The Mennonite Relief Sale has many noble purposes. It raises money for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) projects around the world, gives EMU students something to do on a Saturday morning, and most importantly, it is a place for everybody who likes simple home cooked food from chili to doughnuts.
The MCC Sale is held at a time that takes advantage of the best that fall has to offer, and there is nothing that better captures the taste of fall than a glass of apple cider. I picked up a glass at the produce tent, which also sold fresh, unprocessed apples and cheese. The cider was a great introduction to the sale; it was sweet, but also managed to capture the tart flavor of a fresh apple. The minimal pulp gave the cider a texture as enjoyable as its flavor. I created an arbitrary scale to rate food, and the apple cider scored a four out of five.
Next up was potato salad, a staple of comfort everywhere. If anybody can do it right it is the Broadway Timberville Ruritan Club. They serve a Styrofoam cup of potato salad for a dollar. It has the perfect yellow potato salad color, and is made with potato pieces that are shredded instead of diced. On the surface this seems like a bad thing since it turns the whole salad into one yellow mash.
However, the opposite is true; the shredded potatoes allow the maximum distribution of flavor. As a result, the salad benefitted from the perfect blend of carrots, celery and egg.
I love potato salad and this is some of the best that I have ever had. It scores a five out of five on the David scale.
So far the MCC Sale had given comfort food and fall food. The next item on the list managed to combine both of these perfectly. The chili was labeled jalapeño and came in a cup that fell somewhere between four and six ounces. It only took a couple of bites to realize that the jalapeño label was not an idle brag. The soup had a definite spicy aftertaste that built throughout the cup, making the last few bites really burn. It was also not afraid to go big with barely cut peppers, big slices of tomato, and massive slices of celery.
Despite these attempts to make a bold mix of chili, this soup encountered the same problem that all chili has, namely, that it is just chili and tastes exactly the way that every bowl of chili tastes. It scores a 3 out of 5 on the David scale.
Thus far this review has been all about comfort food, but the next item breaks that mold in a big way. Laotian Chicken on a Stick is the bizarre child of Midwestern fairs and Laotian ethnic food.
It has a singularly unappealing presentation: a piece of chicken covered in yellow sauce and thrown unceremoniously onto a stick. The taste was a little better, combining tender, juicy grilled chicken with a subtle tang of citrus, ginger, and a slight taste of mint. This combination, which is appealing on the first bite, quickly overwhelms and tires the taste buds. By the time I was done eating, I was ready to be done eating. The Laotian Chicken on a Stick gets a 3 out of 5.
Finally, I grabbed some BBQ chicken from the fry shack. The chicken was bad. It had no sauce, no flavor, and no personality. It was nothing to write home about, and ultimately, nothing to write about in the Weather Vane.
If you love comfort food that is made right, if you want chili that tastes like chili and potato salad that is out of this world, then the MCC Sale has something for you. However, if you love ethnic food or BBQ chicken there are better people to make them than Mennonites.
David Yoder, Opinion Editor