To Cincinnatian and Northern Kentuckians, goetta is a source of pride. I don’t know how many times I’ve defended it to out of towners and naysayers who claim its use of organ meat. One mention of it amongst a group of natives and the conversation instantly turns to its best preparation method, who serves the best goetta, and who’s recipe was always the best. Eating it is like travelling back in time along your family tree. It’s being able to say I am eating the same thing my great grandparents ate in Over the Rhine or Northern Kentucky. It’s a spiritual way to honor our ancestors’ struggles in the New World, by doing something tangible – eating the same peasant food that sustained them.
I recently attended a funeral in upstate New York of family members, all of whom are fifth generation Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky German immigrants. So, of course goetta was a topic of conversation. You could see the passion in aunts and cousins faces as they described how they liked their goetta and remembering holiday breakfasts with copious piles of crisp goetta. And then came the amicable argument of what meat market makes the best goetta – Is it Finke’s in Ft. Wright, Hoffmans on the West Side, Kroeger Meats at Findley Market, Eckerlein’s, or Stehlin’s Meats? And then comes the question – what commercial brand is the best – the ubiquitous Gliers, made in Covington, Kentucky, or Queen City Sausage?
In a pinch, my mother usually bought goetta made by Hamman’s Meats on Mill Road in Pleasant Run, but she would always say hers was better and vow to never buy commercial goetta again. Crock pot technology has certainly streamlined the goetta making process, but it’s still a many hour event. From the cooking of the meat, to the stirring with the pinhead oatmeal, to the pouring and setting into mini bread pans, it’s not easy to make goetta at home, but its well worth the effort.
What does goetta eating say about someone? It definitely indicates a Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky German ancestry. It probably also indicates that you are at least a third generation descendant of a German immigrant to one of those areas. And, it indicates that you’ve probably eaten more homemade than store bought goetta, or that you even make your own goetta.
Then there’s comes the separation in how you eat your goetta. There are three common ways to dress your goetta once it’s fried. Families are separated by whether they dress their goetta with ketchup, grape jelly, or warm maple syrup. I happen come from a ketchup dressing family, and none of us have ever steered off this path. I had a childhood friend whose Dutch immigrant family dressed with grape jelly, and that seemed completely foreign to me. We always thought of goetta as the main savory meat of a big breakfast, and, as such should be dressed with a meat condiment. It was never just a side sausage or even a sweet dressed dish. But to each their own. A ketchup goetta family doesn’t look down on a grape jelly family, and vice versa. There’s still a respect for the dish and for these hyper-regional variations on how it’s served.
The Frisch’s restaurant chain serves Gliers goetta on their breakfast menu, as does Hathaway’s Diner, and Price Hill Chili. You can even get Glier’s goetta 24 hours at the Anchor Grille in Covington. The Hitching Post, known for its fried chicken also serves goetta as a side. Tuckers in Over-the-Rhine serves Hoffman’s goetta from Findley Market. There are even Goetta Run groups in Cincinnati – groups of friends and family who travel weekly or monthly to different restaurants who serve goetta.
Its weirdness has catapulted goetta to regional pop icon status. Glier’s goetta has a company mascot who dresses up and marches in parades and attends the various Oktoberfests and Goettafests in the area. Goetta can be eaten in a goetta reuben, as deep fried goetta balls, on goetta pizza, in goetta stuffed peppers, as a goetta hot brown, in a goetta grilled cheese (one of my favorites), and in goetta sausage links and goetta hamburger patties. Local chefs have integrated goetta into their menus. The Chef of the Rookwood in Mt. Adams uses goetta as the meat in their amped up Hanky Panky appetizer. You can even find a goetta link Cincinnati style cheese coney at Glier’s Goettafest this weekend. Shoshana Haffner, the chef of the former Honey’s Restaurant in Northside, created a popular and very tasty vegan goetta, made of textured vegetable protein and a mirapois of onions, carrots, and celery. To the goetta purist, these ways of eating goetta are comical and outlandish. The best way is surrounded by family at a big holiday brunch or breakfast in the comfort of your own home.