You know what? I never learn. Two years ago, I walked The Great Frederick Fair with the fabulous Travis S. Pratt to find five of the weirdest fair food objects we could sink our teeth into. Last year, I scoured the grounds with my friend Sophia in a wayward attempt to eat three healthy meals in one day at the fair.
Each year brought forth its own issues — 2013 provided a memorable encounter with a walkaway taco in a Dorito bag (nacho cheese, of course), and 2014 … well, let’s just say I didn’t stop by the Pig Hole in 2015 (side: Any day you type a phrase like “Let’s just say I didn’t stop by the Pig Hole” is a day you ought to remember for quite some time). I thought that perhaps I was in the clear this year due to the new gimmick: Pick three fair food staples. Eat them at various places. Watch said food staples fight each other to the death.
Or something like that.
Anyway. Wandering the tough streets of the fairgrounds with the wonderful FNP photographer Graham Cullen on Monday morning, we decided on these three cliched fair food items:
- Italian sausage
- Funnel cake
- Chicken on a stick
The plan was to get each item at two separate places and judge them against one another. Yes, we know this doesn’t fully encapsulate the fair’s food options, but let’s be real here — this newspaper ain’t frontin’ a couple hundred bucks for some bozo to walk around, buying 16 funnel cakes at a place that consistently smells like the insides of a cow for the sake of “journalism.” Somewhere, Bob Woodward is pouring a scotch.
So it went. Graham and I set forth on a cloudy, cool day to crown a Grand Champion steer … er … winner for the Best Of The Best (whoops, I think we trademarked that phrase earlier this year) when it comes to these particular fair foods. Of the three years I’ve done this, I realized this time around that there’s never been a more imperative moment for me to have my digestive system get a spa treatment.
Because it needs that steam room. Badly. Let’s go.
Well, so this was fun. As we walked through a half-empty fairgrounds, I asked Graham where a good Italian sausage might be. He suggested a place his wife enjoys. And so began the through-line for the day: Someone who Graham knows enjoys something. Colin then eats it. And there before the grace of God went us.
First up? Coy’s, which is located right by the building that houses all of the baked goods.
The sausage there was, without question, my favorite item of the day. A fresh roll. Diced peppers and onions. A sausage that’s not too big, yet not too tiny (yep, I wrote that). And better yet, the people running the business were from Indiana, Pennsylvania, which is near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is where I worked for four years before coming here.
But it wouldn’t be The Great Frederick Fair if each experience didn’t come fully equipped with its share of, “Oh, wait. That’s right. We’re at The Great Frederick Fair.”
Despite it being the best food item I consumed all day, the table we found on which to sit … well, here’s how the conversation went:
Me: “How about that table over there?”
Graham: “What, with the kids running all around it?”
Silence. We walk. We sit.
Graham: “Is that kid-puke over there? And wait. Are you going to eat the whole thing? You know you really shouldn’t eat the whole thing if we are going to go to different places like this.”
Me: “Psttttt! Pfffftttt!”
Coy’s competitor came in the form of Rita’s Italian sausage. Rita, as we should all know by now, owns my heart. Why? Because Rita’s is where I was first exposed to the walkaway taco two years ago. As they say about certain things in this country, never forget. I didn’t. And neither did Rita.
“Weren’t you the guy who said it was like warm poop?” she asked, not joking quite enough for me to worry that she might still be the tiniest bit offended, two years later. “But as my friend said, ‘Any publicity is good publicity.’ He was right. After that, everybody came up, saying they wanted to try the warm poop!”
Pause. Take that in.
So, yeah. There isn’t a single better person working at that fair than Rita. I love that woman. Unfortunately, her Italian sausage came with a roll that wasn’t as fresh as Coy’s. So, while I wanted to love it, and I’d give all of the walkaway tacos in the world to tell you her sandwich won, the victor was clear, table embedded with kid-puke and all.
WINNER: Coy’s. POINT: Graham’s wife.
It was here that I realized Graham had two things: 1. A friend who claimed to have a eaten a funnel cake that was a “mound of funnel.” And 2. Fingers.
“Point me in the direction of that,” I begged.
Lisa’s Lemonade & More. It’s kind of tucked away, but if you tell me you can’t get on board with the following, I’m going to tell you that you’re a liar: Red velvet funnel cake with cream cheese. Indeed, it was a mound o’ funnel cake. And indeed, it was amazing.
From Leesburg, Virginia, the “Lisa” in the equation uses her grandmother’s recipe, she explained, noting how everything is made from scratch. She was also super kind, visiting the table Graham and I found to make sure we liked what she offered.
“I can’t stop eating this,” Graham eventually confessed, and I agreed.
Naturally, as we polished off the cake, I looked down on my dark navy blue pants to find that my lap sort of looked like an establishing shot for a scene in “Scarface.” It looked like cocaine was everywhere. I said all of the hellos to all of the little friends. I looked a mess. I felt a mess. And all that powdered sugar made my stomach want to go all Tony Montana on … something.
Up against Lisa was the good, old-fashioned Rotary, and if nothing else, that tiny truck won the award for most endearing part of the fair. Who doesn’t have childhood memories of a run-down mobile something-or-other filled with a handful of old dudes offering up a special type of sugary sphere, all for less money than it takes to buy a free cup of water.
I opted for the $3 6-inch cake and it was pretty good. Crispy, which I like, but not quite up to par with Lisa’s grandmother’s now-legendary recipe. Still, you can’t not want to stop by the Rotary stand, if only because of something one of the guys behind the counter explained before we walked away.
“Every dime we make, we give away,” he said.
“How about Tums?” I wanted to ask, but didn’t, feeling my stomach clog more and more as the seconds passed by. “Do you give any of those away?”
WINNER: Lisa’s Lemonade & More. POINT: Graham’s friend.
CHICKEN ON A STICK
All right. So, here’s the deal. I don’t care about your cut-up pineapple stuffed with something that looks like cat vomit had a child with the insides of a vacuum. I don’t care about your pig wings. And I certainly don’t care about the Food Network filming you.
I just want a chicken on a stick.
Yet at Beck Concessions, this guy, presumably the captain of the ship, went on about how great he is and gave me my chicken on a stick. Graham and I decided on chicken on a stick being the third item on the menu after I relayed a story about going to New York City recently and having the worst chicken on a stick I’ve ever had in my life from a stand in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Why is it red?” Graham asked me before the guy even got around to putting it on a grill.
I had no answer. I still have no answer.
Plus, I was full. And I mean full. Not the full in which you say, “Oh, hey. No, I’ll pass on dessert, but once I get home, I’m popping open that can of Pringles.” Instead, the kind of full in which you say, “If I eat this chicken that’s so red it could seamlessly blend in with the Russian national flag, I might need a wheelchair for reasons we aren’t allowed to print.”
So, a few bites of that and on it was to our final destination, Asia Fusion Elite. Actually, we stopped at AFE before heading over to Pig Wing Man, but the guy working said his chicken on a stick wouldn’t be ready for another 10 minutes. One more lap around the grounds and my demeanor was changing rapidly from “dying” to “Kevin Costner in ‘The Big Chill.’” The skin was pale. The stomach was full. The digestive system sounded like a working brewery.
We had to go to Asia Fusion Elite, though, because it was Graham’s son who recently consumed a chicken on a stick there and he seemed to enjoy it. I was too full, too annoyed and too tired to truly have the same luck. Still, it did beat Beck’s.
Perhaps more important to me, however, was this: I heard Graham laughing before we took our spots sitting on a wall.
“Look at that,” he giggled, forcing me to look down at a pamphlet someone left on the grass.
“A trip to the urgent care center,” it read.
WINNER: Asia Fusion Elite. POINT: Graham’s son.