• Adventures in Indiana State Fair Food 2011

    I was amused to read many of my favorite bloggers and journalists note with surprise the food seen at Iowa’s state fair a week or two ago. The shock! The horror! Deep fried butter!

    Please. Deep fried butter is so 2010. I laugh at deep fried butter. Let’s just get it out of the way. Here’s deep fried butter:

    That’s nothing. It’s what we let the tourists see. Come, join me now, and let a true Midwesterner (for 8 years at least) take you on a culinary voyage unlike any other. Let me show you the wonders of the 2011 Indiana State Fair food. Full post, and lots of pictures (click to enlarge), after the break.

    To start, let me introduce my crew:

    That’s Jacob (9 1/2), Noah (7 1/2), and Sydney (5). They’re not squinting because they’re looking into the sun. They’re just blinded by the awesome beauty of that which is about to befall them. My wife, Aimee, refused to be in this picture because she wants plausible deniability for what you’re about to see. I kid you not, if asked, she will declare she didn’t eat any of this stuff. She’s lying.

    When we go to the state fair, we don’t go on any rides. That’s for chumps. We play no games. We may see an animal (if I can convince Aimee to suffer the smell for a few minutes). We see no shows,we watch no exhibitions, and we purchase no souveniers. We’re professionals; we’re there to eat.

    The first thing I saw this year on the main drag looked almost healthy. So I took a pic:

    The “fresh” is what threw me off. I really thought this said “Fresh Dried Fruit”. But I was wrong. It’s fried, of course. We had to know more. So I went up and asked the kid working the fryer what kind of “fresh” fruit they were preparing. He looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, “Dude, it’s fruit”:

    To his credit, once you take the fruit, coat it, deep fry it, and cover it with chocolate and powdered sugar, does it really matter what kind it was? We passed.

    To placate my wife, we permit her to make the first choice. Every year, she chooses the “dairy barn”. We allow her to delude herself that the “freshness” of the cheese makes it somehow more healthy. She bought mozzerella sticks and a grilled cheese:

    I wish you could see the disdain my boys are showing as they pose for this picture. They’re embarrassed for their mother that they have to pose with food that you could get at TGI Friday’s. A true Hoosier would have ordered this:

    Now that’s dairy. Someday my kids will understand that there are things you do for Mom so that she doesn’t realize your next stop is this:

    That’s a doughnut burger. They take a Krispy Kreme and put it on the griddle. Then they take a bacon cheeseburger and put it on top. No veggies for us. Of course, it’s topped with another Krispy Kreme. Noah, who has the most discriminating palate in the family, loved this. Aimee will deny liking this, but she darn well tried it. What makes the Indiana State Fair better than any other food adventure you can think of, though, is that the doughnut burger was pretty much the healthiest thing offered at the grill. Look:

    There’s a French Toast Burger, with syrup of course. There’s a Chicken “Eggo” which involved a fried chicken breast, bacon, unidentifiable sauce, and a couple of fried eggs. There was even something called a “Garbage Burger” which the octogenarian woman ahead of me in line ordered. When I asked her what comes on a Garbage burger, she snapped at me, “Everything!”

    But only an amateur would stop there:

    That’s an “Ice Cream Burger”. Seriously, I did not Photoshop that. Jacob debated asking for this, but realized this might push Mom over the edge. So he passed. He’s a smart boy.

    After the doughnut burger, we felt like a little dessert. So we moseyed over to our favorite deep fried treats cart and ordered the Candy Combo from last year. This year we kicked in an extra buck for the deep fried butter, which you saw above. We also got two deep fried oreos, a deep fried Reeses Peanut Butter Cup:

    And a deep fried Snickers bar:

    My kids, who can bicker over anything, are almost perfect angels at this moment. They wait patiently, like baby birds, facing the sky, mouths open as I gently lower each deep fried treat into their mouths for a bite. It’s the quietest 5 minutes of my whole year.

    Here are some of the deep fried desserts we passed up, but others enjoyed:

    I tried deep fried twinkies in 2003. Terribly disappointing. Twinkies, unlike Snickers, do not fry well.

    Had this last year. Along with the butter, it’s a $1 add-on to the candy combo. We went with the butter. Maybe next year, cookie dough.

    Sometimes the deep fryer people try too hard. I think this is one of those times.

    As we moved down the main food drag, we came to a booth I had never seen before:

    You know what would make pizza even better? Rolling it into a ball, coating it, deep frying it, and covering it with garlic butter. What I really loved about this booth was their advertising. Evidently deep fried pizza balls can function equally as well as a meal OR a snack! Who knew? And I hope you don’t think you’re going to have just one:

    As Eddie “sez” you can get 6 for $5. Or why not make it an even dozen! Unfortunately, I think Eddie blew his entire marketing and advertising budget on his pizza balls, because this was their offered dessert:

    I’m not sure this is really a “sweet family treat”.

    After our candy, we wanted something salty. And there were so many options! For instance, who could resist this massive pile of meat on a fryer:

    Or, perhaps, you were thinking “if only someone could take a quarter pound of bologna, turn it into a burger, fry it, and then top it off with some nice onion or tomato.” You know where I’m going with this:

    But in the end, my troops know what they like, and it’s the magic potato thing. Let me set the stage for you. They take an enormous potato and hook it onto this wonderful machine that pares it into one long, twisty strip of potato. Then they fry it, put it on a plate, and cover it in nacho cheese. And, of course, bacon:

    My wife, who will deny this, also likes ketchup on the magic potato. That’s why there’s a little tub of it next to her there. I wish I could make you understand how quickly this thing disappeared. I’m embarrassed for us.

    A sane person would have stopped here. On fair day, though, my sanity goes away. So I turned to my kids and asked who was up for turkey leg. Noah and Sydney were in:









    You may think this isn’t a big deal, but I swear that turkey leg weighed at least 10 pounds. And, of all the things we ate, this one the one that got me. It was delicious, but I was slightly nauseous after.

    So we decided to take a break and ride the tractor around the track. That gives us a breather and allows us to see the stuff on the back side that we won’t get to. Right after we started, I was treated to this bit of irony:

    “Love your heart”? Not at the Indiana State Fair.

    This (below) is evidently for people who can’t get the sugar in fast enough and want to find a way to mainline it like heroin.

    And that’s when we got a call that some friends had arrived, so we went to join them. One is a hematologist/oncologist and the other is a transplant surgeon. I wanted them around just in case my arteries clogged. My friend the surgeon calls the deep fried oreos “arterioscleroreos”, which is funny if you’re in the medical field.

    They treated us to some pineapple whip, which is really good pineapple ice cream that the booth claimed has 20 calories per ounce. I think they’re lying. But, like a palate cleansing sorbet, this washed away the turkey nausea, and allowed us to resume eating. Sydney had been asking for an elephant ear all day:

    I think this is what you get if you took the deep fried oreo, took out the oreo, placed the “fry” on a plate, and covered it with cinnamon sugar. Fun fact! I learned that in Canada, they call these “beaver tails”.

    We finished things off with a funnel cake:

    This is what you get if you take the fry stuff and pour it slowly into the deep fryer. After you get it out, you cover it with so much powdered sugar that it melts into an icing-like substance. Again, gone in seconds.

    And that’s when we decided to call it. We started to head out, but this was worthy of note:

    I don’t know if Baskin Robbins actually was a “winner” of anything, or if they are just claiming a title, but let me walk you through how I imagine the B&R meeting about the state fair went. Mr. big shot B&R guy says, “Hey, I know we sell ice cream, and that’s already unhealthy and full of fat and sugar. But this is the Indiana State Fair. If we show up with “just” ice cream, they’ll laugh us back to the east coast. So I say let’s take a ridiculous amount of chocolate ice cream and smoosh it together with carmel ice cream, then deep fry it, and cover it with whipped cream and chocolate. Good?”

    That’s when someone else in the meeting said, “I don’t know. Maybe you better offer it in a waffle bowl in case someone wants more.”

    That’s it for 2011. I hope you come back in 2012. We do this just for you.

    My post on last week’s tragedy at the Indiana State Fair can be found here.

    • Pure gross, pure America. Gawd bless our larded behinds:)

      Also, the turkey does not looked like it was cooked enough. Could be why you felt sick.

    • Yum! It all sounds so good! You just can’t beat those major food groups – bacon, candy, and deep-fried foods – all put together!

      Now, a deep-fried snickers bar with some bacon on it would probably be awesome.

      You didn’t mention how the pizza balls were – didn’t you try those? (and yes, I DO think that rolling a pizza into a ball, deep-frying it, and coating it with garlic butter sounds like a GREAT idea. Just needs bacon).

    • OMG. Forwarded here from Marginal Revolution. You capture “fair food” beautifully.

    • And that is why the Midwest is not known for good food. You need more Italians out there.

      Cute kids.

    • I’m going to throw up now.

    • The Baskin-Robbins thing did win a contest. Here’s the srtory, complete with runners-up:


      The 2010 winner was, according to this video, the Garbage Burger:

      In 2009, it was deep fried pizza:

      I think that’s more than enough for you all.

    • you are awesome, and this is hilarious. I just hope and pray that you and your family did not actually eat all of that disgusting deep fried food.

      • We ate more than we should, but it’s a once a year thing. As I said, this is a service we provide; we suffer, so you don’t have to. 🙂

    • I gotta get outta here and back down South where reasonable people eat!

    • Born a Hoosier, I really appreciate this.


    • As a Scot for the land of the Deep Fried Mars Bar Love this! Must visit Indiana if I go to the States!

      Stuff your Vegetarian and Vegan misery-guts and especially Gillian Mc Keith and all dieticians. I like to ENJOY my food not suffer it!

    • And I was about to have lunch. but not now. Horrendous!

    • Home sick …
      … and soooo hungry

    • You forgot the deep fried green beans!

    • As a former food worker at the Indiana State Fair, I must congratulate you on your diverse selection of tasty treats. The category has exploded since the early nineties when I worked the fair.

      I do need to correct you about Elephant Ears and Funnel Cakes. An Elephant Ear is fried bread dough, while a Funnel Cake is fried cake batter. They are two entirely different tasty beasts.

      Thanks for posting about the fair and helping spur fond memories….

    • I passed on all the above but did get huge breakfast…sausage, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs and gravy. Ice cream at Hook’s Drug Historic Drug store and the obligatory corn dog. Visited the fair on first Friday and then 2 other timesafter the stage tragedy…this definitely put a heavy cloud over what is normally a happy adventure.

    • OMG. You are freaking hysterical!

    • Damn, that about made me puke ! What’s with that fry-it-all habit ? No wonder so many Americans are lard asses.

    • Funny and disgusting at the same time. Indiana vendors are certainly innovative! Is there nothing that can’t be fried? Surprised Michelle Obama has not put a stop to all state fairs!

    • Our local Orange County Fair (CA) offered Deep Fried Bacon. Lipitor and heart shock paddles were optional.

    • The two burning questions remain:
      (1) How the hell do you deep fry butter? (I may want to serve it at my next dinner party.)
      (2) How the hell do you eat it? (I need to know the correct silverware to provide. I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of my sophisticated guests.)

      • 1) I think they dip a cube of butter in cinnamon-sugar, then in batter. When they fry it, the butter mostly melts.

        2) With your hands, of course! I don’t think we used any utensils, other than toothpicks, all day.

    • Mon dieu! Quel horreur! There are not fried butter forks available, not even in the best stores? Not even (as dear Oscar might have said) for ready money? What is the world coming to?

      Eh bien,l for my upcoming Indiana State Fair theme dinner party, I shall (based on your experience) lay in a supply of silver-plated toothpicks. The people on my guest list are not worth of sterling.,

    • Or even “not worthy of sterling.”

      Proofreading de l’escalier.

    • Thanks for the tour of the fair. I’ve lived in Indy all my life and rarely go, but I love hearing the horror stories. 🙂 Two more contributions to your knowledge database: Did you know you can get fried mac’n’cheese at TGI Friday’s now? Or maybe it was a limited time engagement. You can buy it in the grocery store though in case you need a fix in six months. And BEAVER TAILS! Beaver tails are awesome, but it isn’t just a different name, they are slightly different — they have yeast and are thicker. At least the ones I’ve had are. Happy eating! (Just remember to see your cardiologist.)

    • This. Is. Brilliant. I thought the deep-fried Oreos I ate in New York one hot summer night were innovative, but this? THIS IS GENIUS.

      I hope one day I may join you on such an adventure. Oh, the tales we would tell.

    • I grew up in western Canada and we definitely call them “Elephant Ears” around these parts. We also called them “keikla”, because my grandmother is from Germany, and German was my mom and her siblings’ first language until they went to school. I’m pretty sure the “beaver tail” thing is an Eastern Canadian thing.

      • Beaver Tails are originally from Ottawa, and now they have stores all over the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and BC (I had one in Winnipeg, too, but I’m not sure if that one still exists). They have all sorts of toppings now, but my favourite is the Killaloe Sunrise, which is the original, I think. It has cinnamon and sugar and lemon. When I lived in Edmonton, I had an Elephant Ear with cinnamon and sugar during some festival, and it was almost the same thing, but it was missing the lemon. Luckily, the booth was serving fresh-squeezed lemonade, so I asked for an extra lemon wedge. The people at the booth thought I was crazy when I squeezed it over my Elephant Ear, but it makes all the difference.

    • You haven’t seen anything. Join us in Northern Indiana for a real fair food culinary adventure!

    • Now I REALLY regret not going to the fair. You had me at “fried pizza ball.”

    • Perfect recipe, i’ll give it a try together with my girl tonite. Hope i get it right! Cheers

    • Ya-ya’s Tomato Balls are deep-fried balls of tomato (kind of like a meatball). This is my #1 ISF food – they’re in front of the West Pavillion near the gift shop. They had them for the 2009 Signature Food Contest, and they’ve been coming back every since.

      Don’t forget the dill pickle popcorn (in front of the Pepsi Coliseum). Those are the two foods I look forward to all year!