By Natalie Simms
There’s a group of men who get up in the wee hours of the morning to cook some 600 pounds of sausage patties on the Saturday before Thanksgiving…a tradition many have done for the last 30 years. They’re known as the ‘Sausage Dogs’ of the Rome Noon Optimist Pancake Breakfast, working the grills and making sure there is plenty to eat.
Jason McFry, the Sausage Dog crew chief, and his team of eight to 12 men have a combined 200 years of experience.
“I’ve been a member of the Sausage Dogs since 1998, so this is my 22nd straight year,” says McFry. “We have a couple of members with around 30 years of experience and another six with 20-plus years.”
This year will mark the 59th annual Pancake Breakfast supporting the Noon Optimist Club’s youth-related projects in and around Rome. Their youth recognition programs include High School Student of the Month, Middle School Student of the Semester, Student of the Year Awards Banquet and Terrific Kids Awards Banquet. They also support a number of youth initiatives including ‘Grands Who Care’, The Foundation Camp, Summit Quest, Cops for Kids and Vacation Reading Program at Sara Hightower Regional Library.
“The club has a goal to raise $47,000 from the pancake breakfast from three sources including ticket sales, our ‘private blend’ sausage at $5 per pound and our sponsors,” says Mark Swanson, pancake chairman. “We have seen our pancakes consumed increase steadily each year and this year we are expecting to serve about 5,000 pancakes.”
But it’s the sausage that really draws the crowd. Back when the fund-raiser began, the club made the sausage themselves but because of the bulk now needed for the event, the group uses a local supplier.
“Our vendor packages the whole hog sausage under our very own ‘Rome Noon Optimist Club’ private label,” says McFry.
“Years ago, we used to do all the work ourselves over the course of three or four Saturdays leading up to the big day. Back then, we only made enough sausage to cook on the day of the breakfast and a modest amount to sell in bulk. Once we began selling in large bulk, we quickly realized that there wasn’t enough Saturdays to produce that kind of volume, especially from a group of volunteers.”
The club hopes to sell 2,600 packages of one-pound, whole hog sausage for $5 per pound. McFry says bulk sales have increased significantly over the years and this year’s goal of 2,600 pounds would be a record.
“Back when we made it ourselves, my father-in-law, Dr. Allen Scott, was the lead sausage dog. Allen kept us all organized and he had a systematic method for producing a delicious, high-quality, consistently tasting whole hog sausage each and every time,” says McFry.
“Our current vendor does an awesome job producing a very similar tasting whole hog sausage much like Allen’s recipe from back in the day.”
The Sausage Dogs’ method of cooking also has changed. In 2017, the club purchased five professional-grade propane gas griddle stations that speed up the process.
“When I joined back in 1998, we were cooking with charcoal, and that remained the same cooking method all the way until 2016,” says McFry. “Back then, we used a giant stainless-steel cooking service that was about five feet long and covered the width of one of the barbecue pits in Civic Center’s smoke house.
“We’d light the first eight bags of charcoal around 3 a.m. the day of the breakfast and start cooking shortly before 4 a.m. Over the course of the day, we’d use 25 or so large bags of charcoal. We’d usually finish up cooking and cleaning by 1 p.m. It was a hot, smoky, exhausting labor of love.
“In 2017, we revolutionized the way we cook. We purchased five professional-grade propane gas griddle stations and that has been a wonderful investment. Now, we fire up the griddles around 4 a.m. and are finished cooking, cleaning and breaking down the equipment by 10:30 a.m., and the foil-lined coolers keep the sausage plenty warm through our 12 p.m. breakfast close time.”
Breakfast details: The Rome Noon Optimist Club Pancake Breakfast will be Saturday, Nov. 23, from 6 a.m. until noon at the Rome Civic Center. Tickets are available in advance from Optimist members for $7 or at the door for $8. Sausage also is for sale by the pound for $5 and can be purchased in advance or at the door. Details