How to Dine at the Indiana State Fair
A user’s guide to the good, the bad, and the greasy.
The Indiana State Fair is home to some blue ribbon–worthy culinary creativity—from mozzarella sticks on sandwiches to cheeseburgers on sticks. As one of the perks of landing a summer internship at Indianapolis Monthly, two members of the 2014 crew—Armon Siadat and Mary Bradley—spent a day at the Fair “doing research.” Their findings:
The Doughnut Burger: A bacon cheeseburger that replaces the bun with a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Siadat:The Doughnut Burger has almost become synonymous with the words “Indiana State Fair”—something that has perplexed me since its debut several years ago. Having just tried one for the first time, I am no longer confused as to why I waited in a four-minute line for one. The first bite is fantastic. The sweet glaze from the doughnut provides a contrast to the saltiness of the bacon and the patty.
Bradley: I have one thing to say to this burger: No thank you. While the burger has a fair amount of hype, it’s not worth the $8.50 price tag. The doughnut as a bun replacement made it nearly impossible to eat, as its sticky warm icing coated my hands instantaneously. Talk about gross, and especially with no wet-wipe or sink nearby.
Deep-fried Snickers: A Snickers bar dipped in batter and deep fried, with powdered sugar on top.
Siadat: It’s basically a corndog that gives you cavities instead of indigestion. The only thing keeping the melted Snickers bar from running off the stick is a slightly overdone flour batter. Topped with more powdered sugar than the funnel cakes in the next booth over, this sweet treat is too sweet. One bite is enough. Get the Twinkie instead.
Bradley: With soft, fried dough enveloping the warm, melted chocolate, caramel, and nuttiness of the Snickers bar, this not-so-healthy snack is worth the $4 asking price. It’s a treat to satisfy both sweet and salty food–lovers.
Cheeseburger Basket on a Stick: A meatball-like mixture of ground beef and cheddar cheese coated in hash browns, breaded in panko, and deep fried.
Siadat: The concept is intriguing, but the execution doesn’t live up to the hype. This was probably the biggest letdown of the day. The hashbrown coating and the fact that there was more cheese than meat made it taste more like breakfast casserole on a stick. The side of homemade beer cheese (for an extra cost) was phenomenal, though.
Bradley: I had imagined an entire skewered cheeseburger, but the Cheeseburger Basket on a Stick is actually three small breaded balls of meat and cheese. Similar in-mouth-feel to a stuffed mushroom, this $5 bargain is (surprisingly) not very filling food. Consider it an appetizer.
Mac Daddy: Macaroni and cheese topped with pulled turkey in barbecue sauce.
Siadat:The tangy barbecue flavor provided an unusual contrast to the creamy cheese sauce. While one would expect the two to balance out each other, they actually work against each other—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Not a bad thing at all.
Bradley: If anything is a go-to food, it’s the $6 Mac Daddy. It’s a quick seller, too. In fact, the Mac Daddy had already sold out when I hit the Gobble Gobble food truck at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Elephant Ear: Deep-fried dough topped with brown and/or powdered sugar.
Siadat: I paid an extra $2 to have apples and caramel added in an attempt to redeem the burnt-tasting slab of deep-fried dough in front of me. If anything, the apples (which were cold and tasted like plastic) and caramel actually made it worse.
Bradley: Over-fried, over-sugared, and over-done, the elephant ear is a simple food that is high in calories and a rather unimpressive display of indulgence. They’re good the first time or two, but they can get old fast.
Fruit Twister Shake Up: A shaken drink featuring fresh squeezed lemon, orange, apple, and pineapple juices, the signature food item of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.
Siadat: When I heard that a fruit shake-up was named the signature item of this year’s Fair, I honestly thought it was a joke. As it turns out, the joke’s on me, because this was easily one of the best food items I tried all day. The beverage is made right in front of you, with fresh-squeezed lemon, strawberry, orange, and pineapple juices blended together perfectly. It tastes far superior to the oh-so-cliche lemon shake-up. And you get more bang for your buck.
Bradley: While it lacks a bit of a wow-factor, the drink is customizable for Fairgoers and comes in small ($4) and large ($6). While the line takes some time to get through, each and every shake-up is made from scratch right before your very eyes.
Colossal Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Mozzarella sticks between two slices of cheese and two slices of bread.
Siadat: Awful. Awful. Awful. With my mom’s side of the family born and raised in Wisconsin, it’s only natural that I love my dairy products. But love was the antithesis of the emotions I felt while eating this combo meal. Let’s the clear the air of misconceptions real quick: The sandwich isn’t even “colossal.”. It was a grilled cheese with three mozzarella sticks in the middle that had been smashed down. Be sure to take a friend with you when you try this, not because of the so-called colossal size of the sandwich, but because you’re going to need someone to give you the Heimlich once the dry-as-bone mozzarella cheese gets stuck in your throat.
Siadat: The Hoosier Pulled Pork BBQ sandwich basket from Barto’s Catering and Concession. The pork is smoked for six to eight hours, and it comes with out-of-this-world seasoned fries.
Bradley: Roasted corn on the cob. I opted to have my corn “naked,” or unbuttered, but sprinkled it with seasoned salt. The corn was near flawless. At only $3.50, it tasted like it’s what our state is known for.