When I moved to Cincinnati for a yearlong contract of completely unrelated work, I set myself up with a goal to get as much food, booze, and local culture in as possible before heading back to New York. And I think I did a pretty good job—I dragged friends to an underground jazz club, took tours and watched special screenings at the Museum Center, went to the opera and ballet, drank my weight in Kentucky bourbon, pestered everyone I met for their opinion on the public transportation debate, and ate at every restaurant recommended by local friends. All good.
But the discovery that's remained closest to my heart was goetta. Pronounced "get-uh", the sausage-type patty is pretty synonymous with Cincinnati, though its roots are steeped in the "Queen City's" German heritage.
A bit of nerdy background for you: For a Midwestern city (of sorts), Cincinnati has a culturally diverse history. While founded primarily by those with English and Scottish ancestry in the late eighteenth century, 60% of the population were German-born immigrants by 1850. They established Catholic churches amidst the Protestant "natives," as well as schools and social centers, since they were not given allowance to clubs and many publicly-funded work projects already established.
But despite strife, German culture infused the city and remains ripe today. The area of downtown just north of what is now Central Parkway was once a concentration of German markets, specialty trades, and social gathering halls dubbed "Over-the-Rhine." Originally meant as an insult by those who lived in affluence below the canal, much of Cincinnati's culture is rooted in OTR, which at one point had the highest number of breweries and beer halls in the country (according to every Cincinnatian I've ever met). Until World War I—when the loyalties of German-Americans were questioned—many of the streets in that area had German names. Today, OTR is revitalized with artists, small businesses and some of the city's best new restaurants, and its history is steeply preserved by those rebuilding (American Legacy Tours does stellar walking tours in OTR that include a lot of this history.)
And now, back to what this means for goetta.
On top of its rich German heritage, Cincinnati also has incredible access to pork, to such a degree that its other nickname is "Porkopolis." By 1835, it had the largest pork-manufacturing industry in the country; by the 1840s, that industry was the largest in the world, contributing significantly to the city's economic growth.
German heritage + lots of pigs = tasty breakfast patties.
Like scrapple in the Pennsylvania and Virginia regions, which combines pork scraps with corn, wheat, and spices, and the white and black puddings of Ireland and the UK, which do the same with bread trimmings and oats, goetta employs steel-cut or pinhead oats to extend the amount of pork and beef scraps that are then blended with spices, formed into a log, sliced, and fried. Unlike scrapple or those puddings, it has a sort of funk to it, one that may take you by surprise upon first bite and then, as you continue to dig in, can easily become addictive. The oats give it a meatier, starchier texture, and provide pockets perfect for absorbing running egg yolk, apple sauce, or maple syrup (and the area makes some killer maple syrup).
Goetta was primarily made at home until, in 1946, a young Robert Glier, fresh from the war, returned to elevate his family butcher shop with the product he'd so missed. In what was once part of a large brewery in nearby Covington, KY, the Glier family opened a factory, and two generations later is still considered by many locals to make the best goetta in the city, producing about a million pounds of goetta a year.
When I first got my hands on a tube of Glier's (you can get it at any Kroger in the area), I far overestimated my skill at cooking it on the first try. Cooked poorly, goetta is gooey and limp, a crusty exterior opening up to a mess of blah. If you crowd slices in a pan, they'll stick together. Add oil (as I did on my first try), and the sizzling fat will launch flaming bits of oat and pork directly at the most sensitive parts of your skin.
But, cooked well, it's a marvel. Cut thin, it gets golden and crisp upon frying, perfect on its own or as a savory layer on a grilled cheese or, yes, even a hamburger. Some prefer it cooked over a lower heat, so that it cooks through into more of a soft hash. Smashed to the furthest point of thinness and fried, it almost get the texture of a potato chip. At Goettafest every August, local food businesses manage to get it onto pizzas, into baked goods, and crumbled all over every type of food that get things crumbled on them.
You can find Glier's (and Queen City Sausage, the manufacturing runner-up) in pretty much every Kroger grocer and most butchers in the Cincinnati area, as well as all over the state and far into Indiana and Kentucky. If you're even farther out, Cincinnati Favorites ships it (along with some other local eats). And if you're not yet temped to bring it into your kitchen, check out some local places below that "fry it real good", and drop your favorites with us, too.
- The Pepper Pod: A classic 24-hour diner, this place is the perfect introduction to goetta, either fried up alongside some eggs or worked into an omelet. (Newport, KY)
- Tucker's Restaurant: Another beloved local family diner, Tucker's is a safe spot for a classic plate of goetta and eggs, along with a big tumbler of syrup.
- Pizzelli Pizza: For a load of local flavor on one pie, try the "Cincy Goetta" pizza, with apple-smoked bacon, a fried egg, mozzarella, provolone, and maple syrup.
- S&J Bakery: Pastry chefs Stefan Skirtz and Heather Wayman offer up a goetta Danish ($2.50) mornings at their Findlay Market bakery. With an extensive bread and pastry-based menu, there's plenty of other offerings to wash the Danish down if it's too far from your liking.
- Anchor Grill: A greasy spoon if there ever was one, Anchor fries thin slices of goetta made directly across the street at the Glier's factory. (Covington, KY)
- Findlay Market: Several butchers sell Glier's or their own versions of goetta, with Eckerlin's being a common favorite for the lower fat count. This, though, you must cook at home.
- Goettafest: As you'd expect, Goettafest (in Newport) brings out some wonderfully weird concoctions from local chains and small businesses, like goetta-filled brownies and crepes, goetta chili dogs and chili cheese fries, and goetta corn dogs. We can vouch for their yumminess factor, but there's no more indulgent way to dig in.
Where do you best like your goetta?!