The Utah State Fair means wild rides, game and prize booths, farm animals and — most of all — fried, deliciously unhealthy food.
But as we navigated the maze of vendor booths to find the most outrageous foods at this year’s fair — running now through Sept. 18 at the Utah State Fairpark — we didn’t find a lot of options in the fried-food realm.
We saw a lot of popular Utah food trucks — familiar names like Rimmel’s, Yum Yum, Cobra Dogs, Jamaica’s Kitchen and Iceberg Shakes — that were different than what one expects from a state fair.
Compare this year’s fare to 11 years ago, when food vendors at the Utah State Fair served up fried alligator, fried Rocky Mountain oysters, fried butter and fried Twinkies.
One vendor told us the high booth fees — $950 for low-traffic areas, up to $1,100 for more popular parts of the fairpark — could be a factor in the lack of weird food options. For one vendor, Chicky’s Chicken, supply chain issues prevented the inclusion of “Pop Rocks chicken,” which could have been the crowning jewel of this roundup.
Nonetheless, we found five wacky eats to taste at the fair:
Flamin’ Hot Cheeto pretzels, from Fresh Baked Pretzels
You can’t miss this booth — look for the giant rotating pretzel. The actual pretzels are pretty big, almost as large as pizzas. In fact, you can get a pizza pretzel here, or one topped with almond/toffee, cinnamon and sugar, cheese and jalapeno, garlic, salt, or nothing at all.
We went for broke: We ordered the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos pretzel with a side of cheese sauce. The pretzel dough, which is fresh-baked in the trailer, was oddly sweet; it tasted more like bread. The Cheeto flavor wasn’t assertive, and when we tried a pinch of the Cheeto dust itself, it tasted a bit stale. Dipped in the cheese sauce, the pretzel suddenly tasted oddly like cafeteria tomato soup and saltines.
Perhaps the pretzel would’ve tasted better if the Cheetos were baked into the bread, and if the Cheeto topping didn’t fall off when you took a bite.
Fried Oreos, from Deep Fried Treats
If you’re looking for a guaranteed knock-it-out-of-the-park item: it’s fried Oreos at the Deep Fried Treats stand, which also serves deep-fried cheesecake, apple pie, bacon pop and more.
A single serving comes with five Oreos, fried in funnel cake batter and topped off with powdered sugar and chocolate drizzle. When fried, the Oreos are savory, and not as crumbly as usual.
They’re similar to New Orleans-style beignets, and not overly sweet. The toppings are so light, they bring out the overall taste of the cookies even more. It’s a fair food staple and done right.
The Works fries, from The Fry Guys
Fries are usually finger food, but not so at The Fry Guys — there’s too much stuff on them. (Though you can order them plain if you want. But why would you?) And after petting Prudence the therapy alpaca at the pony ride booth, we were more than happy to use forks.
The Fry Guys will load up your fries with chicken, bacon and cheese (the CBC); cheese, green onions, diced tomatoes and sour cream (veggie fries); gravy; or chili and cheese. You can also get poutine fries, smothered in brown gravy and cheese curds, or for an American twist on this Canadian staple, poutine with sliced hot dogs.
We ordered “The Works”: Cheese sauce, diced tomato, bacon, sour cream, green onions and banana peppers. The fries themselves are pretty good, if undersalted; somehow, all of those ingredients should add up to something flavorful, or at least delicious in the way that fried food tends to be. The banana peppers overpower the entire dish, because they’re right on top.
Not bad, but not awesome, either.
Cherry lemonade, from Custom Made Lemonade
Snow cones, slushies, soda: These are beverage staples at state fairs. We tried something new: Cherry lemonade. It’s not your traditional big cooler lemonade. Starting with the fact that the drinks are served out of a lemon-shaped booth.
Each glass is made by hand: Starting with cherry syrup, scoops of lemonade mix and sugar. Add half a lemon to the glass, ice, water and watch as the worker mixes it up, margarita-style.
It’s a precarious drink because it relies on how much of each ingredient is added. A heavy hand on the sugar or syrup can make for an overly sweet drink. We had differing opinions on it, but wager that lemonade fans will love it. Other flavors include strawberry and watermelon.
Custom Made Lemonade works with Piggy’s BBQ, another booth at the fair, hailing from Phoenix, Arizona.
Strawberry Supreme funnel cake, from Iron Skillet Funnel Cakes
Iron Skillet, which has been serving up funnel cakes at fairs since 1979, makes them on the spot. Which is a good thing, because a funnel cake is not a thing of joy forever, and is best eaten as soon as possible, as we discovered.
You can order one simple, with a dusting of powdered sugar (the traditional way to do them), or with baked apples, caramel, raspberries, chocolate, Oreo cookie crumbles, Nutella, or ice cream.
We decided to try the Strawberry Supreme (partly for its photogenic properties). We walked away with two funnel cakes, one just out of the fryer and one a bit older — the fresher one was noticeably tastier. The whipped cream and strawberries were the perfect complement to the cake. Which, even a bit longer out of the grease, was plenty tasty.
When you’ve been doing one thing for this long, you can’t help but nail it.
The Utah State Fair continues through Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Utah State Fairpark, 1000 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City. Hours are noon to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Tickets at the gate are $12 a day for adults, $8 for youth (6 to 12) and folks 62 and older; and free for children 5 and under. Parking at the fairpark is $10; you can also get to the fairpark via TRAX. Go to UtahStateFair.com for more information.
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