18th Pasty Fest draws big crowds

Garrett Neese/ Daily Mining Gazette Crowds filled Fifth Street in Calumet for Pasty Fest Saturday, drawn by pasty sales, vendors, a farmer’s market, classic cars, kids’ games and more.

CALUMET — Ketchup or gravy? Traditional or a variant? One eaten leisurely, or four consumed in battle?

Saturday’s Pasty Fest didn’t provide definitive answers, but it united thousands in celebration of the Cornish delicacy. 

This was the 18th year for the festival, put on annually by Main Street Calumet.

“It’s our heritage, certainly, and I think people like to celebrate that,” said Leah Polzien, executive director of Main Street Calumet. “This is our summer event in Calumet. It’s something fun to do, to come out and celebrate. And people love to try a bunch of pasties — especially if you’re a visitor.”

Lowell Brenton of Kansas City, Missouri was admiring a 1934 Plymouth at the classic car show along Fifth Street. He’d been up to the Keweenaw before, but only found out about the festival when he stumbled on it Saturday. 

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Lowell Brenton of Kansas City, Missouri, admires a 1934 Plymouth during Pasty Fest Saturday.

“We couldn’t have asked for more beautiful weather, and we really enjoy it,” he said. “We met some people that were here locally and had a good time sharing a pasty with them.”

Brenton’s family tried pasties from a sampler platter for the pasty bake-off. While the baker of the pasty he liked most hadn’t been revealed yet, “it’s good to get a different variety,” he said. 

The winner of the bake-off was revealed later Saturday: Slim’s Cafe in Mohawk, which also won last year.

Slim’s prepared about 100 pasties for the bakeoff in addition to the 550 it sold Saturday afternoon. 

Co-owner Sandra Isaacson attributes the success to the hand-rolled crusts with real butter, as well as using fresh vegetables.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette A pasty greets parade watchers during Saturday’s Pasty Fest Parade down Sixth Street.

“We get whole potatoes in, whole rutabaga, whole everything,” she said. “We peel them, we cut them, we dice up everything and then that’s what we cook with.”

Lines for pasties stayed long all day. Keweenaw Coffee Works prepared limited batches of traditional pasties along with experiments like a reuben pasty, which sold out even before doors opened at noon. 

Near the Calumet Visitor’s Center, Slim’s and other local restaurants kept people fed until 4 p.m.

Heather and Greg Mauch of Detroit ate their pasties from Mohawk Superette to the steps of the Keweenaw Heritage Center. They both gravitated to spicier takes on the pasty: green peppers for him, jalapeños for her.

“I like this jalapeño one,” she said. “Before we left the house, I kept thinking, ‘Bring your hot sauce.'”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Erica Morgan of Dollar Bay records votes for people’s favorite pasty condiment during the Pasty Fest Parade Saturday. Morgan’s favorite topping, ketchup, beat gravy 50-10.

This year also saw the introduction of more items for children, including a bounce house and children’s games such as rutabaga bowling on the 300 block of Fifth Street.

“We’ve always done the bubbles, but it just adds a few more items to keep kids entertained,” Polzien said. 

One of the biggest draws was the parade down Sixth Street, where people could greet a pasty, and on one car, cast a vote for their favorite pasty condiment: ketchup or gravy. 

Chris Morgan of Dollar Bay was “volunt-told” he’d be driving in the parade. As he drove the “Pasty Wagon” down Sixth Street, his wife Erica Morgan took votes from people along the sidewalks and tallied them on the back of the windshield. 

“I’m a gravy guy, but she’s a ketchup person, so that’s what motivated the vote,” he said. “We’ve been arguing for years.”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette People wait in line for limited-edition pasties at Keweenaw Coffee Works Saturday morning. Demand was high for the pasties, some flavors of which sold out even before the doors opened.

The people have spoken, and they backed Erica. Ketchup won 50-10. 

It was also the topping of choice at the pasty-eating competition, where each station came equipped with bottles of ketchup and water.

Jon Bates came away with the trophy after beating six others, including multiple champions. After a tie was declared at the end of five minutes, Bates was the first of the remaining two contestants to finish an additional pasty. 

His technique was “bite, bite, drink.” 

“It was a lot of fun, and I had a good time,” he said. “I’m looking forward to next year.”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jon Bates, right, stares down the competition during the final eat-off of the pasty-eating competition during Saturday’s Pasty Fest.

In addition to the usual heavy hitters, this year’s contest had a surprise entrant: Tom Daldin, host of the PBS show “Under the Radar.”

His strategy was simple: lose. While others played to win, Daldin played to the crowd, at one point theatrically chugging from a bottle of ketchup. 

“People expect me to lose, and I like to give the people what they want,” he said. 

Daldin also spent the week leading up to the festival in the Keweenaw, including hunting for Yooperlite and visiting Isle Royale. That show will air Oct. 27. 

The Pasty Fest footage will go in an upcoming festivals episode, the date of which has not been set. 

“It’s so much bigger than I thought it would be,” he said. “It’s a big event, but it’s a big town. How could you not have a great event in a town this historic?”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Tom Daldin, host of the PBS show “Under the Radar,” chugs from a bottle of ketchup while competing in the pasty-eating competition during Pasty Fest Saturday.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jon Bates reacts after winning the Pasty Fst pasty-eating competition Saturday. Bates won the tie-breaker by being the first to finish another pasty.


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