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Dunbar's annual Critter Dinner helps the needy

DUNBAR, W.Va. -- Boy Scouts Ethan Dawson and Isaiah Thompson were seated atop the turret of an M-41 army tank at the National Guard armory in Dunbar on Saturday, styrofoam plates loaded up with wild game perched precariously across their knees.

Their verdict on the unusual food?

"It's amazing," said Thompson. "Especially when you're sitting on top of a tank."

Dawson and Thompson were among dozens of volunteers helping out with Dunbar's annual Critter Dinner on Saturday. More than 1,000 people were expected to attend the dinner and sample wild animal dishes in what has become a local tradition.

Aaron Settle, Dunbar recreation director, said the critter dinner was started in 1959 as a way for local hunters to share meat. Over the years the event became more organized - and regulated - until today some of the fare has to be trucked in.

"Some of the food is so exotic we have to order out," Settle conceded.

Menu items included fried trout, frogs legs, roast elk and pig, reindeer sausage, wild boar, quail, water buffalo chili and stews made of elk and 'possum. Admission was by donation of non-perishable food items.

"We take the food that we collect and it stocks our Dunbar food pantry," Settle said. "It's a way to give back to the community."

He said a state grant helps pay for the food for the yearly event.

Diners began lining up outside the armory at 9:30 a.m., hours before the Critter Dinner was scheduled to begin. They braved the line to be served cafeteria-style before sitting at long tables as oldies music from local band Don Gibson & the Velvetones filled the air. There were even Critter Dinner T-shirts available.

Settle, who got to sample much of the food beforehand, said alligator was his favorite. But he also liked the quail and the buffalo stew.

Alligator was among the favorites at the dinner. Thompson said he liked the exotic food, as did Aaron Riley, who came to the critter dinner with his wife, Angie and sons Parker and Carson, aged two and five.

The Rileys, from St. Albans, said it was their second year visiting the Critter Dinner.

 "The Elk was good," said Angie, while Carson whispered in his mother's ear that he was partial to the fried trout. Parker wasn't saying much.

Food was cooked on large grills outside the armory, tended by yet more volunteers. Sam Gasaway stood by a steaming cauldron early in the day, scooping water buffalo chili into serving pans with a teflon-coated pot.

"I'm running for city council, so I kind of volunteered," he said, pushing a cart loaded up with serving pans toward the back door of the armory.

"All these guys out here do all the cooking. I'm just the physical labor."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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