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Carnivores Converge on Montebello Park for Rib Fest

From the St. Catharines Standard:

The irony of it all wasn’t lost on Lisa Raham.

The poster boards featuring the pink outline of a human with a big heart, advertising the Niagara Health System’s new cardiac catheterization centre planned for the yet-to-be-built hospital in west St. Catharines, while just down the hill in Montebello Park, a handful of grills offered up all the makings of a heart attack in a styrofoam container.

“We sort of laughed about at our committee meeting,” said Raham, a member of the Maycourt Club of St. Catharines, which is fundraising for the cardiac catheterization centre at the eighth annual Rotary Rib Fest this weekend. “People need to be aware of it. I don’t think it’s going to stop anyone from eating ribs.”

Least of all, her.

With little more than an hour to go before her volunteer shift ended at the booth greeting the carnivorous crowd at Rib Fest’s main entrance, Raham’s mouth was already watering in anticipation of partaking in the meat extravaganza.

“I’m here for a good time, not a long time so I’m ready to eat some ribs,” she said with a laugh.

And then eat some more, if you’re Rob Mittag and fellow Rib Fester Brian Waterhouse.

As Mittag sucked the meat off the last in rack of pork ribs from Billy Bones, a line of barbecue sauce coating the tips of his moustache hair like a paint brush, he and Waterhouse started planning their next meal.

More ribs.

“I could eat these all day, all weekend,” said Waterhouse of St. Catharines.

“You don’t get sick of them, not at all,” Mittag, who lives in St. Anns, interjected.

The self-professed “Ribheads” — Waterhouse follows Rib Fest to all of its stops in Niagara and Mittag joins him when work doesn’t get in the way — may occasionally change things up with a pulled pork sandwich. They might also throw in a cob of corn to satisfy that other food group. But really, there’s no comparison to gnawing on a well-made rib.

“It’s just the flavour. The meat just falls off the bone. It’s great,” Mittag said.

And if the remnants of his meal are any indication, Mittag has honed the skills to help along anything that doesn’t come off the bone with ease.

“You just mow ‘em down, I guess. I start at the centre and work my way down” the length of the bone, he said.

So what’s the appeal of ribs that warrants an entire festival paying homage to them?

For Kristie Thomas, it’s the way Rib Fest ribs are made.

Thomas, who was working Fort Erie’s Billy Bones BBQ booth, described a labourious process of smoking the ribs, massaging them with a dry rub, coating them with sauce and cooking them on a charcoal grill.

“It’s more of a deep south barbecue,” said Thomas, a fan of beef ribs, despite the masses at Montebello Park being more of the pork persuasion. “If you go to a restaurant, you can get ribs, but they’re not the same.”

Unlike Mittag and Waterhouse, though, Thomas has usually had her fill by the end of the Rib Fest circuit, which includes stops in 12 different cities.

“I love them when I have them but you can only eat so many,” she said. “You eat enough to do you the rest of the year.”

Rib Fest continues Sunday in Montebello Park from noon to 11 p.m. and Monday from noon to 8 p.m.

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