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10 foods to try at the fair

If you’ve ever gotten hungry at the words Erie County Fair, you know where to start looking for your favorite bites.

Beyond the usual suspects, cotton candy and sausages and fried dough, what’s worth trying? Five Buffalo News food scouts, and one food editor, fanned out across the sprawling campus on opening day looking for answers.

After documenting about 80 items on Twitter, marked with the hashtag #ecfare, here are 10 of our top recommendations.

Bacon s’mores. Bubba’s Bacon successfully melds a campfire treat with smoky, salty pork. A 4-ounce bacon slice grilled with maple syrup, dunked in chocolate, marshmallow fluff and showered in graham cracker crumbs, turns into a salty-sweet exclamation point on a stick ($5).

Fried gummy bears. The idea of gummy bears dunked in batter and deep-fried sounds gross. When I tried one, though, I was shocked to be reminded of bite-sized warm fruit pies, albeit with artificially flavored filling. Gobblin’ Gourmet won Samantha Christmann’s favor with a black cherry version based on a giant gummy bearlike figure custom-made at the stand ($4 for two).

Lemonade. Tropic Love dominates upscale coolers by coring out a fresh pineapple, blending the fruit with ice, and pouring it back into the pineapple shell with a straw and umbrella. It’s not only a refreshing treat for a hot day on the midway, it’s fun to take a selfie with one ($10).

Chicken pierogi. This year, Babcia’s Pierogis added a blue ribbon chicken pierogi that’s essentially a little deep-fried pot pie stuffed with chicken dinner. “Topped with a spicy cream sauce and a few ‘ribbons’ of purple cabbage,” Michael Flatt noted, “Babcia’s offers an aesthetically pleasing dish that manages to be both small and sumptuous” ($6).

Fried avocados. Vegetarians should note that the fair offers more fried vegetables than ever. At Eastern Pearl, avocados are cut in wedges, crumb-coated and fried to a crisp. “These crunchy-creamy avocado spears are immensely flavorful, especially when dipped in Eastern Pearl’s sweet cream sauce,” Flatt said ($6).

Feta-stuffed gyro. New this year from Authentic Greek Gyros, the iconic blue-and-white stand with the grilled Greek chow, this gyro won Lizz Schumer’s nod. Spiced meat stuffed with salty feta is “grilled to charred perfection,” she said, “and served either on a pita or a plate with veggies.” (She’d go with the pita.)

Fried macaroni and cheese bites. How would you improve macaroni and cheese at the fair? All together now: deep fry it. Fried macaroni and cheese bites from the Deep Fried Garlic Mashed Potatoes stand are “Doritos-shaped bites of blue-box noodles,” Schumer said, “with the crispy outsides mimicking the crumb-topped edges of the pan we all fight over at grandma’s house” ($6).

Indian Taco. Veteran fairgoer Steve Cichon offered the Indian taco at Nya:Weh Village Cafe. This has dessert and entree elements in one, and won’t leave you hungry. The frybread base, described to me as “like Indian fried dough,” was thicker and a bit less greasy than the average midway fried dough – but just as tasty. With the standard taco ingredients – seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomato, sour cream – it’s a familiar-yet-still “fair special” entrée ($8).

Nick Charlap’s Cashew Caramel Crunch ice cream. Of all the sweets Cresonia Hsieh tried, she was smitten by this ice cream treat. “If you like it crunchy and smooth, and sweet and salty, then this is the way to go,” she said. Vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramel and studded with cashew pieces, stood out as a “welcome treat on a hot summer day.”

The Man’s Sandwich. Bacon can certainly be overdone, but my favorite bite of the fair came, once again, via crispy smoked pork belly, courtesy of Bubba’s Bacon. The name is shrugworthy, but the Man’s Sandwich, a toasted cheese sandwich covered completely in a crispy bacon jacket, made me wish we were alone ($10).

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