The Best of the Indiana State Fair: Staff Picks

Some people get excited about the Midway rides. Others can’t wait to see the farm animals and monster trucks. But last week’s opening day at the Indiana State Fair put us in a state of deep (fried) thought. For some of us, it’s about the food. And though the concessionaires try to outdo themselves every year with ever more outrageous dishes (spaghetti ice cream, deep-fried peanut butter cups, raspberry doughnut chicken sandwiches), we have our perennial favorites. Want to know which IM staffer has a thing for Hot Wisconsin Cheese? Here, we tell all.

Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger

You’d think that a cheese-topped patty wouldn’t work with doughnuts as bookends, and I was skeptical, too. But this is a protein-and-sugar coma you can’t refuse. (See video below.)Jonathan Scott, digital media manager

Pineapple Whip

A cone of this soft-serve sorbet is the perfect finish for a hot day at the fair, especially if you’ve hit your limit on the greasy fried stuff. It’s so light, refreshing, and pineapple-y it almost tastes healthy. The first time I had one, I had two! — Allison Edwards, special projects art director

Hot Wisconsin Cheese

Why we have Wisconsin cheese at the Indiana State Fair I don’t know, but I don’t care. I plan for it. I dream about it. I budget for it (like most Fair food, it’s not cheap). I’ve been known to go to the Fairgrounds multiple times per year for the express purpose of procuring Hot Wisconsin Cheese. The battered, freshly fried, piping-hot morsels call me from their stand outside the Our Land Pavilion. The mozz sticks. The cheddar cubes. The Pepper Jack barrels begging to be dipped in cooling Ranch sauce. Gooey goodness. — Kimberly K. Hannel, managing editor

Breaded Tenderloin

Specifically, a stack of thin cut-onion rings with a breaded tenderloin that’s been dragged through the garden (lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise). — Tom Gibson, account executive

Foot-long Corn Dog

That and a little cup of yellow mustard will last me a full trip around the grounds on the Fair train. — Daniel S. Comiskey, deputy editor

(See more favorites after the video)

Lemon Shake-up

When it’s 90-plus degrees in August, the last thing I want while walking the fairgrounds is heavy, fried food. The lemon shake-up is my standby. Light and refreshing, equal parts tart and sweet. I order the biggest one they offer, and it’s still gone too quickly. — Andrea Ratcliff, special sections art director

You can’t beat an elephant ear and a lemon shake-up.  We have tried to re-create the shake-up at home and have not met the State Fair standard. — Jenny Isenbarger, account executive

Corn on the Cob

Biting into an ear of tasty grilled corn on the cob slathered with butter instantly transports me to my childhood. Somehow, those oily stains on my summer dresses from the hot butter have never bothered me. I consider them mementos. — Trisha Lindsley, assistant editor

Cream Puffs

Why don’t more people talk about the State Fair Cafe? This quiet, air-conditioned oasis next to the FFA Pavilion is worth visiting just to beat the heat. Now throw in the fact that it bakes desserts in house—including the cream puff, a generous dollop of real whipped cream sandwiched in a light, flaky, softball-sized pastry dusted with confectioner’s sugar—and it’s a no-brainer. — Evan West, executive editor

Lamb Parfait

Don’t call PETA, but after I’ve strolled the aisles of bleating Shetlands and Shropshires in the sheep barn, there’s nothing I want more than a tasty bite of succulent Indiana lamb. And while the Indiana Sheep Association has passed on the duties of cooking the lamb (at least out on Main Street) to a place called Porky’s from Lafayette, it’s still one of my annual traditions. Porky’s has made things a little more gourmet, adding fried green beans and mac and cheese, but if you go on Two-Dollar Tuesday, you can get a delectable lamb “parfait” with tasty threads of pulled lamb layered with mashed potatoes and sauce. — Terry Kirts, contributing editor

Deep-fried Twinkie

People tend to be dubious of the deep-fried food group. I consider it the molecular gastronomy of state-fair cuisine. This is a snack cake encased in a doughnut, people. And when you sink into the layers of sweetness, the reward is a plug of cream at the core. Opt for the squiggle of strawberry sauce and the powdered sugar dusting. — Julia Spalding, dining editor