BY NEVA WARREN
In the children’s movie Charlotte’s Web, there is a particular scene in which the barnyard rat gets a gander at all the foods left on the ground at the fair.
“This fair is a rat’s paradise,” Templeton the rat said. “This will be a night to remember.”
This was the scene playing in my head as I entered the gates on a hot and packed day at the Florida State Fair with the sun beating down on me. In my hand, my notepad and pen. In my stomach, nothing.
Each food item will be scored on a scale of 1 to 5 (i.e., fried butter would be a 5/5 on the scale because even though the concept is gross, it tastes delicious; chopped onions in a cup would be a 0/5 because it is entirely gross and not delicious at all).
First, I stopped by a brightly colored little tin box called “Pronto Dogs.” Since I judge my food on how fast it can get from the cook to my tummy, I appreciated their efficiency. They gave me a sample of their corndogs, and I was walking away from the window within 30 seconds of deciding to patronize this establishment.
This gritty, greasy treat was worth exactly zero dollars. Its bland, grainy texture and cool inside made me glad I didn’t shell out any money to gag on the sweet corn batter.
Deep fried cookie dough
I saw a sign that said “Deep Fried Funnel Cakes” and knew this place was for me. On the outside of their food truck, it advertised their ability to fry nearly anything, including butter, Pepsi and French fries. (The sign said Deep Fried Fries and I wasn’t exactly sure how that cooking process would go.) Although this was the only fair food that didn’t contribute a sample, my choice of deep fried cookie dough (on a stick, because duh) was a measly $6.
Before I knew it I was knee-deep in fried cookie dough deliciousness. This was truly an experience. For the first time in my life, I felt true love in my heart and I knew that I wanted to marry this cookie dough on a stick. Powdered sugar cascaded down my shirt but I forgave the cookie dough because that’s what love is. I am salivating just remembering this food. “Ten out of 10,” I mumbled through my sugary, chocolate smeared face.
Next, we spotted a sign that said “Wisconsin Cheese, and below that, “Hot-N-Tasty.” Perfect! They were kind enough to give us a sample of their “cheddar nuggets” and I set my leftover fried cookie dough down (what, do you think I threw the rest away like that nasty corn dog?).
I took a big ole bite. My mouth was filled with the sticky, rich taste of semi-melted batter-covered cheese. It was pretty good cheese, though. Thinking about the sugar and cholesterol now coursing through my veins, I heard the voice of Seth Macfarlane (in the famed “A Million Ways to Die in the West”) say, “People die at the fair!”
After a bit of walking and being turned down by a few other establishments (can’t say I’ve ever been rejected by a man selling roasted corn before, but now I have) for free samples, we came upon a psychedelic-looking stand called “Totally Fried.” They kindly offered me a fried Oreo cookie (a very popular item at the fair), and I bravely added a bite to my currently tumultuous tummy.
I wrote in my notes, “Sweet, sweet, sweet!” It was by far the sweetest thing I’ve ever eaten, and mind you, I had fried cookie dough in my mouth not 10 minutes earlier. It had none of the hard crunch characteristics of an unfried Oreo, and was just completely soft and sticky. Like eating yummy melted playdough.
Chocolate covered bacon
We were nearing the other end of the fair when I saw the sign. “Chocolate Covered Bacon.” It beckoned to me. I do not like bacon, but I knew I needed to grit my teeth and do my journalistic duty. After all, the line was longer than any of the previous food trucks. This place was called “Fresh Sizzling Glazed Bacon,” so you know it’s owned by someone who’s a little too descriptive (no, I didn’t design the food truck). They gave me a chocolate covered slice of bacon, woven back and forth on the kabob stick like modern art, or a lamp at IKEA. I took the fateful bite.
OK, this one was really bad. It was tough, and cold, and bacon-savory while also managing to be bittersweet. It was crunchy and chewy and interrupted by strings of fat. After you bit past the dark chocolate color, the inside was a brown not unlike the carpet in an old den. I asked my photographer, Julia Albini, if she wanted a bite before I threw it away.
“That’s pretty good!” she said. The psychiatric tests aren’t back yet.
Satisfied with my five fair food groups (corn dog, sugar, cheese, fried candy, and bacon), I waddled back down the fair’s grandstand. I tried to belch quietly so as not to offend the dainty Albini. I was bloated, covered in grease and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I’m surprised nobody tried to put me on a stick and sell me. In the end, like Templeton, my belly swished back and forth with the smorgasbord of garbage food I consumed, but on the way home I felt gratified fulfillment rising in my chest.
Oh, wait, no, that’s not fulfillment, that’s nausea, oh my god, can we pull over?