There was the faint smell of livestock as I entered the food court Friday afternoon. It’s a scent that seems counter intuitive considering the location. Then again, this is the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
The smells are part of the charm, or so I’m told.
Full disclosure: I’ve never attended the Pa. Farm Show. While I was born in Jersey, I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my entire life and somehow never managed to make my way into the Farm Show Complex & Expo Center.
I’ve got nothing against the show, and without attending how could I? Yet, as I made my way past the gamey odors, past the Goat BBQ menus and an unruly number of adults excited to eat plain baked potatoes, I realized something.
The Pa. Farm Show is a little strange.
Granted, it may be the right amount of quirky — cue the butter sculpture — with enough tolerable doses of Pennsatucky that make Pennsylvanians from all corners of the Keystone flock to Harrisburg.
“We come back every year,” Jason Hoover said. Hoover and his wife Amy grew up in Harrisburg. Yet, every year they depart from the warmth of Huntington Beach, California, and make the hike back into the Rust Belt.
There’s an attraction to these oddities. Perhaps, even a sense of pride in it for visitors like the Hoovers. And of course, there’s the food. The trio continue to bring thousands back year in and year out.
And while I wouldn’t recommend leaving California for the Rust Belt, I can understand the sentiment behind the Hoovers’ annual return home. Why not come back and celebrate your roots?
I didn’t have any sentimental reason to attend the Farm Show. Just an obligation to report on some of the tastes from this year’s event. So, of course, I began my tour de firsts with the item that initially piqued my curiosity: the goat barbecue.
How could I refuse such a temptation? I’ve never had goat nor have I have fathomed the idea of goat barbecue. And never did I expect goat would taste like a leaner version of Manwich. And no disrespect to the Sloppy Joe lovers, but if you’re looking for something new, don’t goat this a try.
After the Goatwich debacle, I opted to ask around about some fan favorites. There was a handful of dishes recommended but there were three in particular that kept sprouting up: potato donuts, cheese curds and of course, the milkshakes.
A fan favorite and rightfully so. I can’t knock the cheese curds and the surprisingly sweet-tasting dough, although I may question anyone who can finish an entire stick of these and go back for seconds. I had one and felt the need for a nap.
The donuts come in three flavors: plain, cinnamon sugar and powdered. Each left me wondering why have we as a society continued to ignore the use of potatoes as the set standard for donuts?
PA Dairymen’s milkshakes
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I couldn’t leave the Farm Show without one of these bad boys. Beware though, if you’re one of those fans of thin milkshakes, then keep stepping. These guys are not for the faint-hearted, you’ll work up a sweat pulling for those first few sips.
Parmesan breaded chicken meatballs
A new treat on the farm show’s menu, and it might very well have been my favorite dish. The four medium-sized meatballs are filling enough by themselves and could be a solid lunch bite on the go, but the real allure here is the fact this dish felt healthy. Granted, I never thought I’d quantify meatballs as healthy, but compared to the surrounding sea of deep-fried everything, the new guys stood out.
Philly Port Sandwich
Leave it to the Farm Show to find a way to make produce unhealthy. All jokes aside, this portobello and crimini cheesesteak is well worth the $5. While it may not live up to its Philadelphia cousins, it’s still the best cheesesteak you’ll find along Cameron Street — at least for the next week that is.
Items I wanted to try before the worry of succumbing to a heart attack took over:
- Corn fritters
- Fried veggies
- Honey & ice cream
- Apple dumplings
- The baked potato (is it really worth it?)
The Pa. Farm Show runs from Jan. 4 to 11. The food court is open from noon to 9 p.m. For more information, visit farmshow.pa.gov.
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