There exists a place where the dough is fried to perfection and the veggies are anything but healthy. It’s a place where almost every food stand is a Mecca for grease and sweets, and visitors can gorge themselves without fear of humiliation or embarrassment.
That place is the county fair.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve looked forward to the county fair every year. I know what you’re thinking — I must’ve been a 4-Her — but that’s not the case.
I just love fair food.
While my younger sisters begged to get on the Tilt-A-Whirl or the Ferris wheel, I remember pleading with my mother back home in Trumbull County to buy me fried Swiss cheese and french fries and elephant ears. I liked the farm animals, too, but visiting the barns took time away from the ambrosia that is fair food.
As a teenager, I would convince my friends year after year to spend an evening or two at the fair just to get a ride to the fair so I could get my hands on a funnel cake or a caramel apple.
By the time I graduated high school, I had memorized the best places to get the perfect bite.
That appetite for fair food has never waned.
So when I took a job with The Gazette two years ago, the first mention of a county fair had me itching for new gastronomic experiences. I tasted the offerings of a few of the vendors last year. This year I wanted to make sure I got the best of the best.
So I consulted some people who’ve been around the block a few times: the county officials.
Common Pleas Judge Christopher Collier and Auditor Mike Kovack suggested sausage sandwiches from DiRusso’s Real Italian Sausage. Commissioner Pat Geissman and Clerk of Courts Dave Wadsworth recommended loaded “porktatoes” from Bam Bam’s Backyard BBQ.
Common Pleas Judge James Kimbler suggested the milkshakes from the 4-H Junior Leaders stand. And Commissioner Steve Hambley said the elephant ears — any of them — were delicious.
For lunch on Thursday, I put their recommendations to the test. And I’ve got to admit they know what they’re talking about.
The sausage sandwich I got was housed between flaky bread and topped with green peppers and onions. The meat — fresh off the grill — was juicy with just the right amount of spice.
For $5, I could have had a second if not for the gauntlet ahead of me.
While my co-worker Loren Genson treated herself to something lighter — a grilled chicken wrap — I moved on to Bam Bam’s to try my hand at something I’d never heard of: a porktato.
Wadsworth and Geissman had told me they were to die for, and I wasn’t disappointed.
It starts with a giant baked potato, wrapped in foil until ready for serving. The server sliced it in half and filled it with bacon bits, shredded cheese, a scoop each of sour cream and butter, and piled high with pulled pork and sweet barbecue sauce.
When it landed in my hands, I couldn’t even see the potato anymore. All I saw was pulled pork.
For $7, I was impressed how much food I got. Even with Loren’s help, I couldn’t finish.
Next, I moved on to the 4-H milkshake stand. I knew right away that I was in store for something worthwhile by how many people stood in line. The menu before me listed tons of options, but there was no choice once I saw the cupboard full of Reese’s peanut butter sauce.
Again, I wasn’t disappointed.
The shake was creamy and rich, thick enough to eat with a spoon but thin enough to sip through a straw. At $4 a pop, I was glad to support the 4-H program in my quest to acquaint myself with the best of the county fair.
Finally, I reached the end of my journey. Hambley had told me any elephant ear would do, but I knew there had to be a stand better than the rest.
I asked a Junior Fair Board member for his opinion, and he suggested one a few down from the candy stand by the grandstand.
It was a good recommendation.
Loren and I ripped off shreds of the fried dough, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. For $5, it was tasty as I’d hoped.
There’s just one problem: My stomach was only meant to hold so much.
Although I felt filled to the brink, I know that won’t stop me from gorging next year.
Or maybe even this weekend.