As the 85th year of Jubilee Day dawned clear and bright upon Mechanicsburg, PA, what once began as small gathering of townspeople has grown into the largest and longest running one day street fair on the east coast. Held annually on the third Thursday of June, the event now boasts more than 325 vendors who offer their wares, products and food to nearly 70,000 attendees.
As a first-timer to Jubilee Day, I was anxious to see what all the fuss was about. I had to find out for myself just exactly what drew 70,000 people to such an event.
On this beautiful 80-degree Spring day in South Central Pennsylvania, I was about to learn first hand, it was probably more or less, the food.
Working my way into the heart of the festival, my first stop was a mobile concession called, Uncle Moe's Soul Food Concessions LLC. I had to stop; I was powerless not to. The delicious smells emanating from that modern day chuck wagon stopped me dead in my tracks.
I introduced myself to the proprietor, Eldridge Moses, otherwise known as "Uncle Moe".
I found him to be engaging and warm, and within a few minutes of chatting, I learned he was born and raised in Bogalusa, LA, but has laid roots in Adams County as a resident of Gettysburg, PA for close to twenty-five years.
Of course, with all these wonderful southern smells circulating through my head, it was hard to keep myself focused on the conversation. So instead of babbling incessantly, I decided to give something a try.
I opted for the fried Cajun Catfish Nuggets.
Yeah, I know they're fried and I try to stay away from too many fried foods. However, I needed to try these. You see southern-style Cajun catfish is my kryptonite; I weaken in its presence. And this time I'm glad I did.
The freshness of the catfish was instantly apparent.
I further learned that Uncle Moe not only runs his establishment as a mobile concession at such events, but also offers a fully-staffed service for in-house catered parties featuring special menus derived from his Louisiana cooking traditions.
For more information, visit: www.unclemoessoulfood.com or call 717-420-7549.
The next wafts of aromatic goodness that drew me like a moth to a flame, was a stand run by someone called, Master Danny. One look at Danny and you knew why they call him Master.
Wiry and muscular with a scalp-lock wrapped in colorful clothe, he's the proprietor of Warrior Gym, Mixed Martial Arts.
His grill master stands above his slabs of skewered chicken and continuously bastes them with a tantalizingly aromatic sauce from a large, steel pot. When he's not basting, he's stirring.
I peeked in the pot and espied the sauce was different in color from typical teriyaki; almost orange. But no matter how hard I pried for hints, he wasn't giving away any secrets.
The next foodie stand that caught my attention was Gary's Pig Roast. The attention grabber was the amount of people stacked in line at this concession. I just had to see what they were buying and took my place in the queue.
As I neared the counter, I saw folks leaving with huge plates of what looked like freshly made potato chips, but was something called "Ribbon Fries".
I really wanted to order up a batch, but to be truthful, I just couldn't shake the thought of James Gandolfini from my mind and was deluged with visions of my heart exploding in my chest.
I took one, thanked them and crunched on it. It wasn't bad, but it indeed was typical fair food and something I didn't need to indulge in, particularly with so many other goodies nearby.
Truth be told, it was a battle I didn't mind surrendering to. I'm sure the rest of Gary's menu isn't mere fair food, as I'm told he does actually full pig roasts.
I think it's hysterical just how many characters you meet and see when walking along a street fair of this magnitude. And by this, I don't just mean the crowd.
Vendors get in on the act with very little prodding. From dancing pizza makers to juggling cooks, everybody wants a minute or two in the limelight.
But don't be deceived by the name - I assure you Nicole is completely sane and skillfully creates an entire line of specialty cakes, cupcakes, and cookies made from the freshest ingredients that are never frozen, while taking pride in creating recipes made from scratch.
Just a few of her unique and scrumptious cake flavors are: Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, Carrot, Red Velvet, S'mores, Apple Cinnamon, White Chocolate Raspberry, Almond, Cotton Candy, Creamsicle, Oreo, Red Wine and Maple Bacon. That's right. Maple Bacon.
A standout item is her Italian butter cream. What makes it different? It's flavor which carries the essence of light buttery vanilla which is not overly sweet and its smooth soft texture.
Stop in and see her.
Now if there's one thing I've learned about folks in the Keystone State, it's that they take their funnel cakes very seriously. And not just any funnel cake will do either. Here, beside good ol' Regular Funnel Cake, it comes in a multitude of variety such as; Chocolate Eclair, Bavarian Cream, Chocolate Drizzle and more. And people can't get enough of it.
Another thing that caught my eye was something called: the London Broil Sandwich. And this wasn't a mere name.
Huge… and I mean HUGE hunks of London Broil covered a heated grilled and cooked slowly, then sliced onto sandwiches. It was a thing of beauty!
Another vendor of note was someone called, Chef Hogate 85.
Chef Hogate offered skewers of thick Chicken Thai Teriyaki, along with a variety of kabobs. The smoke-filled air was thick with the delicious grilling scents and the end result was simply delightful. Moist and flavorful, it was truly wonderful.
Along side the large vehicle was a chalkboard which read, "Try our Hawg Wings".
Now with that tease, I just had to ask.
I was told they were a three ounce portion of ham hock, bone-in, deep fried. Now I may have been successful in resisting the ribbon fries, but this time; not-so-good. I had to try one. And… WOW! This was the star of the show, hands down.
It was incredible and talk about saving the best for last! The meat just fell from the bone and was not greasy at all. As easy to eat as a chicken drumstick, it was moist and tasty with or without BBQ sauce. A sure winner.
Their mobile kitchen has a state-of-the-art wood-burning smoker and they offer a complete barbecue catering experience with table linens, stainless steel chaffing dishes and a professional staff, as well as an exhaustive menu.
For more information, please visit: www.keystonebbq.com or call 717-576-8799
And with that Hawg Wing, I concluded a magnificent day spent enjoying an 85-year old tradition.
My first experience at Jubilee Day was great. I met some wonderful people, chowed down on some fun foods and finally experienced what all the buzz was about.
It had nothing to do with the arts nor the crafts.
As I suspected all along, I think they come for the food.