Indiana State Fair 2019 Photos, Part 1 of 6: Our Year in Food

Relleno de Papa!

Frying! It’s what’s for dinner!

It’s that time again! The Indiana State Fair is an annual celebration of Hoosier pride, farming, food, and 4-H, with amusement park rides, cooking demos, concerts by musicians either nearly or formerly popular, and farm animals competing for cash prizes without their knowledge. My wife Anne and I attend each year as a date-day to seek new forms of creativity and imagination within a local context. Usually we’re all about the food. Each year a new lineup of “Taste of the Fair” offerings showcases new ideas from assorted food vendors in hopes of luring in foodies and/or impressing attendees who want to do more every year than simply eating the same tenderloin again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

This year’s quest was more aggravating than ever. The State Fair’s official website provided a full list of the new items with enticing photos. Our local newspaper relayed the list using different words. Neither company put any effort into helping fans actually find any of them. All that’s given are the vendor’s bland corporate names they use to pay their bills, most of which aren’t on their signs, thus making that info useless to ordinary customers. The State Fair also didn’t bother with an official app this year. Last year’s model had its issues, but rather than improve the design or fix buggy coding, they ditched it altogether.

We found several items on the list, but not all of them. The new dish I wanted more than anything else, my number one priority on my State Fair to-do list, which I’d hoped would be the lead photo on this entry, was a deep-fried chocolate-chip-cookie ice cream sandwich. We walked past several decadent fried-snack booths. Anne even asked a couple of random fried-booth workers in hopes that someone might’ve been carrying it but failed to put up signage, or in hopes that at least someone could tell us who was selling them and just where the heck they were hiding out. We found nary a trace of them. Either there was a vast healthy-wing conspiracy to suppress the sandwich’s existence, the whole thing was a very late April Fools joke, or their entire booth was stolen by hungry boothjackers before we arrived. All I know is we never found it and I remain disappointed about it while I’m typing this several hours later.

Despite that setback, we enjoyed a variety of creative creations that each had their good qualities. They were definitely not the deep-fried chocolate-chip-cookie ice cream sandwich I was looking for, but we couldn’t very well quit the fair over it. I guess.

Our lead photo was the best bite of the day: Relleno de Papa — a deep-fried mashed potato ball with a seasoned ground-beef core, served on Puerto Rican rice. It was served at a place called Da Portable Rican with a prime spot along the main straightaway next to a fancy funnel cake stand.

Relleno de Papa inside!

The meaty goodness at the heart of my Relleno de Papa.

Our day began hours earlier when we arrived shortly before 9 a.m. Most vendors don’t open till 10, but this year a brand new breakfast stand stood near the entrance. Brilliant idea, though we had to be careful not to max out on calories too early or else risk wrecking our appetites for hours.

Pancakes & Waffles!

At the Indiana State Fair, every day is Carb Day.

Pancake Making!

Watching them assemble their “Taste of the Fair” option, the Super Hero USA All the Way Pancake — topped with red strawberries, white whipped cream, and blueberries.

Amsterdam Pancake!

That was fun to see food made for someone else, but we went a more savory direction with their Amsterdam pancake — spinach, goat cheese, garlic oil, and pine nuts. Because a place serves a dish with pine nuts in it for under twenty bucks, you order that humdinger.

fried food stand!

The fair’s undisputed champion of fried foods, which sadly did not have the superfood I was looking for and therefore got none of our money.

We took a shuttle to the northeast corner of the fairgrounds, the location of one of our fair favorites, Red Frazier Bison. In past years they’ve won our hearts with such dishes as bison rangoon and bison tater tots with Brussels sprouts, among other bison-based treats. This year’s new thing was bison hush puppies, which sounded like a winner. The outer breading was crisp, extremely light to the point of feeling fragile, and yet it didn’t fall to pieces in my hands. Inside I could see scant bison morsels, but they were overpowered by all that cornmeal. Anne meanwhile tried their bison egg rolls, a winner from a previous year that was packed with much more meat.

bison hush puppies!

Still better than Long John Silver’s. The seasoned sour cream sauce greatly complemented these and Anne’s egg rolls.

Rollin Mac Daddy Egg Roll!

Down at the Gobble Gobble booth by the Department of Natural Resources Building, the new Rollin Mac Daddy Egg Rolls were stuff with barbecue turkey and mac-‘n’-cheese, and served with a tangy BBQ sauce. They were hot enough to burn the roof of my mouth, but I forgave them.

Gator Bites stand!

We didn’t stop at the eye-catching Gator Bites stand a few spots west of Gobble Gobble, but if I could go back to the fair and have an actual full meal at any one place, they’d be a prime contender.

duck fries stand!

Over on the Midway we found what promised the sort of high-end elegance that Chopped judges love: fries cooked in duck fat.

duck fat fries!

Their biggest Taste of the Fair option was poutine made with those same fries, but we were denied. They’d run out of gravy and had to wait on a new batch to warm up. The fries alone were grade-A, but I lament what extra credit they could’ve earned.

Strawberry Dole Whip!

After the Relleno de Papa, my last morsel of the day was one of the fair’s $2 Tuesday specials: a squirt of Strawberry Dole Whip soft-serve. That hit the spot before we took our leave.

Blue Raspberry Lemon Twister!

Me playing spokesman for a Taste of the Fair drink: a Blue Raspberry Lemon Twister. I downed it in two minutes flat. Very hot day.

You’ll note this looks like a collection of side dishes in search of an entree. The Taste of the Fair offerings had a few main courses on hand:

  • Three-meat sub
  • Bacon cheese tenderloin
  • Jambalaya that sounded like one I can buy from my workplace cafeteria
  • Bourbon Chicken, available at many mall food courts
  • Lamb taco, which is super different from a gyro in…ways?
  • Shepherd’s pie in a cup
  • A “Pork BBQ Split” that served scoops of barbecue pork, potato salad, and cole slaw served inside a full-size potato skin — in other words, fun-shaped picnic food
  • A bacon, ham, and pineapple sandwich in barbecue and special sauces that narrowly missed the cut

…but ultimately I’m okay with our choices. Part of me wants a do-over if only to hunt for the maddeningly elusive deep-fried chocolate-chip-cookie ice cream sandwich, but I’m not in the mood to pay for more State Fair tickets right now. Maybe it’ll be easier to find next year, by which time it’ll be passé and I won’t care anymore. Can’t wait.

More to come! Other chapters in this very special miniseries:

Part 2: The Heroes Theme
Part 3: The Marvel/DC CAN-ematic Universe
Part 4: Cake Bosses
Part 5: The Art of the Fair
Part 6: Random Acts of State Fairing
Encore Part 1: 2 Fair 2 Food
Encore Part 2: Another Ace Art Assemblage
Encore Part 3: Last Day, Last Call

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