In 1853, 4,000 people attended a four-day celebration of North Carolina's agriculture, agribusiness, arts, crafts, and culture. Since then the State Fair has morphed into a two-week-long event that hosts nearly a million people. A long time has passed since 1853, as the State Fair has become more like a gastronomical Tough Mudder than a celebration of North Carolina. If you can batter and deep fry it, you can eat it at the State Fair. Consuming each dish is like earning a merit badge from the Eagle Scouts.
Nothing is more NC than a spoonful of Sweet Potato Butter.
At the end of the tent were the legendary Carolina Packers, featuring the red classics, Brightleaf hot dogs and their new all-beef dog. After our palates were properly stimulated by free samples, we ventured out to take on the Fair.
|Deep fried Samoas/Caramel Delights|
Strolling down the midway, a bright green sign called me like a Siren. Without a word I started to wander away from Sara and my in-laws, each step getting closer to the sign that stated "Deep Fried Girl Scout Cookies."
Fresh out of the sizzling oil, the deep fried Caramel Delights were steaming hot. Covered in funnel cake, on the inside the chocolate and caramel were oozing while the cookie in the middle remained firm. Combined with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and sprinkled powdered sugar, these little grenades of calories smack you in the face with sweetness.
Sara was in search for gluten free snacks and hit the jack pot with ribbon fries.
Ribbon fries are a continuous string of spiral cut potatoes, deep fried, and salted. Most of the fries were crunchy and salty, however, the stack of potatoes began to get soggy towards the middle. And while the ribbon fries themselves were gluten free, the vendor didn't have a separate fryer or prep area, thus risking cross contamination of gluten.
While walking around and trying to work off the consumed mountain of grease, another station of free treats appeared. The NC Dairy tent had generous samples of artisan cheeses.
Smiling faces served the result of the dairy farmers' hard work and dedication. The servers were eager to answer any questions and allow you to sample any cheeses. It was a welcom intermission from the deep fried bonanza.
As fate would have it, moments after we gazed upon boulder sized pumpkins did we find the next dish to devour.
|Deep Fried Pumpkin Pie|
While the catalog of fried treats at the State Fair has been expanding, everyone has come to realize that deep frying random lunchroom snacks is a gimmick. A fun gimmick, yes, but nevertheless, no one created a deep fried butter because of the culinary good it does to the world. It makes money for the vendor and turns the eater into the new Andrew Zimmern.
And while most deep fried treats just taste of funnel cake, the deep fried pumpkin pie actually worked for me. Hot crispy funnel cake outside introduced the cool soft pumpkin fulling inside. Typically overly spiced store brought pumpkin pie was mellowed by the batter and whipped cream. Even the presentation was able to impress me with a candy pumpkin and cinnamon sprinkled whipped cream.
Unfortunately for Sara, as I feasted on deep fried goodness she was forced to wait to find another gluten free possibility. In the middle of all the action, across from Dorton Arena, is a row of restaurants always located on the fairgrounds. They are constantly playing pre-recorded advertisements over their PA system, trying to tempt people with promises of fresh made biscuits and mouth watering pie. At the end of the row sits the Westover United Methodist Church food booth. Sara's bunless Brightleaf chili dog was as good as the church's volunteers. Hospitable and attentive, the volunteers zipped around the small dining space refilling drinks, taking trash, and cleaning tables.
While my inlaws and wife were starting to fade in both energy and appetite, I still hungered for more.
Adding another notch to my deep fried belt, I was excited to taste the deep fried cinnamon buns. Though the cinnamon bun dough remained a bit undone on the inside and all together an unmemorable, I was still happy to say I've had it.
Always found between the turnstiles and the pig races is a pretzel stand greeting guests as they enter. It provides a final temptation for folks as they leave. Finally after four hours, tons of walking, and my inlaws' indigestion, we were saying goodbye to the State Fair. Yet I was still hungry. In hopes of quenching my hunger, I went with a chili pretzel dog. Thinking that somehow the pretzel stand introduced the chili inside the pretzel dog, I was disappointed to find out it was just a cup of nacho chili. The pretzel dog had be hanging in front of the stand for an undetermined amount of time which reflected in its taste, probably not the best way to end my 2012 State Fair experience.
At least there is always next year, and always new things to