Monday, March 29, 2010

#19 Czech Festival, St. Louis, MO, March 27, 2010

#19 Czech Festival - St. Louis, MO - March 27, 2010

I had no idea that there was a Czech American Center in St. Louis, and I really didn't know it was the first one established in the US over 145 years ago. Here are the flags proudly flying at the hall near the intersection of Kingshighway and Chippewa.

The menu consisted of Roast Pork, Roast Duck, or Goulash. The duck looked really good, but I can never pass up Goulash when it's offered. First of all it just sounds weird and terrible, but it is actually tender chunks of beef in a rich brown gravy. As my table mates said, "Czechs put gravy on everything" and I can't see that as a bad thing. This is a plate of Goulash, dumplings, sauerkraut, rye bread, apple sauce and a poppy seed kolache.

Here is the full spread of kolaches, which looked suspiciously like Danishes. They had assorted fruit, cheese, but the most traditional one seemed to be the poppy seed. It was a strange sweet, that had an even stranger after taste. It was good but slightly spicy for some reason and left my tongue slightly numb. It was strange, which is always a good thing. The lunch trays remind me though, more lines are soon to come this summer.

Video of the week: Here is a great band playing some traditional Czech music, but I was quite distracted with the foreground. People dancing was neat, father dancing with his daughter was cute, but the two ladies shaking the pom poms was traditional and hypnotic I think.

This was my first foray into the festival circuit this year, and admittedly am rusty with the photos. Someone else took some great photos of this festival and has posted them here for your viewing pleasure. Traditionally I am anti-indoor festivals as they usually feel cramped and underwhelming, but this festival seemed to be right at that line and I was grateful as the weather outside was dreadful. Somehow it packed craft booths, dining seating, a band, and vendor booths fairly well in the facility.

I was lucky enough to sit with some of the organizers as I ate my goulash. They informed me that the Sokol movement originated in Prague, and Czech immigrants opened the first Sokol Czech American Center in the United States here in St. Louis, Missouri(Sokol St. Louis). I asked why, and was informed because St. Louis is where they settled. Even stranger is that the center has moved fro its original location in Soulard, to this location in what is a predominantly Bosnian area. Although Sokol was originally set up to be a gymnastics training center for Czech children, it has evolved into a fraternal social club where local people congregate. One of the officers of the club I spoke with, Dena, was more than happy to explain the food to me as well as her pride in the center itself. Even more strange, she and the President of the Czech-American Center are both Italian. Which is somehow appropriate at this festival as it celebrates the evolution of the Czech culture as it has grown within the American tapestry. If you want to brush up on your Czech then just click here.

Now the food was nowhere near funnel cakes, but it was very good. The goulash meat could have been a little more tender and I would have liked some kind of vegetable in there as well. It is hard to make out, but there are actually dumplings underneath the goulash in the photo above. Dena informed me that the dumplings were extremely laborious and time consuming to make. Apparently they had were mixed with yeast and allowed to rest, then cut into sections and rested again, then sliced and again a rest, then boiled, and finally served. I'd have to say the dumplings were pretty flavorless and not worth the effort. The kolache was the most interesting of the bunch. It was a great little pastry, and the poppy seed filling was very different. After some research, I have found that mace may have been the ingredient that numbed my tongue as I was eating it. The meal was great, but the company I had the pleasure to eat with was even better. You should always take the chance to go to these cultural festivals, everyone there will be proud to teach you something you probably did not know before.

I will get back in the groove soon and these posts will be better. This post is to knock the rust off and get some feedback from those of you that read it. Also I've noticed a lot more hits on the site, which means festival season is beginning. Yet, I really want to hear from my loyal readers how this site can improve and grow. What would you like to see? What would make this site more interesting? What should I do differently this year? As always, the reader suggestions are vital and always steer the ship that is RTAFC. Thanks in advance for your comments below or on the left side suggestion box.