“Fair Style” As An Adjective

A restaurant located near our firm, OH Pizza + Brew, features this sign about its dessert options in the restaurant’s front window. To some, no doubt, the phrasing seems odd. But to anyone who has been to the Ohio State Fair, and has eaten “fair food” along the midway, a reference to “fair style” desserts conveys a powerful message indeed.

What is a “fair style” dessert, exactly? Typically, it has multiple characteristics. First, of course, it must involve food stuffs that are bad for you, prepared in a way that accentuates their unhealthy impact. That means desserts that are fried, that are high in sugar, and that include components from Dr. Nick’s “neglected food groups” pyramid shown on a classic Simpsons episode.

Second, the dessert must be excessive. That means the portions must be huge—think of a piece of fried dough as big as a dinner plate—and the dessert must features unholy combinations that push the caloric content off the charts. Fried Snickers bars on top of ice cream in fried dough might be one element, for example, but you’re going to want to add, say, pieces of candied bacon dipped in chocolate, whipped cream, drizzled caramel, and then drop M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces on top, just to give the concoction a real fair flair.

And finally, a true “fair style” dessert must be plausibly, if messily, portable, and capable of being consumed by someone walking on a dusty path between ancient rides like the Tilt-a-Wheel. That means handheld options, like red hot elephant ears doused in powdered sugar and the covered with other goodies that will leave your hands gross and sticky for hours, or desserts that can be wedged into a cheap cone or flimsy paper bowl that will immediately begin to dissolve as the dessert quickly melts in the summer sun.

That’s what a “fair style” dessert means to me, at least. I haven’t been into OH Pizza + Brew to see what they offer. Frankly, I’m kind of afraid to check it out.

Freak Show TV

Last night Russell was home and had control over the TV remote. So, from my vantage point flat on my back on the couch with my left foot balanced on a tower of pillows, I acquired a new perspective on the world — because we spent the night watching TLC.

The first show was about a grossly obese, bed-ridden woman with a husband and young son who had an operation to try to become normal-sized. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the discipline to change her habits and do what was necessary to lose the weight, despite having a no-nonsense doctor who wouldn’t coddle her or sugar-coat the health problems she was causing for herself. We followed her as she was shuttled between hospital room and home, being lifted by teams of paramedics, watched her tears and efforts to blame the lack of weight on her scales, and were treated to embarrassing footage of a person encased in enormous rolls of fat, unable to stand for more than seconds at a time, arguing that she was a better mother than a working woman who spent 10 hours on the job.

The next show was about a hoarder — a doctor who might as well have lived in a dumpster. His house was filled with piles of garbage and was appallingly infested by vermin, with hundreds of roaches skittering everywhere, including on the man’s clothing as he explained his circumstances. His sleeping area was like a rat’s nest, with limp bags of rancid food and roaches covering every blanket and surface. His family members, exterminators, and a family counselor tried to convince him that he had a problem and needed to get rid of the debris. Fortunately, by the end of the show he had left his hovel, was living in a clean apartment, and was interacting with his granddaughter.

The next show in the TLC lineup was about a “man with a 132-pound scrotum” — seriously — but I had had enough.

My night with TLC reminded me of my first visit to the Ohio State Fair, in 1971. In those days the Midway still had an area that Fair regulars called the “freak show.” It featured garishly painted signs about a woman who turned into a gorilla, “alligator boy,” a miniature pony, and other “curiosities.” It was all very intriguing to a 14-year-old boy, so I fished out the entrance fee and went to one of the shows. When I saw that some of the “curiosities” were people with terrible deformities, it made me feel bad for them and bad about myself.

After watching TLC for a few hours last night, I had the same feeling. I don’t think I’ll be watching that channel again.

Cowman’s New Handle

For a decade, the mascot of the Ohio State Fair has been a spotted Holstein called, simply, “Cowman.”

I admired the straightforward nature of the name.  The moniker told you everything you needed to know about the character.  It was just some guy — probably a teenager looking to make a few bucks during the summer break — walking around in a cheesy looking cow costume, getting his picture taken with Fair food-stoked kids at the behest of their doting parents.  Man + cow costume = Cowman.  Never mind that cows are, by definition, female, so that “Cowman” is a complete non sequitur.

This year the Fair organizers decided to have a Facebook contest to come up with a “better” name for Cowman.  The winning entry was “Butters.”  It’s not a bad name, with its dairy reference and its nod to South Park.  It’s definitely better than other possible options, like Elsie or Milkwad McCheese.  But I’ll miss the brutal simplicity of “Cowman.”  “Butters” just isn’t the same.

The Ohio State Fair is underway, incidentally, and runs through August 5.

Fun At The Fair

Tomorrow the 2011 Ohio State Fair begins.  There will be some differences this year — for one, beer will be served for the first time in more than 100 years, although apparently only at adult events at one of the concert venues — but the core of the Fair will be the same as it has been for decades.

In the livestock barns, 4-H kids will be showing animals they have raised and fed and tenderly cared for since birth.  The poultry pavilion will be a cacophony of cackling and quacking and honking by often-exotic looking fowl.  Delicious fresh ice cream and milkshakes will be sold at the dairy building, next to the traditional butter cow and butter calf.  Other buildings will house concession stands that hawk garage sale items and curious products you normally see only on TV.  On the Midway, there will be vomit-inducing rides and a rich display of tattoos.  And everywhere there will be legendary Fair food that ranges from home-cooked meals prepared by church groups to the most absurd fried offerings imaginable.

I love the Fair.  I love the animal and vegetable competitions and horse shows and the chance to reconnect with Ohio’s great agricultural heritage.  I love the Fair’s timeless quality and old-fashioned feel.  And how can you beat the food?

If you’ve never been to the Ohio State Fair, you’re missing something.  This year’s edition runs from July 27 to August 7.

Deep-Fried Beer?

In the race to try to deep-fry every concoction known to man, we’ve reached a pinnacle (or possibly nadir) of sorts:  deep-fried beer.  Apparently a Texas chef has figured out how to do it using some kind of pretzel-like outer shell.  The linked article states that diners consider the result to be a “delicious taste sensation.”

I don’t think the Ohio State Fair permits the sale of alcoholic beverages, or we could expect to see deep-fried beer along with deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried bacon, and all of the other artery-clogging goodies found at Fair concession stands.

As for me, I like beer just fine served in bottles, ice cold.  Some things can’t be improved upon.

Fair Food

The 2010 Ohio State Fair is in full swing.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the Fair this year.  That means I’ll miss the pungent smells and interesting sights at the animal barns, the fervent pitches of the mop and cleaning solution salesmen at the “As Seen On TV” pavilion, and the dust, tattoos, and piercings that are the hallmarks of the Midway.  Fortunately, all of those attractions, and many others at the Fair, are timeless.  If I can’t check them out this year, I’ll be able to do it next year, and I probably won’t miss much of anything.

There is one area, however, where the Fair evolves rapidly and missing a year can be crucial.  I’m speaking, of course, about Fair food.  When we first started going to the Fair, you looked for corn dogs, a slice of pizza, a wedge of pie, caramel apples, cotton candy, and salt water taffy.  Over the years, elephant ears, funnel cakes, and the proudly advertised yet plainly described “fried dough” were introduced to great popular acclaim.  Then came developments like the Hot Roast Beef Sundae, the 84-ounce “Lemon Shake-Up,” which consists of ice, a lemon, and a cup or so of sugar, and other monuments to healthy eating.

This year’s Fair website has a helpful “food finder” so that every visitor to the Fair can immediately make a beeline for their favorite Fair food.  Check out some of what I am missing this year:  Deep fried garlic mashed potatoes and bacon cheddar mashed potatoes on a stick with seasoned sour cream dipping sauce!  Chocolate covered bacon!  Fried dill pickles!  French fries with ranch dressing and crumbled bacon topping!  Deep fried Oreos!  Deep fried cookie dough, fried cheesecake, deep fried Cap’n Crunch, and deep fried s’mores!  (And the last options are all available from the same concession stand!  My God, is it located near qualified medical personnel?)

Makes you want to eat and drink to bursting and then go on a ride like the Gravitron or the Viking Ship, doesn’t it?

The Step-Down Phenomenon: The Ohio State Fair

The 156th Ohio State Fair began this week.  As with every Ohio State Fair, this year’s edition features entertainment acts, performances by children’s choirs and bands, a butter sculpture, and tasty but horribly unhealthy foods, like elephant ears and the enticingly named “fried dough.”  This year’s hot new food option apparently is deep-fried buckeyes — that is, deep-fried balls of peanut butter and chocolate fudge molded to look like a buckeye — which sell for 5 for $4. 

2008 butter sculpture of Ohios presidents

2008 butter sculpture of Ohio's presidents

Interestingly, this year the Ohio State Fair is specifically being marketed  to appeal to people in the grip of the step-down phenomenon — in this case, people who can’t afford to travel long distances or take expensive vacations.  Instead, those people take “staycations,” where they spend a day at some location within a reasonable driving distance.  The Fair’s advertising is emphasizing the Fair’s value, the availability of coupons for Fair events and goodies, and other special deals.  Fair organizers are hoping for record turnouts, if the weather cooperates. 

I hope the weather is good and this year’s Fair sets attendance records.  I like the entire Ohio State Fair experience — getting there early and touring the livestock barns to see the kids and families taking care of the animals they have raised and entered for judging, walking through the open-air flea market and new product pavilions, having lunch at one of the good, home-cooked food restaurants staffed by members of churches, and strolling along a hot and dusty midway with rides designed to cause people to lose the fried sauerkraut they just gobbled down.   Through all of these activities, the Ohio State Fair is a great place for people watching — which is just another part of the good value people might be seeking in these recessionary times.