Having grown up in Minnesota, the state fair was about as ingrained in our local culture as hockey and Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. A staple at the Minnesota “get-together” and most other state and county fairs is deep fried food.
As a Wyoming transplant I decided to bridge personal heritage with my local culture by sampling the many deep fried foods offered at the Park County Fair in Powell last week.
Setting out to eat at the fair is a lot like being a kid in a candy store. Even if one were to try, the chances of pulling off a healthy meal are slim. My challenge gave an obvious pass in that regard but my task was difficult for other reasons.
Stuffing grease, batter and sugar into one’s stomach is already enough challenge to one’s arteries, but when that food is submerged in cooking oil it adds a whole other layer of consciousness, or lack thereof.
Your Heart’s Desire, a fair stand operation from California, specializes in a wide selection of deep fried foods ranging from Oreos to caramelized apples to butter.
“The deep-fried butter is the highlight in Powell,” cook Candace Turner said. “People are raving about that.”
The stand did not post the total calories for this “dish” or any other and perhaps that’s for the best.
The butter came presented as a brown crusted orb with a stick protruding out of the bottom. Honey dipping sauce came along for the ride.
Submerging my teeth into the butter ball, I was overwhelmed with a gooey, sugary mess, not unlike an overly-buttered piece of pancake. Like its nutritional content, the inside of this concoction is hollow, aside from the original slab of butter within, partially floating in doughy goo.
Turner, who hails from South Africa, spends each summer travelling to fairs across the country, surrounded by carnival lights, hot cookers and wafting grease. She said nothing compares to this hearty slice of Americana.
“It’s awesome. You can’t find anything like this anywhere else,” she said.
George Powell brought his Colorado Grill to the fairgrounds to serve a variety of traditional grilled food and deep-fried fare. Among the items on his menu I found most eye-catching – the Baconator.
The Baconator, a ribbon chips dish more resembling a castle, is stacked sky high with potato chip turrets, melted cheddar cheese moats, and bacon bits and jalapenos guarding the perimeter. Sifting through it proved to be a messy endeavor as more than a few napkins were used.
Its taste recouped any losses from stained clothing, as the combination of crunch and salt provided a medieval gala to my taste buds, but I wished for more bacon and fewer chips, with towers still standing upon being tossed into the trash.
Even stranger than the dish, Powell uses a drill, jerry-rigged with potato peeler attached, to spindle off potato skin later turned to chips. The machine more closely resembled an instrument of torture than any cooking device.
“My old boss came up with it,” Powell said with a smile. “I’m not sure how he thought of it.”
Powell also dished up funnel cakes, a better known deep-fried staple that provided a hearty sweetener that may not have quenched, but did distract from the peppers still sizzling in mouth.
I left the Grill and found myself ambling down the midway toward the Mack daddy of all deep-fried foods, the Donut Burger, cooked by Country Grill, based in Powell.
A Donut Burger is not quite an undertaking as some may imagine. A small glazed doughnut is split into half to form each end of the burger’s bun. The bun is then pressed into the burger to create a Texas toast, grilled sandwich-like feel.
Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the dish that balances out the caloric intake. Topped with barbecue sauce and a well-cooked patty, an interesting combination of savory and sweet flavors crossed my palette. The burger coalesced with the glazing and sauce as it melted around, providing a burger experience unlike any I had ever had before. Although strange, it worked.
“Everybody’s favorite is the Donut Burger,” Jordin Carter, a Country Grill employee, said. “They always say, ‘That was delicious, I’m going to tell everybody about that.’”
And tell I did, to anyone who would listen to me before becoming too disgusted at the thought of a sugary hamburger.
But you can’t knock it until you try it.
As much as it is a novelty, the Donut Burger was the only deep-fried dish I would return to in the future. That future may be long away, however, as my stomach is still recovering from the deep-fried beating it experienced at the fairgrounds.
Once returning home I took a midday nap, my sugar-coated dreams filled with crispy castles, crusted golf balls and Ring Around the Rosie hamburger dances.