Eating your way through the Wisconsin State Fair: a minute-by-artery-clogging-minute report
Most local TV coverage of the Wisconsin State Fair begins and ends with the food. Show a few pictures of the crowds, maybe a sheep, and then cut back to the talking heads safely back in the air-conditioned studio. (Maybe throw in a “That looks delicious, Cameron,” in between the chuckles.) But fairgoers want to know the real story. There are dozens of food vendors at the fair, from organic produce farmers to a murderers’ row of fried this-or-that booths tucked under the grandstand. Every year, the stakes get raised as newer and stranger foods are chucked in the deep fryer, or impaled on sticks like tasty, tiny vampires.
But which fried foods are worth the risk of a ride on the Bell Ambulance mini-cart? Which on-a-stick options should be sought out, even though the fair food maps leave something to be desired? Which indulgences are overpriced and overrated? The A.V. Club walked the mean streets of the State Fair to get the real story.
9:40 a.m.: Beignets and deep-fried Oreos
The first stop is one of the brightly colored carnival food booths near the gate. Beignets—square donut holes covered in powdered sugar—make a good breakfast, though eating them makes the eater look like Tony Montana in the closing minutes of Scarface. The deep-fried Oreos, meanwhile, turn everything into a warm, gooey mess. A lot of the items at the State Fair have all of their nutritional value removed once they go into the fryer. The Oreos, having none to begin with, make the experience strangely guilt-free.
10 a.m.: Pretzel bites with cheese
The Miller Bakery located inside the Wisconsin Products Pavilion offers pretzel buns for sale, as well as this more immediate treat. Skip the cheese, or add some from a Hot Wisconsin Cheese booth somewhere on the grounds. Be advised that a whole set of burger or brat buns can be had for the price of a cup of pretzel bites.
10:40 a.m.: Sheboygan Brat House brat
There are many simple brat and sausage options at the Fair. (Not everything good has to be covered in an exotic mix of strange yet intriguing flavors.) The stand closest to the Giant Slide offers the best view during the face-stuffing process.
11:20 a.m.: Maple bacon sundae
Outlets for this treat are scattered throughout the grounds, and the maple syrup is the star of the show. This foodstuff is something that can be made at home, but it definitely hits the spot in the heat. The coupon in the Fair Deals book only applies to the company store, which does not offer the maple bacon sundae. Thanks, economy!
12:40 p.m.: Sprecher beer pretzel on a stick
The newly dedicated Sprecher Pavilion, tucked away near the Midway, offers a few treats using some variation of Sprecher beer and an oven. Fans who want to eat their favorite brew will be delighted, but the options all seem like breadsticks-on-a-stick rather than pretzels.
1 p.m.: Duck fajita
Back to the Wisconsin Products Pavilion for one of the best-kept secrets. It fits the fair food profile well: It’s exotic, and it’s a mix of tastes that intrigues rather than repulses.
1:10 p.m.: WCA cheeseburger
All of the meat and food options mask a sad truth: This year’s fair-winning animals are likely to be part of next year’s food offerings. That doesn’t change the fact that the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association burgers are the best ones available at the fair. It’s easier to think that it’s a twinge of guilt, rather than an arterial blockage, that hits people as they walk past the cow barn.
1:30 p.m.: New Berlin Lions Club corn on the cob
There’s nothing like dousing a huge ear of corn in butter and salt to remove any hint of its nutritional redemption. Watching people lick their hands for every drop of salted butter goodness after disposing of the husk is a perfect afternoon activity.
2 p.m.: Chocolate-covered bacon on a stick
The Machine Shed made a splash two years ago with this combination of sweet and savory tastes. The owners may be sadists, nihilists, or heavily invested in artificial heart manufacturers. Each year they raise the stakes, and this treat now almost seems quaint by comparison. But, of the three killer options here, it’s still the best.
2:10 p.m.: Chocolate-covered cranberries on a stick
This treat is a mix of dark chocolate, white chocolate, and Wisconsin’s largest fruit crop. The chocolate stamps out most of the nutritional value, but it beats waiting in line at the Ocean Spray booth for a free serving of cranberry juice.
2:30 p.m.: Deep-fried butter
This is the main event. Fairgoers walk past the tent whispering in hushed tones. They shake their heads and ask to see what the product looks like. Is it worth it? Of course not. Fried butter is essentially a shot of butter with a donut chaser. It works best as a bar bet, or as a way to kill an appetite until dinner. But then, so does a punch to the stomach, and it’s easy to get one of those for less than four bucks.