It's time for the North Carolina State Fair! Between the State Fair and the Renaissance Fair, fall is one of the best times of the year. Once the weather breaks and the sweltering heat stops, it's time to eat to your heart's content, hit the rides until you feel sick, win some prizes, then start all over again. The newest feature at the website is that you can search for any of the rides/games/food that you want. That way you can build a map of all the places you want to go on your visit. If you are iPhone-inclined, they also have an app for that. Here are my favorite food finds from this year's fair:
We started the day light with an ear of roasted corn. The ears are roasted en masse until the husk is charred. They are served up plain or dipped in melted butter. Then you have your choice of various toppings, including but not limited to salt, pepper, lemon-pepper, poultry seasoning, Parmesan cheese, and mayonnaise. The corn tastes great and it may be one of the healthiest items you find at the fair, certainly the only one that came directly off a plant.
Chocolate-covered bacon was a big hit at last year's fair and it is back and as good as ever. The bacon itself is crisp and salty-sweet. It is dipped in a thick layer of good chocolate, then topped with sprinkles or other decorations. It is a little expensive for a single piece of bacon, but you won't be complaining once you bite through the chocolate shell. Just be sure to get your bacon from Steph's Strawberries as some of the other versions fall short on Steph's level of quality.
GGB of Raleigh has their first stand at the fair, selling the world's largest gummies. They are famous for their 5lb gummy bears and now offer a variety of other treats including a 3lb gummy worm that is about 2 feet long, gummy shot glasses, gummy tongues, and smaller 1lb gummy bears on sticks that come in about 10 flavors. Unfortunately, my stomach did not let me try these intriguing confections, but if you can find some friends to share, this would be a great novelty.
One of the most intriguing new offerings at this year's fair are Koolaid pickles. Before you gag at the thought, hear me out. The vendors take a jar of Mt. Olive bread'n'butter pickles, dump out the brine, and put in some red Koolaid. The outside of the pickles is a bright red color, but the interior of the pickle is that same odd shade of green. I've never been a fan of bread'n'butter pickles, but this version was actually quite tasty. The Koolaid sweetened the pickles up just a tad and made their flavor more interesting. If you're feeling adventurous (which you should be at the fair), buy a set of these pickles and see what you think. If all else fails, you can just throw them at one of the game stalls and see if you win a prize.
State Fairs from Texas to North Carolina are known for bringing the best and worst in fried foods. The Lone Star State takes the cake (or Twinkie) when it comes to fried food. Vendors compete for the best new fried food, inventing such odd offerings as fried Coca Cola, fried beer, and even fried butter. Many of these new ideas get to the NC State Fair, and the popular ones like fried Oreos become permanent parts of the menu.
Can a funnel cake be gourmet? Yes, yes it can. Funnel cakes have long been part of fairs. A batter is streamed into fry oil and allowed to cook until a puffed nest forms. Some vendors top them with a thick layer of powdered sugar. But the newest addition to this lineage is the gourmet funnel cake, coming in 6 flavors like apple and chocolate obsession (pictured above), which is a chocolate funnel cake topped with chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, powdered sugar, and whipped cream. It is truly decadent and very difficult to stop eating. One drawback of most funnel cakes is that after a few bites you're pretty much tired of the taste of fried batter, but these gourmet cakes keep you wanting more even after you've cleaned your paper plate.
The newest of the things-you-thought-they-would-never-fry category are the fried Chips Ahoy and the fried Honeybun. The Chips Ahoy, much like the fried Oreo, becomes much softer in the fryer, but it brings a lot less flavor than that chocolate cookie. All you end up with is a piece of fried batter surrounding some chocolate chips. The Honeybun, on the other hand, was marvelous. There is a lot of fried batter to get through with it, so it is best to split this behemoth. The Honeybun is heated in the frying process, making it taste absolutely delicious and wonderfully moist.
The last new item that is definitely worth mentioning was by far my favorite food at this year's fair. It is the *brace yourself* Krispie Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger. If it sounds gross, wait for it. Burger + bacon + random unnecessary toppings + cheese + 2 Krispie Kreme donuts = pure bliss. If you've ever had a McGriddle from McDonald's, this monster is very similar. It is mostly sweet with a bit of savory in the middle from the burger and cheese. The bacon unites it all (because let's face it, bacon is magical and can bring people together). Like many foods at the fair, I split this with a group of people, but this was the only food I was sad that I could only eat my share and not the entire thing. This burger was transcendentally wonderful and if you can't get to the fair to have one this year, you should make it at home.
The fair, overall, was a monumental success. Not only am I still an ace at the water-shooting games, but I went home feeling fully satisfied that I had eaten the best of this year's fair. If you live in the area and have time between now and Sunday, go to the fairgrounds. It does not matter if there are throngs of people. All that matters is that you have the chance to enjoy this unique slice of the American lifestyle.