The world continues to make advancements in the field of fried foods, in a bold rebuke of the rise of kale, four out of five cardiologists and perhaps common decency.
Some bristled and scoffed when the 30 new additions were announced for this year’s NC State Fair menu, while others declared a Cheerwine funnel cake a revelation.
Like the fair itself, fair food is meant to be a spectacle. You can’t take a Gravitron to work, you can’t eat a funnel cake every day of the week.
Just this once, though, follow your stomach to whatever craving rings true as the fair goes on Oct. 12 to 22.
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Here’s a roundup of the new fair foods most worthy of your caloric indiscretions, based on our sampling at the state fair’s media luncheon.
Arepas from Arepas Loca: These arepas were the runaway winner at the media luncheon and the unanimous favorite of The News & Observer contingent. A pocket of cheesy corn masa is stuffed with either braised beef, shredded chicken, chorizo sausage or sauteed vegetables, then topped with diced sweet plantains, a cilantro-guacamole sauce and a bright “pink” sauce.
It’s a welcome departure from most fair foods, offering something filling but not heavy, flavorful yet unfried. This is quite an introduction to Arepas Loca, whose owners say to expect a food truck sometime soon.
Where to find it: East of Dorton Arena, before you get to Kiddieland and the Education Building.
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Roasted Corn: This addition to the North Carolina Fair food scene may be the simplest and the most shocking. A basic corn on the cob, coated with a swipe of mayonnaise (brand nonspecific) and then dusted with ground Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It is bright red, a hue that doesn’t necessarily appear in nature outside of certain tropical flowers or lava flows and may give some pause before taking that big bite.
But you should take that bite, especially for fans of elote, or Mexican street corn, from which this snack on a stick draws its inspiration. Cheetos, as a condiment, is a growing trend in culinary boundary pushing, showing up here and there in doughnuts and sandwiches, but on this corn cob from Douglas Farms, the Cheeto dust offers all the salt and spice you need.
Where to find it: Douglas Farms is near the waterfall, and on the map, appears to be facing the Grandstand, or around the corner from the concert ticket booth.
Mediterranean Lamb Burger: This sandwich from local favorite Neomonde Deli and Bakery is as elevated as fair food gets, or perhaps should get. It’s a spiced lamb burger with harissa-yogurt sauce and caramelized onions on a brioche bun. This is a burger anyone would be happy to sit down and order in a restaurant that isn’t flanked by a demolition derby, but is perhaps even better because it is. The lamb is spiced but not spicy and would be a nice introduction for anyone looking to try a lamb burger for the first time.
Where to find it: Neomonde is northeast of Dorton Arena on the way to Kiddieland and the Orville Terminus of the State Fair Flyer.
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Barbecue Jerk Ribs from Cool Runnings Jamaican: Ribs are the original meat on a stick, and the jerk barbecue ribs are definitely worth finding at the fair. These pork spare ribs are slathered in a jerk sauce and rub, giving them a solid crust but still firmly in the realm of finger lickin’. They were tender but didn’t fall to pieces, just needing a good bite and pull from the bone.
North Carolinians are well acquainted with pork ribs, and jerk sauce is no great departure for barbecue fans, hitting notes of sweet and even fruity with a backbone of heat. If anyone makes fun of the napkin you’ve tucked in your collar, they’re not your friends and you should not share your ribs with them.
Where to find it: Near the Got to Be NC Agriculture area, toward the outskirts of Kiddieland.
Deep Fried Key Lime Pie Bites: Though deep fried and inspired by pie, these aren’t the flaky hand pies you might be used to. These bites are closer to a doughnut filled with key lime pie filling and bits of crust. They’re then dusted with cinnamon sugar and powered sugar, a drizzle of raspberry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.
Where to find them: Chef’s D’Lites is a few stands down from Douglas Farms, or not far from No. 11 on your map.
Other dishes worth a look
The Thanksgiving eggroll: This roll from Woody’s Grill stood out as one of those things that just made sense inside a deep fryer, but how good it is may depend on the bite. It’s chasing down the dream of the perfect Thanksgiving dinner bite: a bit of turkey, some stuffing and mashed potatoes all coated with gravy and then a note of cranberry sauce drizzled on top. If you don’t end up with that perfect mix it might just be a bite full of stuffing.
Where to find it: Woody’s, and their bacon cheese collard bites, can be found across from the concert ticket booth.
The Wicked Wafflewich Slider: The Wafflewich from Chick-N-Que food truck replaces bread with two crispy waffle slices, stuffing chopped barbecue chicken and slaw into the sandwich. It’s a new take on chicken and waffles, but the smoke of the barbecue kind of overwhelms everything else.
Where to find it: The Chick-N-Que stand is in the midst of the Midway but should be near a tram ticket booth stop icon on your map.
What else is there?
Not all new foods were made available for tasting. That includes the Cheerwine funnel cake, bacon mac & cheese, Crack-N-Cheese, deep fried chocolate pie and apple pies, poutine and a pumpkin pie milkshake.
A list of new foods can be found at ncstatefair.org/2017/Attractions/New.htm.
For a map of the new foods, click here.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson
NC State Fair
The NC State Fair is Oct. 12-22. Gates open Oct. 12 at 3 p.m. For details and ticket information, go to ncstatefair.org. Tag your photos with #ncstatefair.