If there are two things Ben Hilberg knows about fair food, it’s grease and portability. His Puyallup Fair food booths, Totally Fried and Food on a Stick, generated food buzz last year thanks to a menu full of kitschy eats. Case in point: A fried chicken patty with Krispy Kreme doughnuts as buns. Yes, you read that correctly. Hilberg served fried chicken doughnut sandwiches at the Puyallup Fair last year. And people ate them.
Both booths will return to this year’s fair, which opens today, with food that’s exaggerated on the caloric scale. Pair his fried eats with an Earthquake burger and you better make sure you eat a week of vegetables to detox.
Hilberg is capitalizing on what seems to be a national trend that’s sticking (to our arteries, if anything): deep fried fair food. Remember how it started with Twinkies? Well, it’s since moved to brownies, cookie dough, Snickers bars, even Pop Tarts, pickles and butter (the horror). And if you were paying attention to fair food media recently, you caught the story about the deep fried beer that a fellow down in Texas created. It’s Guinness beer tucked into a pretzel ravioli pocket and deep fried. Doesn’t that sound ... delicious?
Hilberg has watched fair food offerings evolve for years. He operates 14 food booths at the fair (some of which even offer healthful eats, he noted), and he started working at the Puyallup Fair 30 years ago managing scone booths. He’s offered concessions at venues from Husky Stadium to the Tacoma Dome.
“If we go back 30 years ago at the fair, you could get hamburgers and then you could get hamburgers. And that was it, from Enumclaw to Monroe. ... Don’t get me wrong, the tradition is good, everyone loves a good onion burger, but with the advent of the Food Network and with people’s culinary tastes expanding, I just saw – and my co-workers saw – a need to do some different things.”
So what do Hilberg and crew do differently? Try frog legs on a stick. Macaroni and cheese on a stick. Deep fried pickles, fried cookie dough, fried Twinkies (his best- selling item) and bacon-wrapped, fried, cream cheese-filled jalapenos.
Here’s a look at what he’ll have at each of his booths this year:
TOTALLY FRIED BOOTH
(Showplace Way near the Blue Gate)
Bacon-wrapped jalapeno popper: “We remove the seeds and membrane, then we stuff it with cream cheese, wrap it with a big piece of bacon, throw it on a broiler and roll it around until the bacon is done,” Hilberg said.
Deep-fried peaches and cream: This is fresh peaches with heavy cream, battered and fried up.
Deep-fried Rice Krispies treats: “We make them with chocolate and M&Ms, so by the time you bite into it, it’s ooey gooey as you can imagine. It’s good. I usually just have a bite. It’s rich.”
Deep-fried pickles: “We do a spear. We use a good quality cold kosher pickle, then we have our own batter that’s top secret, then we roll it in panko and fry it.”
Deep-fried cookie dough: “We’re doing those like a little fritter. We’re going to do a variety: oatmeal raisin; a really, really good chocolate chip; peanut butter and chocolate and caramel sauce on top. We take the raw cookie dough and ball it – we don’t freeze it all the way, but it’s got some body to it. Then roll it and batter it and dunk it” in cornflakes before frying.
Red neck sushi: “We may do that a little later in the fair. We’re not going to open with it – it’s extremely labor intense. We do the long roll ourselves. ... It’s got pulled pork with a peach bourbon barbecue sauce – we use that as a filling – and scallions (then roll it up with nori and rice). But then we have to batter it and fry it. We’ll probably do it after the first weekend.”
Frog legs: “We use a seasoning mix, then we batter and deep fry. We do the same with alligator on a stick and serve it with a Creole mayo sauce.”
Other offerings: Deep-fried Oreo cookies, deep-fried bananas, deep-fried Twinkies.
ON A STICK BOOTH
(Showplace Way near the Blue Gate)
Pizza on stick: “Well, it’s traditional pizza toppings, and we take a crescent roll dough and wrap the tomato sauce, mozzarella and the meat and onion, and then bake it on a stick. It’s served with a side of marinara. We’ll do a pepperoni and a Canadian bacon and pineapple.”
Buffalo chicken on a stick: “It’s breaded and fried. ... We serve it with ranch or blue cheese to dip.”
Macaroni and cheese on a stick: “We’re taking mac and cheese and making it very firm, then balling it and putting it on the stick, breading it in panko seasoned with Parmesan, and baking it. It’s got a nice flavor to it.”
Rice Krispies treats on a stick: Shaped like a heart, dipped in chocolate.
Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, firstname.lastname@example.org