Last year, I heard tell of dueling pork roll festivals held in our great capital.
As a Jersey girl, and therefore, obviously, a lover of pork roll, I knew I needed to learn more. The best information I could dig up came from this NJ.com article. When I told Hubby of the two festivals and cried my worries of not knowing which festival to attend, he answered in a way which reminded me why he is the perfect man for me: Um, why not go to both?
I suppose a part of me felt like it was taboo to attend feuding festivals, however, after further investigation, I learned attending both is pretty normal. And I suppose, pretty Jersey.
Both festivals call themselves the official pork roll festival, and both claim to have hosted their 4th annual festival this year.
Before I reveal my feelings about the two, let’s explore them a little, shall we?
We started a the Trenton Pork Roll Festival at Trenton Social. The immediate perk right away was that it was located next to Studio B, a cafe I’d been interested in trying for some time.*
*I know, you’re thinking, but wait, you were there for pork roll. Don’t tell me you could actually think about coffee and other treats, too**.
**Come on, people. Do you even know me?
Think tiny street parking lot in New York and that’s where the first festival was held. Walking around, we felt like sardines packed into a tin can with a dent in it.
Waiting for pork roll
A few minutes of exploration revealed Johnny’s Pork Roll Truck as the line to get in.
It was spread across the width of the space and wrapped around the back of another food truck.
Moving up in line, yes, this is a line, a Jersey line
Pork Roll Man was there with his Meat of Justice stick.
No, you can’t make this stuff up.
After waiting close to twenty minutes, but where pork roll is concerned felt like twenty hours, we learned Johnny’s was…get this…out of pork roll.
Now friends, let me give you a little visual of the other food trucks in this parking lot. They all offered the classic pork roll and cheese, but they weren’t trucks dedicated to pork roll, like Johnny’s. There was a Korean fusion truck, a chicken and waffles truck, a cheese steak truck, but no other pork roll truck.
At Johnny’s, we had our eye on The Hawaiian: thick cut pork roll, Swiss & pineapple with BBQ and sriracha, and were tossing around a few of their other sandwich creations.*
*Because, of course, we planned to get more than one.
Not planning to wait until Johnny brought in reinforcement meat, we sunk our shoulders and headed over to Killarney’s where their grill tables were covered in pork roll.
Pork roll spring rolls
The spring rolls were an interesting use of pork roll, the sort I was hoping for at a festival based on the stuff.
And though it didn’t have egg on it, as I’d planned to order as my second or third sandwich from Johnny’s, the classic pork roll and cheese on a kaiser sufficed.
Alright, it more than sufficed.
It was all that is right and beautiful and lovely about New Jersey on a bun.
First, we thought this was a church
It was about a five minute walk down the street to the “Official” Pork Roll Festival.
But we soon realized it wasn’t
This festival certainly did not want for space, yet while theirs was a more festival looking kind of event, the vendors seemed to lack the pizzazz and authority a place like Johnny’s had in selling pork roll. Most were nameless food vendors, putting out the classic pork roll and cheese, most with signs saying they were out of eggs (already!).
We didn’t end up eating any pork roll at this festival. Instead, we had dessert.
Mannino’s Cannoli Express is what I wanted Mike’s Pastry in Boston to be. Their different flavored cannolis all had a ricotta base, making them still, very much, cannolis.* We ordered a Fresh Blueberry and a Maple Bourbon Bacon.
*I don’t know what Mike’s Pastry was doing.
Where flavored cannolis are concerned, Mannino’s is doing it right. The blueberries were, indeed, fresh and that other one?
Divine. The maple flavor was bright, but not overpowering, the bacon tasted real, not like bottled bacon bits, and the bourbon was subtle, but present enough to recognize.
While I certainly enjoyed my desserts, in all honesty, the second festival, though larger, was a bit of a disappointment. In fact, both were a little underwhelming.
Were I to return to one, it would be the first, at Trenton Social, with the hopes that they will improve as the years go on. However, my issue with both festivals lies in the pork roll.
How can you call yourself a pork roll festival and not have more to do with pork roll? I expected tables with blind taste testing. I expected a voting station for Taylor Ham vs Pork Roll. I expected several vendors selling logs of pork roll*. I expected more variety in the food trucks/stands use of pork roll.**
*I believe both festivals had one.
**Yes, most had the classic pork roll and cheese, and while some might argue never mess with a good thing, I say, but what if we could make it even better?
The lesson I took from this experience was to never trust another person with pork roll prominence. If pork roll festivals can’t do it right, as a Jersey girl, it’s up to me to spread the love*.
*And to search out Johnny’s food truck ASAP.