Meatloaf-a-Thon Charity Cookoff Returning to Barcade Jersey City

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Michael Kaltner of Barcade Jersey City, center (in beanie), briefs the judges

If snow makes you hungry, don’t fret, Meatloaf-a-thon is coming back on Sunday to Barcade Jersey City.

The charity meatloaf cook-off started in 2005 as a unique birthday celebration in the apartment of founders Jesse Caldwell and Shawn Dillon with 13 loaves (which Caldwell won). While it originally had a slow start, it got a boost when Barcade’s Michael Kaltner, a friend of Caldwell’s, decided the event would be a great fit for the Downtown Jersey City bar.

“Jesse and I were discussing and planning outings for the NJ Fun Society (it’s exactly what it sounds like). Meatloaf-a-Thon came up, but I think the idea of letting dozens of folks enter your home with large quantities of meatloaf is something that the wisdom we gained with age prevents us from embracing. I was looking over the bar one Sunday afternoon and it was pretty slow, and I came to the realization that this would be an ideal location for the return of Meatloaf-a-thon,” says Kaltner.

The event benefits the Meatloaf Kitchen, a New York-based charity that provides hot meals — including, yes, meatloaf — to the needy. This year, cook can compete by emailing beatthemeats[at]gmail.com or applying at Barcade itself, which is located at 163 Newark Ave.

All entries must be in the shape of a loaf (as they say on their website, “No loaf soup, no loaf burger, no loaf smoothie — loaf loaf!”) and can be meat or veggie, with non-meat entries being judged against meat entries. All loaves should be fully cooked before arrival. Cooks should bring about six to nine pounds of loaf, with entries being a minimum weight of three pounds. For more specific entry information, click here.

While your loaf is cooking (or your appetite is growing), read JCI‘s interview with the so-called “Fellowship of the Loaf.”

JCI: Hey, guys. So what will you do different to make this event more successful than the last?

Jesse Caldwell: It depends what you consider “successful.” Since it started as a birthday party, the goal was to get together and have a good time. The competition aspect came along as a joke of sorts, so success then was gauged on fun and tasty eats. Where it’s gone now? As far as I’d say, the end result is to raise some money for an awesome place. I’m not a business-oriented person so it’s hard for me to answer, but when I throw a party, people tend to show up and they tend to have a good time.

Michael Kaltner: We ran out of loaf relatively early last year so we’re adjusting our service. It’ll be more like a beer festival than a cafeteria. That also frees up plenty of tables, so there will be more spots to sit and eat. Our judges have been hand-selected and know what they’re walking into (last year we picked names out of a hat) and of course Dancing Tony will be emceeing, so now it’s officially a Jersey City event. Kevin and Alex (Pemoulie) from Thirty Acres will be sitting in on the judges panel. Also, I may have worked out a deal for there to be 30 inches of snow on the ground. I won’t know if that deal went through until this weekend, however.

Meatloaf-a-Thon founder Shawn Dillon serves loaf to a judge

JCI: What are some of your favorite memories of this event?

JC: I think one of my fondest memories was watching Mike and my mom discuss the finer points of coating their respective loaves with cheese toppings. It was a worlds collide/small world type of thing for me.

MK: The cruel streak in me fondly remembers the look on Jesse’s face last year when a bacon-wrapped loaf tied for first place (last year was the first tie). There were no less than four bacon-wrapped loaves at the previous ‘Thon, and Jesse had warned people against entering one, as he anticipated several. It turns out only one was entered, and it took home the title. If he had quietly let everyone bring a bacon loaf they would have cancelled each other out. He’s a good sport and tries to bring the best loaf every time, all the while offering helpful advice to his competition. I guess have a more cunning approach in regards to the competition. I would’ve just smiled and nodded if five people told me they were making the same thing. All’s fair in loaf and war.

Shawn Dillon: One of my fondest memories of this event was when someone entered an uncooked meatloaf, assuming that it would be cooked at the event (which it wasn’t), and the judges, assuming that it was, proceeded to eat a raw loaf.

JC: The first year, a friend sent a loaf with instructions for baking but it just never got cooked…as judges dug in they assumed it was a meatloaf tartare…yeah, needless to say we had to create rules about that afterwards.

JCI: That sounds pretty awful, but pretty memorable, I guess. What are some other standout loaves from the Meatloaf-a-Thons so far?

JC: My brother’s meatloaf Rockefeller which was a riff on oysters Rockefeller has always stood out to me. And last year’s loaf from Shawn was something special — it was honest, down-to-earth, slightly sweet, so moist and just really a solid home-cooked loaf.

MK: Jesse’s Meat Wellington from the second competition was absolutely my favorite. Brilliantly executed.

JCI: What’s the Meat Wellington like?

JC: It was a veal loaf with three types of garlic and rosemary that I chilled and sliced. I topped it with pork cognac pâté, roasted garlic, pork-fat-braised asparagus tips (and) wrapped it in puff pastry and baked them off. I spent a night making a Demi glacé to serve with it as well.

MK: It would no longer qualify to be entered with the stricter guidelines we adopted last year, however. It would violate the “All loaves must be in the shape of a loaf” rule.

JCI: Too bad. It sounds delicious.

JC: You would probably think I won, but my mother actually beat me with a taco-inspired meatloaf. I’m still sore…my entry was penalized heavily for it not actually being a loaf.

SD: The Caldwell family has taken the most wins and always has placed in lieu of a win.

MK: Yes, Jesse took the first year, his mother the second, and last year, Ryan Caldwell took second place.

JCI: Have there been repeat winners?

JC: No one has repeated…yet.

JCI: Have you guys ever had anything that was really out-of-the-box? Besides Meat Wellington and Oyster Rockefeller and taco meatloaves, obviously.

SD: The all-breakfast-meat meatloaf! I think it was one pound Taylor ham, one pound bacon and one pound breakfast sausage.

JC (who made the breakfast loaf in the 2005 contest): It was laughable at best. It was all sorts of ground-up breakfast meats made into its own forced loaf. It just tasted like salt — yuck.

MK: It was definitely made as a goof, but the moment you bit into it, your fight or flight mode took over and said “STOP!” It was a perfect example of too much of a good thing. The whole was not greater than the sum of its parts in this instance.

JCI: That sounds mindblowingly but comically awful. Have you gotten any other entries like that?

SD: There’s a good chance the meatloaf I’m making this year might fit the bill.

MK: It’s worth noting that the father outside of the box you travel, the greater your risk of completely missing the mark. This is a meatloaf competition, and meatloaf is basically beef at its most humble. It’s an economy dish — a way of stretching some less sexy cuts into a meal. You cannot go wrong with a classic combination of meat, binder, and something tomato-y. When you start getting fancy and adding a lot of expensive ingredients and cutting edge techniques, you may knock it out of the park, but if it doesn’t deliver you may as well have named your loaf Icarus.

JCI: Is this the first year non-meat loaves are being accepted?

MK: Yes. I’m all for allowing everyone to have a good time, though non-meat competitors certainly have their work cut out for them. I kind of doubt anyone’s grandmother has a really bitching quinoa and red lentil loaf recipe for them to appropriate.

JC: I was a vegetarian for a eight years and I will say this, I’m not speaking for anyone else — TVP, tofu, gluten, vegetable, etc., are NOT meat. I am a firm believer that meatloaf should 100 percent, all the time, contain MEAT! Now don’t get me wrong, to each their own, but just stop calling it meatloaf — ’cause its not.

JCI: So what do you think the vegetarian loaves can bring to the event?

SD: Comic relief!

The event will be held Sunday, Feb. 10 from 4 pm to 8 pm. Admission is a $10 donation, which will entitle guests to sample all meatloaf entries. Dancing Tony will host and head the judges panel. Prizes will be awarded to the winning entries. For more information, click here.

Photos courtesy of Michael Kaltner

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.