TAMPA — The Florida State Fair, which opens Thursday for a 12-day run, is notorious for its outlandish twists on food, like pulled pork on top of a funnel cake or ice cream on a hamburger. .
Tampa is often the place where these famous concoctions first appear. This is the birthplace of the Krispy Kreme donut burger, and the pickle that propelled his pizza to national fame.
After writing dozens of stories over the years about the fair and its food quirks; I was curious to see who was actually keen on all of the wacky options.
That led me to Chip Weiner.
Mr. Weiner, 66, is a certified mental health counselor and has a thriving freelance photography business specializing in food photography. He is well-versed in fine cuisine and champions fair food, citing his James Beard Award-winning best-selling book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
For example, fried in butter is a common punchline. He said, “This is heaven.” Wieners are chunks of cinnamon butter dipped in batter and fried, compared to warm slices of toast with butter, cinnamon, and sugar.
“Being a food photographer has expanded my knowledge and curiosity about different foods, flavors and combinations,” he said. “That led me to seek out the occasional gourmet thrill.”
He grew up in Tampa and has been attending the fair since the 1970s, but in the past decade he realized they were just an unhealthy derivative of corn dogs and elephant ears. It has become a contest of superiority between vendors to create the strangest combinations.
Beyond the fried Oreos (which Weiner found a little soggy), he noticed that the vendors’ real skill seemed to be in naming their products. In 2011, the Grilled Meatloaf Sundae was introduced. The name sounds strange, but it turned out to be a scoop of mashed potatoes topped with slices of meatloaf, gravy and vegetables. It was still good, he said, but not as exotic as he thought.
That was his challenge to me as I set off on the first day of the fair. Ignore the product title and just try it. He was right. Some things he wasn’t as bad as he seemed.
We went out with a very helpful visitor’s guide to the fair. This guide includes a Gourmet Tour section with photos of 20 new products and a map of where to find them. The guide also has his QR code to vote for your favorite.
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The wiener is Apple fries with bacon, caramel and peanut butter. Thick wedges of Granny Smith apples are battered, fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Then drizzle with caramel and top with bacon bits and peanut butter crumbles. Then ice cream and whipped cream and even peanut butter crumble on top.
We had a towering dessert, which reminded me of warm apple crisp. Find the bacon and taste each flavor to complete the sweet-salty combination we both love. At $15, it’s not cheap, but it’s easily shared by two or three people.
At this same Apple Fries booth (which won last year’s People’s Choice Award for sweets of the year at the fair), jolly rancher slash It will be unveiled for the first time at the 2021 Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City ($10). The tall, neon-colored crushed ice drink features several eye-catching toppings, including a mountain of nerds, jelly beans, gummy worms, lollipops and rainbow gummy ribbons. candy.
“It’s delicious,” Weiner said of the slushie, which is surprisingly not too sweet until you get to the topping. “It looks weird. But it’s a good thing.”
Next, I had to try the most infamous of all new products. pop rock pickles.
Linda Shockley, co-owner of Shockley’s Food Service, said the longtime vendors were inspired by a Food Network show that showcases unusual foods by wrapping large garlic-dill pickles in fruit roll-ups. Dip in chocolate, then roll with your choice of Pop Rocks, Fruity Pebbles, or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
We bought the $12 highlight and watched Shockley carefully dip a giant leather-wrapped pickled fruit into semisweet chocolate.
Hey, kid. I took a big bite of the middle of the pickle. The juice dripped onto the ground and I tasted the peel and chocolate more than anything else. Some pop-rocks swished on my tongue.
It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it was still kind of gross.
Weiner said he’s interested in the experience of how all these flavors come together. The chocolate flavor is felt first, then the garlic and salty pickles, and the fruit roll-up leave a unique presence.
“It was an interesting flavor journey that started sweet and ended sweet with a salty sourness in the middle,” Weiner said.
At the same Shockley booth, honey bunny curd burger ($16) — A burger topped with cheese curds, lettuce, and tomato, sandwiched between two vending machine staples of honey buns.
Weiner has defended the infamous case for years. krispy kreme donut burger It made its world debut at the 2010 Florida State Fair and remains one of our top sellers. The flavor profile hits all the best marks for wieners. The beef and bacon provide the salt and fat, the donut adds sweetness to compensate for the salt, the cheese adds creaminess, and the onion adds tartness.
“It works,” Weiner insisted.
The Honey Bun Burger was like a cousin to the Donut Burger. I hate honey buns so I couldn’t get past that part. However, the buns are a little harder than soft yeast donuts. Wiener problem? Cheese curds add a buttery flavor, but not the cheesy flavor you get from slices of gooey cheddar or American cheese. But he still liked the salty-sweet profile.
I was starting to reach my limit, but I wanted to try one more newbie. I had my eye on the spicy Korean corn dog. There was also a tempting trio of vegetarian bang bang tacos made with fried cauliflower, mushrooms, or vegan shrimp.
But this is the year of powerful women. barbie funnel cake ($14) won as the final destination. Longtime vendor Paulette Keene was inspired by the attention the “Barbie” movies received.
Pink and sweet are what Barbie is all about, and this funnel cake is no different. Not only is it dusted with pink icing, it also comes with powdered sugar and a couple of sprinkles. We were both craving coffee with lots of sugar.
We were too full to keep going, so we declared the remaining stalls as hills to climb another day. Weiner said the hurdle people have to overcome is usually the title of the dish, not what it will ultimately taste like.
“I think most people would be happy if you could blindfold them and stuff candy into their mouths,” Weiner said. The belief that all fair food is bad for you is also difficult to overcome.
“The dangerous elements are too strong. It’s their loss!”