The marathon is over. And by marathon I mean 11 days of fair. We’re now four days removed from the last day of the fair (and our last visit) and I’ve pulled myself together enough to write one final blog post. Watching the Olympics over the past week I’ve realized the fair really is like a marathon, you’ve got to pace yourself and you’ve got to be ready for it. You don’t prepare for a marathon by sitting on the couch and you don’t prepare for the fair by sitting on the couch either (but you totally could; which is why the fair is better than a marathon hands down, no debate, all day every day). Unfortunately, this marathon left me with weight gain, mild bouts of narcolepsy, and what can only be described as “food-on-a-stick-elbow.” All worth it – obviously.
Anyway, it was hard to top the excitement (and deliciousness) of the Sporkies but we still hadn’t had enough fair so here are a few more highlights from days 3 and 4:
Chocolate Dipped Crullers on a Stick (from Grebes). Fun fact, Crullers were mentioned in the opening scenes of The Wizard of Oz and may have been a metaphor for a Tornado due to their twisted shape.(1) They’re a metaphor for flippin’ delicious in my mind.
The Pabst Blue Raspberry Beercicle was so good we had to go back for another. This time the Citrus Shandy version. Just as good and maybe better. Sorry kids, none for you. Bonus points for noticing the lady slamming the silver bullet in the background.
Deep Fried Cheese Balls on a Stick. You know I wasn’t going to pass on these. They were excellent. Nice creamy melty white cheese on the inside, excellent light and crispy batter and a tangy dipping sauce. Everything working here. That being said, if you want fried cheese – stick with the deep fried curds for a more classic taste and better value.
Breakfast Tots and Donut Grilled Cheese – can’t think of a better way to start the day.
Mac-Bottom Pizza. The slightly more traditional sibling to the Chili-Mac-Bottom Pizza we had for the Sporkies. It was huge but this one was lacking a little as the Mac & Cheese didn’t pair with the mozzarella, tomato sauce, pepperoni and sausage as well as without the one with excellent Chili and unique toppings.
Pre-Sporkies we needed to find some non-food fun. Seemed like the perfect time to finally try the “Personality Handwriting Analysis”. The Televac 6000 was so old – even my pictures came out black & white. I thought the dot-matrix printer was a nice touch even if our analysis wasn’t quite spot on.
Judging the 2016 Sporkies at the Wisconsin State Fair today was amazing. Period. End of blog.
Ok, it’s not the end, because this is probably the all-time pinnacle of my state fair experiences. So, I’ll do my best to give you a taste of it. First off, huge thanks to the Wisconsin State Fair, especially Amber and Chelsea there who made this happen for us (and did enough sleuthing on the interwebs to figure out Tara and I were married and equally crazy for fair food). Also thanks to the celebrity judges for making us feel welcome up on stage and to emcee Kyle Cherek (of Wisconsin Foodie fame) for making it easy for us to contribute to the commentary. And finally, a big thanks to all the chefs and food creators that made these (and all) the amazing and unique foods that make the Wisconsin State Fair the best. There were no losers here today because these people are delivering happiness to the masses – in the form of fried, sticked(?), wrapped, dipped or maybe something new no one even knows about yet. This was an awesome experience that I may have actually in fact been born for (as some have suggested) and not something I would have ever imagined getting to participate in. It was extra special to do it with my partner in fair-ing and my better half – Tara (scoring some points here hopefully). So that’s my acceptance speech I guess. On to the food!
After waiting giddily backstage for a little while, we took our seats (myself right next to Packer Hall of Famer and inventor of the Lambeau Leap – Leroy Butler). First out was the Chili-Mac Bottom Pizza. I was too excited (and nervous) to remember to take a picture so here’s a State Fair photo of it:
I’d describe it as pizza loosely, but I’d describe it as delicious tightly, as in yeah, it was really good. A deep fried crispy-breaded mac and cheese “patty” on the bottom with an awesome toppings including a really good chili with nice chunks of beef and some kind of coffee rub. I wanted some more time with this one. Maybe some alone time. We scored it pretty high.
But in rapid fire succession the next finalist was brought out and I followed suit of the other judges and reluctantly relinquished my half eaten pizza. Next up was the Fiesta Cookie Dough on a Stick. Just like the other cookie doughs on stick I’ve ravished in other trips to the fair but this time with a rich chocolate dough dipped in chocolate and covered with fairly spicy chili pepper bits. It was hot in my mouth but the cold chocolatey dough balanced it out pretty well. I probably would have finished this one too but would have paid dearly as we were only on number two.
Third, the Mountain Man Bloody Mary Burger. A third pounder made of Antelope, Bison, Boar, Elk, and Venison with some bloody mary sauce that tasted like bloody mary and a nice skewer through it. They did a nice job on this – I liked it. It wasn’t special enough to be a winner but I’d eat it any day.
I was starting to slow down but the food wasn’t. Fourth up was the Thanksgiving Day Burrito. The pictures of this one gave Tara the most pause – it didn’t look like it would be that great – tan tortilla, tan mashed potatoes, tan turkey, darker tan stuffing and darker tan gravy. Red cranberry sauce on the side though. Turns out this was really solid though. All the components were quality, I just thought it maybe needed to be deep fried. And I’d really rather eat it in November than in August.
Fifth. Sam’s Klement’s Racing Sausages Corn Dog. The five Brewers’ racing sausages – Hot Dog, Bratwurst, Chorizo, Italian and Polish all with their own section within a corn batter. I’ll give it this, the best corn batter I’ve ever had. And I love sausage (____ <– insert immature joke here). But I think I liked the Hot Dog and Brat the best, the others didn’t seem to belong to me. But this did when 2nd place and the fairgoers fave. So you should probably try it. I ate it all to get the full experience. See video of us commenting on it here (at the 1:40 mark). And how I feel about what I said here.
Really getting full now but we were getting to the best part. Sixth was the Elvis Chicken and Waffle Sandwich. I really like the idea of this (and a couple of the judges really loved it) but i think it had too much going on for my liking. The banana peanut butter waffles – good. The chicken with maple siracha sauce – good (actually the fried chicken itself was some of the best I’ve ever had). But I don’t know put it all together and I was overwhelmed. Still an impressive offering nonetheless.
On to dessert for seven, Sprecher Root Beer Float Cake. The most beautiful of all the dishes from first glance, it was a slice of cake that looked like a frothy mug of root beer. It tasted as good as it looked too. It was really good and spoiler alert – it won. I’d recommend you go get yourself one (probably to share).
The final finalist (and third place winner in a tiebreaker vs. the waffle sandwich) was the Deep Fried Old Fashioned. I think this was my personal favorite just for the excellent effort of turning a classic Wisconsin drink into deep fried classic fair fare. It looked beautiful and really did a great job capturing the flavors of an old-fashioned. It was really rich though and definitely another good one to share.
So that’s it! That was our Sporkies Experience. It was really memorable and a lot of fun. Here’s some more pictures:
And here’s another news clip I found online (we don’t say anything in it but I can definitely be seen chewing some food with purpose).
Monday came quick and it was time to think about getting back to the fair. I decided to go ahead and go to work (I know, right?) and then meet the family there right after. As I sat in a meeting towards the end of the day, all I could think was, “What is wrong with you people? Stop talking. Don’t you know I’m trying to get out of here and eat some fair food!” Of course they didn’t know. But they should’ve seen it in my eyes. Or maybe I should wear a shirt to work that says something like, My Other Job is Fairing or I’d rather be in West Allis. On 2nd thought I’d probably be fired or at very least ostracized from future water cooler talks. Oh well.
Anyway, we got right into things with a quick left out of the tunnel back to Spam for some Spam Curds. I eat these things because I’m caring about sharing – with you the reader. But honestly, I didn’t mind them at all. At first glance they looked like odd little tater tots.
But bite into one and there’s that tender hammish “meat.” Ellis actually mowed down on a good dozen of these, pounding his stroller tray for more between each one. Be glad the inside is slightly out of focus.
Of course we both had to wash it down with some Bucks’ milk. It’s starting to become a challenge for me to get my share of milk with Beckett hitting 3 at a pop, Ellis chugging one, and myself just left with whatever I can carry. Parenting is full of sacrifices and this might be at the top of the list. (They’re worth it).
Something sweet seemed like a good idea for the next course and the Elvis-on-a-stick presented itself to me (and you don’t say no to the king). It appeared and tasted to be battered and deep fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Beckett got jealous and since we had a coupon in the bargain book, we treated him to a cookie dough on a stick (guess who finished it – clue, it wasn’t him).
After spending some time in the animal barns we went to seek out some more food – after all it had been like 30 minutes. Tara peeled off to get some Brad and Harry’s cheese curds (a tradition) and I was left with the kids wondering what the heck I was gonna to do. So, I went off the reservation a bit and impulse bought some deep fried cajun shark bites on a stick.
I don’t really know what possessed me to get this besides that they were deep fried bites of something on a stick. I was actually enjoying them though when I started thinking that it’s not really normal to eat a carnivorous animal, am I right? I mean I guess it’s the perfect circle of life – or at least proves human supremacy at the top of the food chain (unless you’re a fan of shark week) but still I couldn’t help but wonder what had this shark eaten in its short but ultimately productive life (productive in that it became fair food of course). In the end, it kinda grossed me out. I finished them of course but needed a beer at The Micro to wash ’em down. I went with Mob Craft’s Hope Gose the Grapefruit and found it both refreshing and well-balanced for one of the many hoppy / fruity combo beers you can find these days.
Still hot and bothered we searched out the PBR Beercicles I was so excited about. They were available at the new PBR Park (a nice venue with all things PBR!)
All they had left was the Pabst Blue Raspberry – but it wasn’t actually Blue Raspberry – just a play on words with your standard red raspberry. Good choice there. And good choice by us! This was an amazing popsicle – they actually had to card us to sell it to us and it was clear that it was made of beer. Cold crisp PBR! And just the right amount of raspberry flavor. Man this thing was good. Highly recommended!
Tara and Beckett rode the Sky Glider while I contemplated a Bacon Cinnamon Roll. I didn’t get it but am pretty sure I will at some point. It felt like time to go home. Being dinner time though, we thought, “well, we need dinner, we’re at the fair, we have to get something before we go.” We’ve always been intrigued by “Island Noodles” as we walk past it every time we enter and exit the fair. There’s always a long line so they’re probably good right? Well just because there’s a population of fairgoers that do something, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. There’s also a population of fairgoers that think, “no tattoo is a bad tattoo” and that smoking while pushing a stroller is perfectly acceptable. That being said, the Island Noodles were actually fine – good by any wok fried standard even. But not something to get at the fair. We shared a carton as we walked back to the car and as I ate the broccoli and carrots mixed in with the noodles- it just felt wrong. Healthy and wrong.
And that’s it for Day 2! Time for a good night sleep. Tomorrow is the Sporkies! We’ll be live on stage at 11AM! I’ll be the guy that can’t stop smiling.
Like a couple of old snowbirds, we completed our day at the fair and made it home for a nap by early afternoon. It’s not the heat but the humidity that gets you they say. And they’re right. With the dew point working its way up from “uncomfortable” towards “intolerable” and the current temp one-upping the forecasted high we knew it would be a challenge today. Throw in 2 temperamental kids, one large man-child (yours truly) and a _____ lady on hand (MadLib it); we had to get in and get out for opening day at the fair.
But none of that or the 30 minute line to get in could keep us from doing our best to take in some of the tastes, sights, and smells on day 1 of the 165th running of this grand old fair.
A delicious donut breakfast sandwich kicked off the fairtivities for Tara. (Reviewed last year here)
Next stop Spam! A new and welcome edition to the Wisconsin State Fair (but apparently a regular at the Minnesota State Fair in its home state). I went with the Spam breakfast sandwich over the SpamCurds to try and eat more chronologically thru the day. You get to customize the sandwich with your choice of Spam flavor (yes, Spam has multiple flavored and bacon seemed appropriate to me). Aside from being on your standard bottom-shelf grocery store hamburger bun, I had no issue with this no-teeth-needed sandwich (continuing the old folks theme). I think I like the idea of Spam – the general Spam aura and vibe – better than the actual product itself.
On to the institution that is the Bucks’ Milk House to cleanse the pallete. They went back to the more traditional starting lineup of Chocolate, Strawberry, Root Beer, and Banana, but kept Orange Creamsicle from the previous year. Maybe they thought last year’s flavor shakeup was a mistake (kind of like signing Greg Monroe – or maybe he’s the Orange Creamsicle – I don’t know). The bigger news is that the milk is no longer $.25! It’s $.50. Yeah my world is upside down as well. I can’t complain though – it’s been $.25 since at least 1994 (I remember because Herb Kohl came to our elementary school that year and all I wanted to ask him was where I could buy that milk outside of the fair).
Needing to continue rehydrating, we naturally made a stop @theMicro for some Beermosas. They’ve got a great selection this year and it’s fun to think about what would go well with some refreshing OJ. We’d recommend the Royal Nektar or Grapefruit Raddler.
The 9.5%ABV Nektar also makes for great nook cleaner (kidding).
A trip to the so-hot-it-could-melt-your-cheese Giant Slide put me within spitting distance of Saz’s and those Deep Fried Bread Pudding Bites I had my eye on. There would be no spitting though – these puppies were tasty vittles. Crunchy on the outside, soft and pudding-y on the inside (always great to combine textures in my book). I won’t pretend I know what the exact flavors and spices were (vanilla, nutmeg, caramel perhaps) – but you can take my word for it – these are a great dessert choice this year at the fair. And they do get Glamour Shots treatment.
A Cranberry Cookie for the kids and a Billie’s Special Baked Potato for the adults were enough to put us into that full and hot feeling where nothing more good can happen. So, we made plans to leave the fair; but not before grabbing a three pack of cream puffs to-go and getting those requisite every-trip deep fried cheese curds for the mile long walk back the car. Fresh out of the fryer curds aren’t really the best choice for walking across the hot asphalt Milwaukee Mile race track – sun beating down. But its key to keep that blood thin and pumping when you’re eating like that – so why not.
Next trip tentatively planned for Monday 8/8.
I was writing up a blog post about my training regimen to prepare for the fair tomorrow when Tara and I were blindsided by the most amazing news you could possibly imagine. I can barely type anymore I’m so excited. Here’s the message we just got from @wistatefair:
And here’s some more info on the 2016 Sporkies in case you’re interested (you definitely should be). Come see us judge these amazing new food entries Wednesday, August 10th at 11am!
This is the culmination of all our deliciously hard work eating our way through the Fair for the last 12 years together (and blogging about it here for 5+). Seriously, in order of amazing things it goes, birth of kids, getting married, being named a Sporkies judge.
Off to the fair in 12 hours!!!