Sunday, October 18, 2009

Food Finds at the NC State Fair

Despite the dreary weather today, we had "a whole lotta happy" at the NC State Fair today, and enjoyed the exhibits, crafts, animals, sights, sounds & smells, and of course the FOOD (or at least some of it). Here are some tasty food finds, and some disappointments, and some stuff we didn't try but thought deserved mention.

*The apple "shacks" by the bluegrass bandstand & blacksmith exhibition: The one closest to the blacksmith has fresh apple cider, hot and cold. The apple place closest to the bandstand & the John Deere Tractor ice cream (which is pretty good) has old-fashioned fried apple pies (the ones that look like half-moons), apple dumplings, apple fritters and fresh apple "chips" (fresh apple wedges served with caramel dipping sauce). There's another apple stand near the livestock barns that serves fried apple fritters, and those are also quite good.

*The gumbo at the Ragin' Cajun wasn't spicy hot, but it was surprisingly flavorful and definitely filling, served over white rice with a hunk of bread. Definitely hit the spot on a cold, rainy day.

*The San Francisco Bread Bowl soups are excellent on a cold day, and are served in large a sourdough bread bowl. I had the New England clam chowder, but you can also get beef vegetable, broccoli cheese, chicken soup, chili, pinto beans, etc.

*The homemade ham biscuits at the Cary United Methodist Church restaurant are delicious. Soft, tender, buttery biscuits with plenty of savory country ham that's NOT dried out or overly salty.

*The strudel from the bakery stand near the pig races is sweet & flaky, oozing with fruit filling, and big enough to share. We had blueberry, and they also have apple & cherry. I've heard the eclairs are phenomenal, but I didn't try one.

*The fried tilapia sandwich from the "Fresh Fish" stand across from the Dorton Arena waterfall is cooked to order, always fresh & flaky, perfectly cooked so that the breading is crunchy but not greasy. I like it with lots of Texas Pete Hot Sauce and tartar sauce. Their sweet potato fries are also good, served with a sprinkling of salt and cinnamon sugar.

*The ice cream from the NC State booth is worth the wait in line. The new Java Bean flavor is awesome: Coffee ice cream with chocolate covered espresso beans, 3 huge scoops!

*Every year I get a blooming onion (or collossal blossom or whatever the vendor calls their version). And every year, regardless of which stand I get it from, it never lives up to expectations. Lots of grease, not enough flavor in the breading (and usually the breading falls off the onion).

*Al's Fries are overhyped, IMHO. The batch we got was undercooked and greasy. Admittedly, there are two Al's Fries stands. Maybe we stopped at the wrong one...

*The coffee everywhere is generally flavorless and weak -- EXCEPT at the cinnamon roll stand by the Jim Graham building. That was full-flavored, freshly brewed and appropriately strong without being harsh.

*Fudge. Can't go wrong with any of it, methinks! I'm partial to the all-natural Amish fudge.

*Roast corn from the stand near the Village of Yesteryear. The best I've tried at the fair.

*Lots of weird deep-fried stuff, including: Deep-fried oreos, twinkies, Ho-Hos, pecan pie, cheesecake, candy bars, cheese, fruits, veggies, bacon (yes, breaded & deep-fried), even corn on the cob is battered & deep-fried. Couldn't find any deep-fried butter, however, and no fried Coke this year.

*Maple cotton candy. Much better than the little-kid pink or blue sugar stuff.

*Free hushpuppies, from the grist mill or in the exhibit hall. Always fresh, but often long lines.

*For serious chileheads, try the habanero beef jerky at the end of one of the exhibit halls. The less-fiery sweet & spicy jerky is pretty good, and the savory Western beef jerky has a nice black-pepper bite. Not much other hot & spicy food at the fair, but hey, they have chocolate covered bacon (and no, I didn't try it).

*Party In A Pita (yes, that's the name) has decent Lebanese food, although I haven't had it this year yet. If you want to eat healthy, that's the place. Will probably get it on Wednesday night when we go back to the fair, for the fireworks and more fair food.

Zestfully yours,

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