When Erie County Fair organizers set out to develop a list of attractions for the summer event, they’ve long worked on arranging a slate of musical acts and crowd-pleasing thrill shows.
In recent years, though, the fair has focused on another source of chills and spills: eats and drinks native to its own midway.
“Food is the number one reason people come to the Erie County Fair,” said spokesman Marty Biniasz. “We’ve made a calculated effort to seize on that fact.”
On Tuesday, fair officials announced the new food items for its 176th edition, Aug. 12 to 23. The 20 additions include:
• Deep Fried Chicken Wing Dip, an invention of Diventuri Concessions, which brought the fair deep fried mashed potatoes on a stick. The new treat uses Frank’s Red Hot sauce, chicken and cream cheese, tucked into a wrapper and fried to a golden brown.
• Stuffed Texas Toast from Chiavetta’s Catering Service, which brought the fair its signature barbecue chicken dinners, now carried out by three vendors. The new item is two thick slices of Texas toast stuffed with smoked pork, cheddar cheese, fresh sliced sweet onions and sweet pickle sauce, toasted over charcoal.
• The fair’s pizza tradition continues with the debut of the Deep Fried Pizza Cone from Dave Pierri of Pizza Amore on Grand Island. Traditional pizza dough and ingredients are transformed into what’s essentially a cone-shaped calzone stuffed with a variety of ingredients, whether savory (pepperoni and mozzarella) or sweet (a s’mores version with marshmallow and chocolate).
•The Bacon Funnel Cake on a Stick, from Taylor’s Doughboy, is a strip of bacon on a stick dipped into funnel cake batter, fried, and topped with homemade maple icing and powdered sugar.
“Every year, we evaluate every stand, the quality, presentations and taste of the food, new ideas,” said Jeffrey Horbowicz, Erie County Fair concessions manager, who oversees more than 120 stands run by more than 70 concessionaires. “Some fail that evaluation. That opens space for new vendors and new ideas.”
To inspire creativity from concessionaires, the fair honors popular items, voted on by fairgoers. The fair also started its Taste of the Fair night, set for Aug. 20 this year. Bites of new food items are available for $2, lowering the price of taking a chance. “If you want to add a new item to your menu, we would like you to debut it at the $2 Taste of the Fair,” Horbowicz said. “If it does very well, we’ll let you put it on your menu.”
One thing has never changed: People want fair food at the fair, Horbowicz said. “I had two stands that were serving chicken wings, and they died,” he said. “We’re a chicken wing city, but when people go to the fair, they’re not coming for chicken wings – they want something different.”
Finding a novel taste sensation at the fair isn’t just a newfangled notion, said Biniasz. “Many people had their first taste of pizza, after World War II, at the fair,” he noted.
“We want to celebrate fair food. We really want to grow the whole food culture,” said Biniasz. “We’ve always had a food culture here, but we’ve re-ignited it, we’re capitalizing on it, and it’ll be a major part of our marketing from now on.”