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Paxico Meatloaf Festival

July 5th, 2011 at 10:43 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

First place: The Gillie Gals


“Have you always wanted to be a meatloaf judge?” I asked WenDee LaPlant at the Meatloaf Festival in Paxico.

“I never considered it until last year when they asked me,” she said, “And then I thought, ‘what a cool idea.’ I was so excited last night, I couldn’t sleep.”

I knew she was looking forward to it – in May, she had excitedly mentioned this upcoming meatloaf gig. When she’s not judging meatloaf, WenDee LaPlant is the assistant director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation in Inman.

Before the judging commenced, we sat on a Paxico bench in the gusty Kansas wind and I asked her to describe her favorite kind of meatloaf. “I’m kind of a purist, but I like to try new things. The main thing is that it not be too dry and, as my dad says, ‘it better not have chicken in it,’” she laughed.

When asked about her first meatloaf memory, she said, “Ohhh, my mom’s meatloaf,” describing it as “just a little burnt, a little bit of ketchup with brown sugar and bacon. And all that juice around the edges, not too greasy, but just enough.”

Like me, WenDee is a seeker of good-tasting food. And we are willing to track it down. In May, during the Kansas Sampler Festival, I had dinner at Baan Thai in Leavenworth with WenDee, Marci Penner, and a dozen other Kansas Explorers.

After a great meal of Thai food, the conversation turned to dessert. WenDee described Luigi’s cannoli, which she and others had enjoyed the night before.

“Have you been to Luigi’s?” she asked me. When I replied no, she said, “Oh, we must go.”

Before you could say ‘Italian restaurant,’ off we went. Five of us jumped into our vehicles and headed for Luigi’s, which wasn’t far away. WenDee and I followed Erika Nelson in her one-of-a-kind art car, Scout, a small pickup with carousel ponies in the bed, plastic dinosaurs glued to the roof of the cab, and Salvation Mountain painted on the fender.

At Luigi’s, we ordered wine, cannoli, and tiramisu. WenDee also asked for a slice of limoncello, a layer-cake flavored with lemon liqueur. “You have to try that, too,” she insisted.

Now, on my many Kansas adventures, I’ve tried countless desserts, but nothing compares to the deliciousness of that limoncello cake at Luigi’s. I dipped my cake-filled fork into the raspberry sauce on the plate. And as the cake landed on taste buds, I swear my eyes rolled back into my head; it was that good.  Now I’m not normally a fan of lemon-flavored cakes, but that dessert alone is worth the two-hour drive to Leavenworth.

Meanwhile, back in Paxico, this event was more than just meatloaf; a classic car show was in progress as well. Dozens of magnificent cars lined the street – including a ’51 Studebaker and a ’47 Hudson Coupe.

In Woodman Hall, five judges were charged with selecting the five best meatloaves from 16 entries. Bystanders, including me, were shooed out of the room during judging.

The first-place winner was a traditional-looking meatloaf, surrounded by a spread of potatoes, carrots and onions, and was made by The Gillie Gals.

“We took it very seriously,” WenDee said of their judging method. “We were really quiet through the whole process. None of us compared notes during the tasting. We were all just really quiet.”

Kelli Stegeman, news anchor with KSNT in Topeka, was a judge as was Ervan Stuewe, owner/editor of the Wabaunsee County Signal-Enterprise. I caught Stuewe outside of the judging headquarters and asked if he’d had his fill of meatloaf. “I’ve had enough for today,” he smiled. “It was good.”

Another judge, Gene Merry, mayor of Burlington, said, “It was good, and a good process. They know what they’re doing with meatloaf.” He has previously judged barbecue contests and said, “You just have to control yourself. I didn’t overeat, so I still have room for ice cream.”

Meatloaf judge Don Lampe, cattle rancher and farmer from Piqua, reported that the meatloaf was excellent. He seemed well-suited for the job, especially after he said, “I would rather have a good meatloaf than a steak.”

So – that’s the report from Paxico: old cars, good meatloaf, and enough wind to make people chase after things. If you missed the festival, well, there’s always next year.

Copyright 2011 ~ Cheryl Unruh

The meatloaf judges listen to instructions before the tasting. The judges are (front, and then circling the table clockwise): Ervan Stuewe, Don Lampe, Gene Merry, Kelli Stegeman, WenDee LaPlant.

columns, events, Kansans, small towns, vittles

  1. Shelia Lampe
    July 5th, 2011 at 11:05 | #1

    What a great article! I know they are looking forward to going back next year!

  2. July 5th, 2011 at 11:35 | #2

    I would have loved this event. But I never saw a meatloaf surrounded by carrots and onions like that. You need mashed ‘taters and corn. 😀

    And the guy who would rather have a meatloaf than a steak, seriously?

    Still, I do love meatloaf, and the description of the lady’s mom’s meatloaf definitely resembles my fond childhood memories.

  3. July 5th, 2011 at 12:22 | #3

    Reading this before lunch is making my stomach grumble. Am I reading right that Luigi’s is in Leavenworth? I will have to find my way there the next time I’m in the area.

  4. July 5th, 2011 at 12:25 | #4

    Yes, Luigi’s is at 700 Cherokee in Leavenworth. http://www.flyoverpeople.net/news/2011/05/24/at-luigis/

  5. heineken160
    July 5th, 2011 at 21:01 | #5

    I hope the public got to taste. Like the edgy new columns, Cheryl.

  6. Carl H.
    July 6th, 2011 at 10:11 | #6

    “So – that’s the report from Paxico: old cars, good meatloaf, and enough wind to make people chase after things.”

    You can tell we’re from Kansas. We all know just how much wind that requires.

  7. Weeta
    July 6th, 2011 at 17:24 | #7

    How many meatloaf entries were there?

  8. July 6th, 2011 at 17:35 | #8

    Weeta – 16 meatloaf entries.

  9. deanna
    October 31st, 2012 at 16:54 | #9

    Hi there. The winners were The Gillie Gals from Alma, Kansas. Their names are Deanna Gilbert and Ashley Gilbert, mother and daughter team. They are outstanding cooks! I personally know them….grins.

    Deanna Gilbert