There will be more than 500 food options from 125 different vendors at the 178th Erie County Fair next month. Many of them will be dipped in batter, submerged in hot oil and cooked to a golden-brown finish.
But variety is the spice of life, and the choices set out in a preview of Fair foods on Thursday at the Hamburg Fairgrounds offered a glimpse into the food bonanza that admission to the Fair offers the citizens of Western New York.
The old standbys will return. Dough, sliced potatoes and maybe some butter will be fried. But some new items hoping to wow fairgoers include stuffed hot pepper mac and cheese, an Italian sausage lollipop and homemade kettle corn ice cream.
Sure, there are some healthy options. But let’s talk about the fun stuff first. “The Mall” on the Hamburg Fairgrounds is now the Erie County Fair Cooks! Kitchen & Shoppe, complete with a TV studio-style kitchen where chefs can cook for an audience eager to try out some culinary experiments for themselves.
Chef Scott Leggett from US Foods whipped up two items during the press conference on Thursday — crispy barbecue duck tacos and a steak-topped Indian curry slaw. The duck tacos featured an Indian curry slaw and roasted plum salsa, while the cucumber and wasabi salad featured pan-seared strip steak topped with a bit of kale and goat cheese vinaigrette.
Dishes like that are definitely worth visiting the Cooks! Kitchen for, especially if you’re looking for something a bit more discerning in your diet.
One new deep-fried option is Buffalo wing cheese from Yancey’s Fancy. It’s served on a stick and with a side of blue cheese dressing. How it compares to last year’s Best New Food at the Fair is up to you.
Last year the Deep Fried Bologna Bites from Mark’s Pizza and Sub took home top honors, but the fan voting lasts the first few days of the fair. Only you can honor the fry gods with your patronage.
Other new items at the Fair include crab stuffed mushroom pierogi from Babcia’s Pierogi and a lighter option in the balsamic bruschetta on rustic flatbread from Salvatore’s Pizza.
Mineo & Sapio paired its Italian sausage in a subtle but tasty new stuffed hot pepper mac & cheese, which has a nice heat to it but doesn’t overwhelm with its creaminess.
But Big G’s Concession might have the most intriguing new dish to many, a twist on the original hamburger recipe that includes a different protein.
The Famous Deer Burger Deluxe is made with venison and is surprisingly juicy despite being a leaner, healthier burger option. The original burger recipe they featured at last year’s fair had coffee hints, and this burger’s recipe mirrors that but is tweaked to balance out the deer flavor nicely. The deluxe burger is topped with coleslaw and barbecue sauce and, of course, is served with a side of fries.
Did you think we skipped out on new desserts? How dare you. How about Death By Chocolate by Taylor’s Doughboy? It’s a chocolate-based funnel cake topped with peanut butter, powdered sugar, chocolate fudge, whipped cream and mini chocolate chips. Then there’s the Nuttella, a doughnut made by Pizza Amore fried in ricotta batter and topped with Nutella.
And Polar Bear Ice Cream’s kettle corn ice cream is placed between two Krispy Kreme donuts and frozen before dipped in dark chocolate, rolled in popped kettle corn and drizzled with salty caramel and chocolate.
If all this sounds like too much for your diet, your best bet is to come for a “taste” on Monday, August 14. That’s when nearly 125 “taste-sized” portions of fair items like bison kabobs and barbecued gator sliders will be prepared. These portions will be $2 each for just a nibble of the more adventurous, or indulgent, items you want to try without remorse.
But if you REALLY want to pat yourself on your back for having restraint, or like the rest of us you’re just trying the best you can each and every day, the Cooks! Kitchen will host 60 different cooking events throughout the fair. Many of those are healthy events with welcoming names like “Kale Yeah!” and “Making the Most of Your Chicken Roast.”
Shaun O’Neale — winner of Fox’s MasterChef competition in 2016, will appear on August 12 and 13. Mr. Food’s Test Kitchen and chefs from around Western New York will also show off their skills in the kitchen, which the Erie County Agricultural Society hopes offers culinary options for people of all tastes.
And about that healthy stuff — more than 20 vendors are working with Independent Health to provide healthy options for the quitters out there who need a palate cleansing from all the fry batter and arterial mayhem. A chef’s salad or a pineapple/watermelon smoothie could help you salvage a day otherwise lost to the fried Oreos and Twinkies you wolfed down for breakfast. Ask and the Fair provides.
Also of note: No food vendors were impacted by last week’s tornado, and everyone at the Fair says the cleanup will be done by the time the fair opens. Thankfully, no fryers were harmed by the storm.
“The only thing we’ve lost is some shade,” said Fair CEO Dennis Lang. “We’ve lost about 50 trees.”
The 178th Erie County Fair opens on August 9. Bring some sunscreen. And an empty stomach.