The Erie County Fair food stand sign says “baconade,” as in bacon lemonade. Two thoughts pop up, so close together they collide.
b) How gross?
Eating is the fair’s top attraction, 100 outlets mixing old favorites with outlandish attention-seeking newcomers. But how can you decide where to spend your finite financial and digestive resources?
Friday I toured the fair’s foodways looking for the new and unusual. My mission: Eat it, tell you what I think, go home and take a nap.
At Big Kahuna’s, I asked for the Southern fried chicken doughnut ($7). That’s a fried chicken breast on a split glazed doughnut, with pickle slices and chipotle mayonnaise.
I expected to hate it, but its sweet-savory-crunchy-tangy charms grew on me until I decided it should have been better. The chicken was well-fried, with good crust while moist inside. The doughnut was not warm, toasted or griddled, which would have helped its overall appeal.
At Gobblin’ Gourmet, I tried the deep fried giant gummy bear ($3). You can ask for your choice of colors. I would have said flavors, but once I bit into the semi-molten candy, I was reminded that color was more accurate. Sometimes artificial flavors are worse than none at all. It was covered with barely cooked batter the consistency of a wet flour tortilla, which all the powdered sugar in the world wasn’t going to save.
At the Eastern Pearl stand, an outpost of the Amherst restaurant, I ordered avocado fries ($6) and a Peking duck wrap ($5). The crunchy, stout crust kept the tender avocado from falling apart, but the avocado’s delicate green flavor shone through, even after spicy mayonnaise dip was applied. Still tasty. Plus, it grew on a tree at some point, making it a nutritional high point of the day.
The Peking duck wrap was griddled duck meat and sweet skin bundled up with cucumber and lots of cilantro. An exotic, crunchy handful that I wanted to love but ended up only liking. The duck was overwhelmed with hoisin, the Chinese answer to barbecue sauce, and next time I’d ask them to go light on it.
I’m not opposed to junk food – just bad junk food, whose experience cannot justify its calories. Deep fried garlic mashed potatoes on a stick ($5) was good junk food. (It’s a repeat at the fair, but it was new to me.) Cubes of seasoned mashed potatoes are battered, fried and skewered. Despite the sumo-sized calorie count, a seasoned mayonnaise dipping sauce is de rigueur. The textural contrast between crisp crust and lush potato held interest, and the rosemary and garlic mashed potatoes made me wish I could eat this in February, before I had to shovel my driveway.
Bison was available at the Maple Ridge Bison Ranch burger stand, but I opted for elk ($8.50). Since I wanted to taste the meat, and compare it to beef, I kept the toppings minimal, just a wisp of mustard. It called venison to mind, beef with a liver note. Despite elk’s leanness, the patty was cooked well, and not dried out. If you’re looking for a relatively healthy burger, try elk. You can still pile on cheese, if that’s your desire, and bacon.
Why not bacon? That should have been the fair’s slogan this year.
A Baconana ($5) from the frozen banana stand started out disappointingly tasteless, but when the banana and my tongue thawed a little I appreciated the smoky-salty finish of crispy bacon pressed into its chocolate coating.
At Signature Dog, the mac and cheese dog with bacon ($4) was good junk food. A crisp-skinned griddled Nathan’s dog, plus Velveeta-y macaroni and crispy bacon made the sort of snack that would have been especially glorious after some quality time in the beer tent.
I briefly considered the alligator and shark skewers at Chester’s Gators and Taters before passing over them as no longer weird enough. Their new Dogzilla ($8), a corndog with bacon in the batter, was a surprise hit. The sweet corncake, crunchy bacon bits and a core of smoky hot dog reminded me favorably of a pancake breakfast.
We found the baconade ($5) at G’s Mobile Kitchen. I know it contained bacon because I saw cooked bacon dropped into big glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade. I couldn’t tell by the taste, except for some salt.
I started out wondering if baconade could be anything but gross. I walked away wondering how to make a better baconades that might work. Smoke the lemons?
Why not bacon?