When Hasmik Fenerdjian heard there was going to be a meatball-tasting competition to raise money for Glendale's 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade float featuring an animatronic likeness of Meatball the Glendale bear, she knew she had to bring her meatball-loving niece to the Saturday affair.
Her niece, 9-year-old Shakeh Bogosyan, was surprised by the more than 1,000 meatballs spanning across several tables manned by local restaurants at Deukmejian Wilderness Park.
Although Shakeh liked many of the Italian delicacies on display, her favorite was the Angus beef meatball in traditional sauce from George's Cucina because it reminded her of her great-aunt's cooking.
"She's our own little meatball," Fenerdjian said teasingly.
Meatball the bear got his nickname after he was caught eating frozen Costco meatballs from a garage refrigerator in Glendale last year. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife twice transported him deep into the Angeles National Forest after his visits to local neighborhoods to snack on trash and dip in pools, but when he was spotted a third time, a warden transported him to an animal sanctuary in San Diego County called Lions, Tigers and Bears. The black bear has been there now for more than a year.
He's become such a local celebrity that city officials made him the star of Glendale's 100th entry into the Pasadena parade on New Year's Day.
The meatball competition, sponsored by the city of Glendale and the Crescenta Valley Weekly, aimed to raise money for the $150,000 float, which is mostly completed. Officials want to cover half of the costs with donations, but have so far only raised about $12,500.
Roughly 60 people tried meatballs from Casa Cordoba, Far Niente, Frank's Famous Kitchen and Catering, George's Cucina, Giuseppe's Pizzeria, Mario's Deli and the Wooden Fork at the event. The winner of the competition is set to be announced at an upcoming City Council meeting.
Bob Thompson, a volunteer with the city's Trail Safety Patrol said the tasting left him stuffed.
"It's the most meatballs I've ever had in one day," he said.
Laurie Espinosa of La Crescenta also enjoyed tasting the meatballs, but noticed one guest was missing: Glendale's beloved bear.
"I'm sure he'd like to be here taking part," she said. "He's the connoisseur of meatballs."
The bear still gets meatballs now and then at Lions, Tigers and Bears, but he also enjoys avocados and other foods.
Andrew Hughan, the California Fish and Wildlife spokesman who's been following Meatball's progress, flew in from Sacramento for the event, which he considered a prime venue to educate people how to live near wildlife.
"There's never going to be another Meatball," he said. "The circumstances where he kept coming back and the community being tuned in and a sanctuary being willing to take him won't present themselves again."