When we launched Summer Madness two weeks ago, our aim was to get you to tell us the event you were most anticipating this summer in Western New York.
You have spoken. Loudly – and somewhat controversially.
The Erie County Fair in August was the runaway winner in a championship match-up over the Justin Timberlake concert July 9 in First Niagara Center. Those two events were left standing from an initial lineup of 34.
We do not pretend that the voting was scientific or even tightly controlled. And when the fair went up against the Queen of Heaven Carnival, the online poll remained active after voting was supposed to have been closed, making it appear that the carnival had won and leading to a handful of complaints and giving new meaning to the term “summer madness.” That gives us something to work on for next year.
But for this year, Gusto readers and voters have said that when it comes to summertime fun, there is nothing quite like the Erie County Fair. Read on as Food Editor Andrew Z. Galarneau writes about everything we love about the Erie County Fair.
By Andrew Z. Galarneau
Thousands of votes were cast to ordain the Erie County Fair as the top event of the summer in Western New York.
Those other events never really stood a chance. You might say it wasn’t a fair fight.
That’s because the Erie County Fair – the 175th edition will be held from Aug. 6 to 17 – had most of the other competitors’ points of interest covered, all in one spot on its Hamburg grounds.
Concerts? Got that. Justin Timberlake causes quite a stir in some circles, but despite his range, he can’t cover the Fair’s array of concerts from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to John Fogerty and Dierks Bentley. Dramatic performances? Shakespeare in Delaware Park is a legendary local production, but sometimes you’re in the mood to see a family of Chinese acrobats balanced on a bicycle.
Despite its bucolic agrarian roots, the Erie County Fair attracts a million people a year with events like the demolition derby in which outrageously decorated junkers with hazardous-sounding names are driven to cause maximum damage, until participants can hardly move.
You could say the same of another main attraction: the food. That’s always been my main point of interest at the Erie County Fair, which still celebrates real cooking, in pies, cupcakes and canned dill pickles.
When it comes to meat, you don’t just get a meal, you get an education. It gives you a window on the whole deal, the alpha to the omega. On one side, you can watch the 4-H programs’ hard-working teenagers curry-comb their beef cattle and sheep one last time, before Daisy and Sparkle and Process are sold off as meat animals. On the other side of the fairgrounds, grilled meat is sold by the stick.
Funnel cakes and corn dogs aren’t enough for the modern generation of extreme food thrill seekers. If you’ve spent the day lining up to enjoy the Scream-U-Silly ride, why stop hunting death-defying thrills at dinnertime? The Taste of Buffalo has a lot of delicious stuff to eat, but its Ferris wheel census is tragically low.
Deep-fried butter is just the beginning. Deep-fried bacon cinnamon rolls, deep-fried Kool-Aid and the bacon-wrapped-hot-dog-inside-a-doughnut make good old fried dough sound like an organic kale salad.
The deep-fried roll is long, and seems to get longer by the year. Oreos, Snickers bars, macaroni and cheese bites, all come battered and dunked in bubbling oil until golden brown. The Friolator-based arms race has given fairgoers access to high-caliber edibles to rival the Cro-Magnon swagger of the giant barbecued turkey leg. Deep-fried garlic mashed potatoes on a stick, anyone?
To be sure, there’s lots of food that doesn’t hit you like a steroid-bulked wrestler swan-diving off the top turnbuckle.
You can buy grilled chicken souvlaki or a Greek salad from the Mediterranean food stands. There’s pickles, baked potatoes and corn on the cob. There’s wood-fired pizza from stands like Pizza Amore. Chiavetta’s grilled chicken dinners remain one of the mainstays for veteran fairgoers.
If that doesn’t catch your fancy, well, smuggle in a couple of loaves of bread on the last day. Because there’s always the butter sculpture.