It’s meatballs with a chance of gravy at the inaugural Austin Meatball Festival

Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha

Jenn Walley grew up savoring her mother’s salty-sweet Christmas Eve Swedish meatballs infused with grape jelly. Now she gets to flaunt her fondness for meatballs as chairperson of the first Austin Meatball Festival. 

“We got the idea because last year Michael and I were in Aspen, Colo., for a trip in the fall, and we happened to stumble across a macaroni and cheese festival,” Walley said. “They had shut down the block and you could just walk up and taste the macaroni and cheese.”

Italian restaurant Winflo Osteria is hosting the meatball festival. Walley said the festival is a friendly competition between the 14 participating restaurants with three different voting categories. There will be a popular vote for the best meatball dish, a critic’s choice vote for best tasting and a most creative vote from the judges panel, which is mostly made up of food writers.

“This year, everything is trial and error because we are kind of experimenting with it — how we want to go about choosing the restaurants,” Walley said. “We did want restaurants to participate. We wanted to develop a sense of community within the restaurant industry.”

Jessica Dupuy, Food and Drink editor for “Culture Map” and a judge in this year’s festival, said judging a dish begins with evaluating its presentation. While she admits she is a fan of her mother’s meatball recipes, she will go into the competition with an open mind. 

“The most exciting part of the festival is definitely judging the meatballs because it’s not barbecue, and it’s not Tex-Mex, and it’s not the kind of thing that we normally eat here,” Dupuy said. “It’s not a quintessential food element to Texas or to Austin. It’s something that is completely different — at the same time, it’s familiar.” 

Besides the meatballs and glasses of wine served to wash them down, there will be three bands playing at the festival. With tents set up in the parking lot of Winflo, people can go around and taste the different styles of meatballs.

Several food bloggers will attend this weekend’s festival to judge the meatballs for themselves. Ane Andere Urquiola, who owns a blog called “Hungry Girl Austin”, plans to try out the 14 different meatball recipes. 

“Also, almost all cultures have their own take on the meatball,” Urquiola said. “You can make them with any kind of meat and in any style.”

The winning restaurants of the first Austin Meatball Festival will receive trophies as testaments to their accomplishments in the department of spherical meat.

“I’m just really excited about getting the restaurant community together,” Walley said. “We’re not paying the restaurants to be a part of this. They are doing it on their own time. They really want to join in on the fun.”