If you’re going to veer from your favorite pulled-pork tent or sweet-corn stand to indulge in something new at the State Fair, it’d better be worth the calories and inevitable stomachache. So we pulled on our stretchy pants and braved opening day to see which of this year’s new signature dishes and drinks we’d recommend for breaking your gluttonous traditions.
Deep-Fried Indiana Sweet Corn with Mexican Street Butter (Barto’s Concessions)
It seems as though nothing but a pat of butter could improve a freshly picked ear of Hoosier sweet corn. But the folks at Barto’s Concessions took on the challenge and fired up their deep fryers for this strong contender in this year’s signature-food competition. Dipped in an egg wash and then a seasoned coating, each crispy, battered ear is then drizzled with a garlic-Parmesan butter reminiscent of elotes, or Mexican street corn. As fragrant as the butter is, the flavor is subtle, allowing the sweetness of the corn to shine. And the coating—while wholly unnecessary—adds a rich, savory counterbalance that, when you aren’t burning your mouth, really does make this icon of Indiana produce taste better.
The public’s choice in this year’s signature-food competition, this smoky number promises a trio of Indiana’s best flavors—a patty of smoked pork topped with Sechler’s pickles from St. Joe, Indiana, and Shoup’s Country Foods barbecue sauce, hailing from Frankfort, Indiana. But the pale-pink patty comes undressed, and Fairgoers have to apply the barbecue sauce and pickles (we suspected these weren’t Sechler’s) themselves. The patty itself is definitely juicy, with sweet hickory undertones—a notch up from a McRib. But something about its simplicity seemed out of character next to stands serving up deep-fried cookie dough and lamb parfaits.
If you’ve been spending your calories on chocolate or strawberry shakes from the Indiana Dairy Bar for the last few years, you might not know that the folks who promote the slogan “Winners Drink Milk” also serve up a host of grilled-cheese spinoffs, from the classic American-on-white to a tangy Swiss-on-rye. This year they’re loading up gooey melted Muenster on hearty raisin bread to push the grilled-cheese envelope further. And while you might balk at the sweet-salty flavor combo, it definitely works, with the raisin bread toasting up a bit crispier than the others and the cheese holding its own—though a cheese with a bit more bite might have taken this innovation even further. Think of this like the elements of a cheese plate at your local gourmet restaurant—a cheese plate in wax paper that you can stroll with on the way to the Zipper.
For the second year in a row, the Indiana Beer & Wine Exhibition has been offering samples and full-sized glasses of Indiana beers, wines, and ciders at the Grand Hall. For $5, those over 21 get four sample tokens to try out the selection of potent potables (which rotates daily). For those who think stout has to be heavy and bitter, the Pole Barn Stout from Three Pints Brewing Co. is surprisingly balanced and tempered, with rich oatmeal undertones—one that didn’t weigh us down for an afternoon of strolling the cattle barns and braving the vendors of Exhibition Hall.
Hailing from the Indiana-Michigan border in far-northeastern Indiana, this winery originally operated as a vineyard selling grapes to other winemakers but in 2001 started making its own wines. For those who believe Indiana wines are all cloying and sweet, this intriguing Meritage-style blend of Corot Noir, Noiret, and Chambourcin grapes definitely offers a dry character with a decent balance of fruit and earthiness. If only the folks at the Grand Hall had allowed us to bring in one of those Muenster grilled-cheese sandwiches, we could have finished the day in regal style.