This story started as a debate in the newsroom. Greasy, fried fair food: yea or nay? Half the reporters in the conversation said, “Blech.” The other half solidly voiced support for Team Fried Food.
So we hatched an idea to take on the Puyallup Fair with nutrition in mind. Could healthy eats even be found at the fair? Really? This is an event, after all, that used 1,232 35-pound containers of shortening during the 2008 Puyallup Fair (that was the most recent figure that concessions manager Dan Sharp could find).
My mission: Find tasty gut bombs. (I got the easy assignment, clearly)
Craig Sailor’s mission: Find food that is reasonably healthy.
We spent a day at the fair over opening weekend, and here’s what we found.
CHOW DOWN: Sue’s take on greasy, fried gut bombs
By Sue Kidd
My mission was to find the tastiest food, regardless of fat grams, calories or, well, any nutritional value at all.
I took along self-described “iron stomach” and News Tribune staffer David Montesino – whose claim to fame is consuming six Earthquake burgers in one day – to help me eat my way through the fair.
Here’s what we ate, in order of preference.
Killer Kielbasa, $8.50
Location: Sausage Shack, near Blue Gate
The taste: A loaded Killer Kielbasa served on a stadium roll stuffed with sautéed onions, peppers and a tangle of sauerkraut. The oversized kielbasa dripped pork juice and popped with puckery bursts of mustard seed with every snappy, porky bite. The kielbasa is plenty for two eaters, so that makes it a good bargain (compared with other items sampled here – none of which are exceptional values).
Bacon wrapped jalapeno popper, $5.50
Location: Totally Fried booth, near Blue Gate
The taste: This dish is everything you know about bar jalapeno poppers, only replace the crispy breading with a chewy, thick, smoky bacon jacket. The jalapeno was spicy, but not overly so. I liked the texture: Chewy bacon yielded to a roasted jalapeno that kept some of its crunchy snap, with a final taste of gooey cream cheese. A bit on the spendy side for three stuffed jalapenos, but fair and value are not synonymous.
Beef and cheese piroshky, $7.50
Location: Kaleenka Piroshky booth, near Pavilion
The taste: Breaking the beef and cheddar cheese piroshky in half was like cracking open a Russian cheeseburger. Golden-brown fried dough broke to a steaming hot interior of melted, gooey channels of cheddar cheese and tasty, savory seasoned ground beef. I had my eye on the salmon piroshky, but I’m glad I stuck with the oversized beef and cheddar, which was enough to feed two.
Cheesequake Burger, $9.98
Location: Earthquake Burger booth near Blue Gate
The taste: For a giant burger, it was surprisingly cooked all the way; juicy, but no trace of pink. The half-pound burger is at least 6 inches across and feeds two easily. While the American cheese was melted and grilled onions browned, the overall taste of the burger was just that: onions and cheese. This burger lacked beefy flavor. Even more disappointing, the texture was mushy. The heat of the meat turned the bun floppy.
Philly cheesesteak sandwich, $6.95
Location: Philly and Sausage booth, International Food Court
The taste: I liked that we could watch our Philly cheesesteak made to order, and the line cook used all the right techniques as he cling-clanged the thinly sliced steak on the grill, topped it with cheese, followed by grilled green peppers and onions, before flipping the meat, cheese and veggies into a warm, fresh hoagie roll. The result was a hot, gooey gut bomb. The steak tasted a bit too sinewy and the white processed cheese had a plastic quality, but the copious pile of green peppers and onions were appreciated.
Krusty Pup, $4.07
Location: Krusty Pup locations throughout the fairgrounds
The taste: Normally, when biting into a Krusty Pup corn dog, it’s a delicious, crunchy experience, but this Krusty Pup was undercooked and was more raw-doughy than crispy corn dog delicious. Had it been cooked for just a bit longer, I would have eaten more than a bite. If you get a doughy Krusty Pup, at that price, I’d demand another.
HEALTHY EATS: Craig’s take on reasonably healthy food that won’t leave a fair goer reaching for the antacids.
By Craig Sailor
My mission: find healthful food options at The Puyallup Fair. It was going to be a labor, I knew, but Hercules had it worse and he was still able to capture boars, birds and bulls. Incidentally, all three of those can be found barbecued at the fair.
To help me with my daunting task, I recruited MultiCare nutritionist Beverly Utt. Utt recognizes that many fairgoers come just for the food. “People do eat their way through here,” she said as we walked through the purple gate.
But a visit to the fair doesn’t have to be a diet-wrecking, artery-hardening adventure, Utt says. Come up with a plan, prioritize your food purchases and pace yourself. But that can be challenging in a place where the food goes by names like Monster, Earthquake, Tower, Elephant, Jumbo and something called Alienade.
At the Sales Family Krusty Pup stand, a child’s size version can provide the same experience at only half the size (and calories). But few adults order them, said worker Don Swanson. “Even if I was a kid, I’d want the big one,” he said.
At a nearby stand, worker Emily McCoy was offering up fruit smoothies. Utt frowned at the 45 grams of sugar but gave the fiber content and nearly full day’s requirement of Vitamin C high marks. McCoy said she imbibes occasionally. “That’s the best part of working here. (But) I try not to do it every day.”
At BBQ Pete’s, we investigated corn roasted in the husk ($4). Utt said it was an excellent choice – before being basted in butter, that is. But even with the butter, “it’s still a better choice than a Krusty Pup,” she said.
The Mongolian Wok looked promising. Six trays held fresh and frozen vegetables that can be mixed with chicken or beef and served over white rice. But the $7.50 plate left us wanting with its mushy peas, salty meat and bland rice. “I’d rather eat an Earthquake Burger,” Utt said.
Options running out, I resorted to my ace in the hole: the Grange displays. Taking up one end of the ShowPlex, fresh produce is displayed in fanciful butterfly and pinwheel shapes. I wished it wasn’t so pretty. I was going to feel guilty when I dismantled it and ate it.
It was then that agricultural-horticutural (ag-hort to those in the know) worker Donna DuBois stepped in. She described herself as a “worker bee” while standing next to the Pierce County Beekeeper Association’s display. No irony was intended.
Did she ever get the urge to nibble? “We don’t dine from our stuff in here,” she said, clearly accustomed to inane questions.
DuBois said the rest of the fair doesn’t follow the examples on display in Ag-Hort. “They deep fry anything they can get their hands on,” she said.
DuBois said most fair workers bring their lunches from home. “We can’t afford it – money-wise or butt-wise,” she said while slapping her posterior.
On the way out of the fair, we spotted a sign: “Yogurt is a delicious and satisfying part of a healthy diet.” Patrons were filling their cups so high with yogurt and candy toppings they looked like looters leaving an electronics store. Bucking that trend was Erik Lindsay, 20, and his wife, Alyssa, 22. Each was buying modestly filled cups. They told us they had just split an onion burger combo meal. Their resistance to gorging earned them high marks from Utt.
“We’re doing good and not even thinking about it,” Erik said, pleased. The chocolate yogurts topped with caramel represented the last shared treat for the couple for a long time to come. The next day Pfc. Erik Lindsay would ship out to Iraq with the U.S. Army’s 724th Engineer Battalion.
There are some moments in life that just cry out for a sweet indulgence.