The Ultimate Guide to the 2013 Wisconsin State Fair (courtesy of The Knapp family)

2 Aug

Wisconsin State Fair

Our family has a long-standing tradition of going to the opening day of the Wisconsin State Fair. We look forward to it all year. We plan for it. We arrive when the gates open at 8:00 and leave at 9:30 at night. We go to eat. And we’re unapologetic about 12+ hours of eating.

The beauty of the food at the fair cannot be topped. Fried. On a stick. Delicious. Innovative. Just a few words that describe the food. The fair has something for everyone.

Below are the highlights from a Fair Foodie Family’s first day 2013. We have years of experience uncovering our favorite foods, and we think we’ve uncovered the best. But there are more foods than anyone can ever truly uncover. Please use our list as a helpful guide to structure your visit, especially if your time is limited. But please, please go with an open mind that is ready to experiment. Go off the beaten path. Be crazy. Truly, the world is your eating oyster at Wisconsin State Fair.

Most Memorable Dish.

We hate to play favorites with our State Fair delights. But in our eyes, one dish, more than any other dish, left us lusting for more: Deep-fried peanut butter and bacon nuggets with Berry Weiss Jelly. We heard about Saz’s newest offering, a finalist for a coveted State Fair “Sporkie” award. That title gave us little consolation because we remembered that the Machine Shed’s deep-fried butter was recognized a few years back, and those didn’t go down so well.

Anyway, we ordered and were quickly presented five walnut-size chunks of deep-fried loveliness, all nice and tan, looking kind of like chicken nuggets. We weren’t sure what happens when you bite into these things, so we figured the best approach is to sit down at a table, rather than eat ‘em on the run.

Ok, here was the biggest issue we faced, beyond our usual fears of the unknown. What could possibly win out in a ferocious flavor battle with bacon? Peanut butter? No way.

We love bacon, don’t get us wrong. But bacon is the sledge hammer of flavors. Bacon could probably beat back a Dodge Charger in a one-on-one. Bacon pretty much destroyed chocolate when Machine Shed paired the two on a stick. Peanut butter? No way.

Guess what? Way. Peanut butter wins. Just a hint of smoky bacon and a serious blast of peanut butter in the center. All wrapped in a really tasty, crunchy panko crust. Yes, peanut butter rules!

It was so good. Seriously good. Perfect texture. No grease. No leaking contents. A nice, gooey amalgam of buttery-smooth peanut butter and what appeared to be liquefied bacon, with peanut butter clearly leading the way. Way to go peanut butter!

And the side of Berry Weiss jelly for dipping was flavorful and light, the perfect complement. No grease in the basket. Nothing on the fingers. Don’t even need a napkin. Perfect for walking. State Fair perfection. Well done, Saz’s!

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Main Dish Must-Haves.

Having hit a home run with the peanut butter bacon bites, we tried our luck with another Sporkies finalist: Thanksgiving Waffles. Slim McGinn’s interpretation of the favorite southern dish Chicken and Waffles is simply delightful. Thanksgiving in August? Yes, please!

Stuffing mixed with craisins and waffle batter form the waffle base. Crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, this waffle had to have been freshly made. Layered on top was a healthy scoop of creamy mashed potatoes, turkey gravy and chunks of turkey. Each delectable layer is perfectly proportioned so that you get a taste of each in every bite. This dish could run of the risk of becoming a soggy mess, but Slim McGinn’s nailed it. Everything you love about Thanksgiving in a fun, new form, and not on a stick! We definitely recommend grabbing a table to eat this one. Please also note that this dish could be a real sinker if conquered alone. There are so many tasty eats to try at the fair, so consume this one responsibly. Split it!

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Other main meals to check out are the Pork Burger and Pork Chop sandwich from the Pork Schoppe and the Rib Eye Steak Sandwich from the Cattlemen’s Beef Association. These are a bit of a family tradition and no trip is complete without them. You can’t go wrong with these quality meats from Wisconsin. An added bonus is they’re also good walking foods.  But if you do need to take a break from pounding the pavement, both of these booths are located right outside the coliseum. We usually grab a sandwich and catch a round or two of horse and cow judging.

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One last main dish worth noting. For dinner, we bellied up to a table at Tropics at the Fair. Tropics has grown to be a new family favorite over the past couple years. The ambiance can’t be beat. Live reggae music, sand under your feet, tropical drinks and Cajun delights. We relaxed with a couple Bahama Mamas and Cajun barbecued peel-and-eat shrimp. In our humble opinion, grilled shrimp can’t be beat! The Cajun spice gives them a great flavor but without being overly spicy. Our family has some non-spicy eaters, but even they loved these shrimp!

Go To Favorites.

No trip to the State Fair is complete without these favorites. They are Wisconsin products that embody everything that the Wisconsin State Fair stands for. You can make all of these foods at home, but you could never come close to the flavors achieved at the fair. Something magical happens at the fair.

First and foremost, do not leave the fair without a grilled corn on the cob from the New Berlin Lions Club. We don’t know if it’s their corn, their grills or the buttery goodness that the corn takes a swim in, but these puppies are a bite of heaven. You will be covered in butter when you’re done, and you will be picking corn out of your teeth the rest of the day, but that’s just a small price to pay for this buttery yumminess.

The Baked Potatoes from the Wisconsin Potato Growers are simply to die for. Whereas you can see the corn being prepared, you cannot see the potatoes baking. Are they simply made with love? Or are those potato growers injecting them with secret, magical flavors? We’ll never know what goes on behind the scenes, but these potatoes are THE best baked potatoes you will ever eat. And you can customize the toppings to your liking: butter, cheese, salsa, chili, sour cream and new this year – bacon. The line always looks long and intimidating. But it moves fast and it is every bit worth the wait.

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And last, but definitely not least…the Cream Puff! Nothing says Wisconsin State Fair more than the cream puff. This airy pastry is filled with the most heavenly cloud of cream and dusted with powdered sugar. While the recipe for this cherished dessert remains unchanged, we think there is a noteworthy difference this year. Historically, the cream has always been made using Gold Guernsey Dairy’s cream. The sudden closure of Golden Guernsey Dairy left State fair searching for a replacement. We don’t know who is supplying the cream this year, but what we do know is that the cream is creamier than year’s past and full of texture. Do yourself a favor. Save room for a cream puff. Better yet, get one right away before you have the chance to get full.

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The ultimate meal deal.

Go to the Products Pavilion. Go directly to the Products Pavilion when you arrive. Pass the chocolate-covered bananas, pork doughnuts or whatever else that gets in your way (you can always get those later).

There, at the Products Pavilion, you will find the absolute best, hands-down, number-one food deal at the fair. Three, count ‘em, three grilled cheese sandwiches for just five bucks. Choose real Wisconsin cheddar cheese or swiss. Either way, they’re simply terrific. A great bargain, and it lays down a good, solid base, for whatever you wish to consume, solid or liquid, over the next hour or two.

And if you really want to extend the deal, quickly take those sandwiches down to Herb Kohl’s milk booth and wash ‘em down with a 25 cent milk, in chocolate, root beer, cherry vanilla, raspberry and banana. We suggest the root beer or cherry vanilla milk.

This is deal making of the highest order. So you’ll have some extra money in your pocket to buy perhaps an extra ShamWow at the Expo Building!

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