years largely because of Glier's Goetta in Covington - the world's largest goetta producer - and the company's marketing director, Mark Balasa.

A Villa Hills native of Hungarian descent who didn't taste goetta until someone twisted his arm at age 16, Balasa now describes himself as a "goetta evangelist." He refuses to approach prospective buyers without cooking them a sample of goetta. He helped organize Goettafest in 2001, and promoted goetta pizza, goetta reubens and other ingenious creations. For more than four years, Balasa has been trying to convince people goetta is not just for breakfast anymore. And apparently, his campaign is working.

"Greater Cincinnatians are now willing to try goetta in other ways," says Balasa, who acknowledges getting goetta into Great American Ball Park may be his biggest victory so far. In marketing terms, he says goetta is at its "tipping point" - in other words, "almost hip."

Balasa is now using the catchy "Cincinnati Caviar" on T-shirts to promote his company's product. The slogan will go over well on national talk shows, he believes.

"We haven't pitched Oprah yet," Balasa says slyly.

Sure, many squeamishly wonder what parts of the pig goetta is made from, and others question the origins of pinhead oats. Balasa valiantly takes it in stride, and keeps on sizzling goetta in the pan.

"Because it's goetta, another day means just another opportunity," he says.

How goetta got here

"Goetta" is northwest German dialect for "gruetzewurst," a sausage made of ground pork and grain, says Don Tolzmann, director of German-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati. Many 19th century Cincinnati immigrants came from northwest Germany, which probably explains why goetta was adopted here. Goetta is made by simmering pork (and sometimes beef) parts in water with onion, spices and tiny steel-cut "pinhead" oats. The mixture is cooked until thick, poured into pans and chilled. Goetta then is sliced and fried.

If you go

What: Glier's GoettaFest

When: Noon-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Sixth and Philadelphia streets, MainStrasse Village in Covington

Information: Web site. Food stuff



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