This year I had a chance, for the first time ever, to go to the Mississippi State Fair. We did a lot of typical fair stuff – the kids rode potentially dangerous rides composed of old Erector sets, everybody but me saw the 29-inch-tall lady (she was real), and we all ate something deep-fried. Notice which activity I participated in. I was on a quest to find and try as many fried-and-on-a-stick items as possible. The more unique the better. Success was mine.
Before I give you the greasy details, let me re-iterate a principle I have … iterated … before. Moderation is good. I do not in any way desire to keep our fine state at the top of the obesity rankings. Some of the fried-ems I’m about to describe may make your arteries thicken just from reading their descriptions. Even I knew going in that if I ate every bite of everything I wanted to try, I’d be miserable afterwards, and an otherwise unique eating opportunity would be spoiled. So we did what our mamas taught us to do when we were three: we shared.
The first goodies out of the gate were savory - a tall mound of Saratoga Chips as an appetizer to a basket of battered and fried vegetables – we were all about starting healthy. The standard onion rings and mushrooms were present, but there were some surprise entries as well: florets of broccoli and cauliflower along with slices of zucchini that must have been hijacked from the 4-H exhibit -they were huge. This experience just proved that there are other ways to make veggies tasty besides smothering them with cheese or gravy.
Probably my least favorite of the savory foods was something called a Cajun Pistolet. This was new to me, so I conjured up my best high school French and asked the nice lady vendor to describe the “pist-o-lay.” I guess she did not have the same quality French teacher that I did – she answered that the “pist-o-lette” was a piece of French bread, deep fried and stuffed with a creamy crawfish sauce. Despite her linguistic challenges, she had me at “deep fried French bread.” Unfortunately, the three of us that had a bite declared it fair, but still chose to toss the last soggy bite and save the calories. (We’re doing all we can to help our fair city win the healthy hometown prize.) I’m willing to try another someday, but next time I want to know how long it has been sitting under “le heat lamp.”
On to the sweet stuff. At one of the several food trucks offering deep-fried candy bars, we met a lady who really did have an accent. As she was frying my Milky Way, I found out that she was from Eastern Europe - I asked if they had this kind of food in her country. She laughed with gusto and said, “No! And I can’t wait to get home and tell everyone that in America they deep fry the Snickers!” It’s so refreshing to know that we have something in our culture to share with the world. The Milky Way was tasty – everything a chocolate corn dog should be.
Most of the remaining sweet things we tried were at one food truck. We chose carefully. This truck had won awards for “Best Food on a Stick” and several other categories, so we knew we would be satisfied. We huddled our masses and pooled our money at this place and got three different things – one of them wasn’t even fried. (The healthy pattern continues.) The un-fried treat was a big piece of cheesecake dipped in a butterscotch coating– on a stick, of course. Chocolate and strawberry coatings were also available, and one of each would have been nice – but by now our heads were beginning to spin from the sugar. To continue the cheesecake theme, the next taste test was the fried cheesecake. It turned out to be kind of a cheesecake burrito, with a warm and creamy filling, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. We were beginning to understand why this lady had won awards. The most unique of the three amigos, and my eating buddy Spence’s favorite, was the deep-fried strawberry shortcake: a healthy chunk of shortcake, battered and fried and on a stick, covered with strawberries and whipped cream. This one had to be eaten fast before the strawberries made the batter soggy, but that was really no problem for the nine of us.
I’ve saved the best for last. We saw the booth of all booths as soon as we arrived at the midway. Only three of us (Spence, my son Jacob, and I) were brave enough to tackle this one. It was a small booth only offering one food, but the sign rose high above the others proclaiming what turned out to be my favorite food of the day: the Krispy Kreme Donut Burger. It was available dressed in a variety of ways, but we kept it simple: a beef patty and two thick slices of bacon, surrounded in sugary glory by two glazed Krispy Kremes just heated on the griddle. A lady we had never met before actually stood by and watched us take our first bites – she seemed to be astounded that such a thing existed, much less that someone would actually eat it. She had to wait a minute or two - for as one might imagine, this tower of deliciousness was pretty hot and a bit hard to manage architecturally. But it was worth the wait. Sweet and salty, soft and crunchy – all in one fantastic bite. It was a touchdown - and we should have gone for two.
As we decided to call it a day, we stopped by the free biscuit booth for a hot biscuit and syrup. This was a nice, hot, comfort food to complete the day’s culinary journey. After all this, it may seem as if there is nothing left to try, but oh, that would be so wrong. Stories have circulated in the deep-fried community about such delicacies as butter and pizza, and there are still a few candy bars yet to be added to the comparison chart.
Had we not been headed home for a dinner of homemade Guy Fieri-inspired chili, I would have surely surrendered to one last test of the palate, the Hot Beef Sundae.
Instead I washed everything down with my favorite stomach-settling cure - a large Coke Icee - and left looking forward to the next fair.