Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes’ ongoing series “All’s Fair”, where your host with the most Jon O’Guin takes you on a tour of a local fair or festival, and discusses the foods he consumed or purchased there. Today’s post marks a…conflicted stance on the topic. We’ll get into why in a minute. Before tackling a potentially difficult conversation, however, let us, as so many suburban couples have, go to a fair, so we can forever associate the upcoming emotional troughs with cotton candy and the sound of children’s laughter!
Today’s post, as I alluded to in the plug for it last Thursday, comes at an interesting time. Specifically, in the last 42 days, I have spent just around 40 hours in my home. It may sound silly, coming from an adult man, and well-known tower of mental stability like myself, but I can’t help but feel a little homesick.
It’s really hurting my ability to enjoy the majestic beauty of the Oregon Coast.
Luckily, the pedantic version of me is ALSO here, to point out that homesickness is typically just a sense of insecurity brought on by new situations and surroundings removing one from one’s sense of safety and control, and simply fining new sources of familiarity or routine can help. (Honestly, I had a thing of Thai food for lunch today, and feel MUCH better.) And there’s a fascinating discussion to be had in the different feelings of “home” that one experiences: in my 30 years of life, I’ve lived in 4 different locations for spans of longer than a month (and will just BARELY make it 5 at the end of this trip, technically) and there’s a lot to explore in how different ones had different responsibilities, routines, rules, and so on. BUT, rather than bore you all with those kind of ramblings, Let’s bore you with another kind of (context-creating) rambling, before we nostalgically discuss exactly how my town tastes.
My guess: moist and salty.
Resting on my Laurels
Today’s post also dovetails nicely into a slightly strange pattern I’ve been running into over the last few weeks. While in Oregon, I’ve had to introduce myself to plenty of people. And as is often the case in America, an early question for new acquaintances is ‘what do you do?’ for complicated social reasons. If you’re wondering why that would be in anyway weird, think about it this way: last year, 67% of Full-time workers reported that they either ‘weren’t engaged’ in their work, meaning they did the bare minimum required and feel no real connection to their jobs, or were ‘actively disengaged’, meaning they RESENTED their work, complained with/about co-workers, and brought down their office morale. So, if 2/3rds of the people you meet don’t care about or don’t like their jobs, why would you keep asking them about it? (The answer is, in part: because it conveys their market-valued skillsets, and a national underlying work ethic causes intrinsic valuation according to work duties and successes. Or, like I said earlier, “complicated social shit”.)
I’ve never even HEARD of an “ethnomethodologist” before.
Anyway, to postpone inevitable conversations about my father’s recent passing, and how it’s impacted my work prospects, I’ve tended to answer “what do you do?” with “A lot of small jobs. Seasonal work in Leavenworth. And I blog.” And when people learn I have a food blog, three times in the last few weeks, they’ve followed that discovery with a “So, you review restaurants?” or “So, what do you think of our local restaurants?” And in the two years I’ve been blogging, the number of people who asked about restaurants at all when I mentioned having a food blog before this trip was somewhere around 2-3. So I’ve at least doubled that count.
And while it’s not a question I get a lot, it is a fair question. And so far, I haven’t really reviewed any restaurants for…reasons. Three major ones. Firstly, Fairness: reviewing an ENTIRE restaurant over one meal is kind of selling the place short. You don’t know if there are weird circumstances going on that day. And what if you don’t order their good meals? The only way to really fairly analyze a restaurant is to eat there a couple times. And that’s where part two comes in: Cost. As noted, I haven’t been working a lot the last year or so. Fiscally, there’s only so many restaurants I CAN eat at multiple times without putting myself in the poor house. And lastly: Impropriety. I simply don’t know how to do something like a full and fair review, from a legal perspective, or simply an organizational one. I BELIEVE that I can take any kind of pictures I want for a critical assessment without worry of copyright due to Fair Use laws, but I’ve just never spent the energy to find out. If I go multiple times, how do I factor in the different servers I have? How do I really remain neutral in matters like this? There’s a couple restaurants I eat at quite regularly when I’m up in Leavenworth, where I hang out with the staff, and chat. How do I properly contextualize that for a post?
”Jon O’Guin: Contextualizing Cheesesteak” would be a good business card for me.
It’s something I’m looking into, but haven’t resolved, is the point. And it’s RELEVANT, because, well, that’s what the entire fair is ABOUT.
The First Taste is Free*
Yes, the Taste of Port Orchard is actually a competition of sorts. Various local restaurants put up a stand, and offer a menu, and guests vote on the meals they preferred.
A competition for the prestigious “Darryl” Award.
As such, I KNOW it’s okay for me to judge these dishes and shops, because I have been ACTIVELY INVITED to do so. AND, since it’s a fair tasting event, all their dishes have been made smaller, and offered for cheaper, fixing my cost concern as well! This is a win-win for me, baby!
However, I do have to make two quick house-keeping comments about what we’re about to discuss. Firstly is the time issue. As I noted in my Bremerton Blackberry Festival, this particular adventure took place September 4th. As in, “Two and a Half Months ago”. As such, while I believe I recall my opinions, they may have drifted. Further, and this connects to the next point: while there are 9 options on the card, you’ll see I only have 7 pictures. And…I’m only MOSTLY sure I’ve gotten them organized correctly. We’re talking, 85% Sure.
Part of that is that we skipped one entry for that same question of propriety, and also due to a lack of personal interest. You see Whiskey Gulch on that voting card? Well, my family eats, drinks, and (mostly) wins trivia there every Tuesday night. We’d already HAD their offering, earlier in the week. So we didn’t order it again, to save a bit of time and money. And as far as I can tell, the other missing restaurant is Carter and Co, and while I don’t remember why I don’t have a picture, I think it was a matter of timing. Either they hadn’t set up their stand yet, or we had to eat their offering too quickly. See, Carter & Co is predominantly a chocolatier and ice creamery, with some savory and sweet baked goods. So it’s possible in the warm September afternoon that we just ate it. Or maybe it didn’t exist, I can’t remember. However, of the remaining 7 options, and the 7 pictures, I’m pretty sure I’ve paired them all correctly.
So let’s dive into the nitty-gritty, and talk about what I got and what I thought.
The Lounge @ New Way Vapours
I’m generally in favor of Lounge things. Lounge Music, Lounge Chairs, Lounging, Lozenges, Lounge Luging…
This was the first stand that I personally grabbed food from, as part of a ‘Divide And Conquer’ strategy from my family in getting the food to table. As might be guessed from their name, The Lounge is one part restaurant, one part vape store.
The Lounge had a lot of barbecue to offer, as befits a shop that specializes in smoke. On the right is a pulled-pork sandwich, on the left are pulled chicken tacos, and behind the tacos are some Hawaiian-style pork ribs. My honest recollection of my opinion is that they were all satisfactory. The ribs had a little more tooth than I like, which is just a matter of opinion, but the sauce was interesting. I particularly liked the Pulled Pork sandwich, which I felt was just a touch away from greatness. The bread was good, the meat was good, I think I just wanted another note in the sauce, or a bit of slaw for texture or something. The chicken tacos were…unremarkable, as I recall. Not bad, but not amazing either. Overall, a palpable effort.
The Dock Bar and Eatery
IT’s not often that you can be handed a pile of diced fish scraps and feel happy about it.
I haven’t actually eaten at The Dock in person, a statement that is true of about half of the listed restaurants. A family friend worked there for a time, but we never actually made it out to see her on the clock. Their dish, a tuna tartare situation, was…fine? Please recall that I’ve been working to overcome a long-standing bias against fish, mostly through the help of sushi. My brother was very effusive with praise for it, talking about the ‘clean’ flavor, and I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t make me gag like my attempt to try Poké did. I THINK Nate voted this as the winner, but I don’t precisely recall. For me, it was enough that I became interested in checking out The Dock without the need of a friendly bartender.
This picture is kinda sad. There’s just so much blank beige space that it makes it seem like this is a soup kitchen meal.
Of all the competitors, I think Pinch was the unluckiest. As I noted with my guess about Carter & Co, the day was notably clear, warm, and bright. And Pinch café decided to bring warm soups. Had the day been brisk, or a little cold, or cloudy, I think ANY of those would have helped them, but as it was, their soup was just not a match to the day. It didn’t help that the soup seemed to absorb salt out of the air. I didn’t try the soup until relatively late in the process, and my mother noted that it tasted somehow worse after 25-30 minutes of sitting out than when she tried it.
Their baked goods, however, were pretty nice. A Lemon-Poppyseed “Dirty Bread”, and a rather spectacular biscuit did a lot to keep them in competition despite their brothy blunder.
I want to make a witty joke here, but it’s just too masa for me.
La Palapa is a Mexican restaurant that JJ and I would drink at before/after rehearsals, and sometimes grab some dinner. They serve beer in like, 32 oz glasses, and while their food is relatively standard American Mexican Food, it’s made well, and there’s certainly enough of it to keep you going. I’m a bigger fan of their Sopes, but here they went with Tamales.
They served a Green Chile Chicken Tamale, and a Pork in Rojo, and I have to say, I think the chicken was a little stronger.
“Remember, Simba. Everywhere the light touches is our kingdom.”
”What about those beans?”
”Don’t ask about the beans.”
The Wig Wam is a barbecue joint/bar that used to be kinda grody when I was a kid, and apparently did a rebranding and punch-up while I was away. For today’s competition, they brought pulled pork, Brisket, baked beans, and a sweet-hot pickle, made in the restaurant. And while this may sound weird, that pickle almost won them the whole damn thing from me on its own.
There’s a lot of choices that go into barbecue: how much fat to trim, and how much to leave, what kind of rub you use, how long you cook, what kind of sauce, so on and so forth. And reasonable people can disagree about which calls are right and which are wrong. And with Wig Wam, man, they were NOT on the same page as I was. They made their brisket one way, while I like another, their pork was fairly subdued in seasoning, while I like my pulled pork heavily flavored. All perfectly fine calls, but all calls that didn’t resonate with me. But that pickle was something that I could get behind. It wasn’t quite perfect, but it was close. I don’t fully recall, but I know I agonized over whether Wig Wam was my winner or another restaurant.
Home Made Café
The Home Made Café is NOT, as it might seem, a Chinese Restaurant. I don’t know why they use these containers.
Fun, kinda-tragic fact: Home Made Café, last time I checked, was the highest-rated restaurant in my entire home town on Google and Tripadvisor, despite myself and my father having not heard of it before he had a day off work and we were running some errands. As I recall, he and I went looking for the place something like a month before he was diagnosed, and we finally got to eat there while he was in remission. It was…fine? Like, I wasn’t blown away, but it was pretty good. I feel like he had a similar opinion, and I’m happy, in a sad way, that we at least got some closure on that little adventure.
Anyway, they brought macaroni-and-cheese, and they made it well, but I think it ran into a similar problem as Pinch Café earlier: mac-and-cheese is a warm comfort food, and therefore not something you typically eat on a sunny day in the sea-side air. Fine Food, Flawed Format. I think they were also selling a sandwich, but getting food from them was my mother’s job, so we only got Mac and Cheese.
This picture was originally like, an extra 1/3rd shadows, because I’m bad at framing shots sometimes.
And, to round out our nostalgic look at my home-town foods, let’s go to a homemade bakery LITERALLY NAMED Nostalgia! And while it may have been luck, these dudes practically paid off my brother and me for our votes. Their offerings were Apple Fritters, Snickerdoodle Cookies, and Champagne Cake, or, in order, “My Favorite Donut”, “Nate AND JON’S Favorite Cookie”, and “Some Cake, sure.”
And even with that dismissive summary, the Champagne cake was pretty good. Very light, fluffy, with a fruity note. These guys were the other contenders for the winner of the thing. In my book, at least. I honestly don’t recall which way I voted, but I remember Nate mocking me for my choice. (Either because of the Fritter or the Pickle)
In the end, La Palapa actually won the whole thing. But that’s not why I was there. I was there to have a good time with my family, and try some new things. Because that’s the point of this series, at its core: Fairs are a fun place to push your comfort zone a little. There’s fried foods everywhere, probably several different ethnic cuisines, and even foods you know might be made in a different way. I was ambivalent about this series back in October: I was trying to figure out why I was doing it, what the goal was. It couldn’t be advertising, since the nature of Time Itself meant I couldn’t review a fair by attending it and write about it before it happened, which is when it would be most relevant to you. What was to be gained by showing you pictures of a bright September event during the cold drizzles of November? The answer I’ve settled on is just to lead by example. I’m sure you have local festivals and fairs, especially as winter starts setting in. No doubt there’s going to be local Christmas bazaars or Holiday Farmer’s Markets, and my hope is that by showing you my adventures in such settings, you’re motivated to make your own.
Not that we’ll be doing it for a while, though. The only other ‘fair’ I’ve hit since The Taste of Port Orchard was Oktoberfest, and That’s less a ‘Fair’ and more a “drinking contest writ large”. And also my pictures of It are too sparse to use. Because of the drinking I was doing. Though, I think I read that there’s an indoor farmer’s market in the area… Ew, 9 AM to 1 PM? Eh, we’ll see.
MONDAY: SO, I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF A TECH WEEK, FOR A SHOW THAT OPENS ON FRIDAY. WE’LL SEE IF I HAVE TIME TO COOK SOMETHING THIS WEEKEND, OR IF WE DIVE INTO MY SWIFTLY-DRAINING BAG OF TRICKS.
THURSDAY: I’M WAY TOO TIRED TO THINK OF WHAT I’M DOING BY THEN.