Tasting the food at the NC State Fair
State fair food vendors are always in search of the next big deep-fried thing.
They hope to create a deep-fried delicacy that will join the ranks of the N.C. State Fair’s greatest hits: deep-fried candy Snickers, deep-fried HoHos and the Krispy Kreme cheeseburger.
Several vendors will share samples of their creations at an event at 11:30 a.m. Monday in Raleigh that state Agriculture officials put on for the media. The fair is Oct. 15-25 at Raleigh fairgrounds.
Food vendors have incentive to create the next popular deep-fried treat: increased sales.
The deep-fried bananas foster that the Ragin’ Cajun booth served last year increased their sales by 20 percent, according to owner Chris Wrenn. Although Wrenn has been serving food at the fair since 2009, he hadn’t tried to compete in the annual scrum of the best new deep-fried treat at the fair.
But this year, Wrenn and his business partner, chef Joseph Fasy, began working on what they hope will be a follow-up hit: pimento cheese hushpuppies with bacon and jalapeno and served with a sriracha bang bang sauce.
Pimento cheese seems to be popular item this year. The folks behind Woody’s, a sports bar in Raleigh and Cary, are doing deep-fried wontons filled with pimento cheese. “The whole world is crazy for pimento cheese,” said Woody’s co-owner Shawn Whisnant. “So we thought why not deep fry it for the fair?”
Wrenn and Fasy sat down recently to talk about how they tried to come up with a deep-fried fair hit.
The men met about three years ago. Wrenn owns Old North State Catering, which he runs out of a fully equipped 42-foot trailer. Wrenn’s church, The Gathering, cooks a meal once a month for families in need and someone reached out to Fasy to help with the Thanksgiving feast. Fasy is a longtime hotel chef who has worked for Hyatt and the Biltmore Hotel.
“We’ve been together ever since,” Fasy said.
Wrenn added, “My wife calls it a bromance.”
Fasy helps Wrenn develop menus for his catering events, pairing his classical cuisine credentials with Wrenn’s down-home Southern cooking. The men use those events as opportunities to test recipes that may also work for the fair. This year’s pimento cheese hush puppies were a big hit at a recent wedding. The men only recently completed the recipe, increasing the amount of jalapenos and brine in the batter.
“We got it right on the jalapenos this time,” Wrenn said after taking a bite of the most recent batch.
Not every dish will work at the fair, the men said. Their attempt to make a barbecue chicken and waffle sandwich failed. The dish was delicious with homemade waffles, but those can’t be done at the fair and a frozen waffle just didn’t taste good enough.
Wrenn and Fasy certainly learned some lessons from their bananas foster success: Have one dedicated line, register and deep fryer for what you hope will be your breakout hit. And be prepared.
This year, Fasy is planning to make 35 gallons of sriracha bang bang sauce.
New foods at the N.C. State Fair
Here’s a list of some of the new foods debuting at this year’s N.C. State Fair:
▪ Ragin’ Cajun will have a pimento cheese hushpuppies with bacon and jalapeno and served with a sriracha bang bang sauce. The booth is located just past the Sam Rand Grandstand.
▪ Murphy House will be selling “Fry Me Over the Moons,” which includes all of these items deep-fried: A Moon Pie, a Hostess cupcake, three Oreos and two Reese’s cups. It’s a little over the top, but perfect for sharing, said manager Matthew Varnadoe. Cost: $8. Murphy House has several locations: the 1853 Grill, alongside the church food vendors; inside the Scott building and in front of the Sam Rand Grandstand.
▪ Woody’s is serving deep-fried pimento cheese-filled wontons. Cost: five pieces for $5. Their booth is south of Dorton Arena near the main midway entrance.
▪ N&T Concessions is selling Carolina crab bites, made with North Carolina crab and little filler and served with a “crabby sauce,” like a spicy Thousand Island dressing. Cost: $8 for four bites. The booth is near Gate 9, in front of the rabbit barn and next to a grilled corn vendor.
▪ Chef’s D’lites is serving deep-fried crispy ice cream, like a deep-fried Klondike bar. Cost: $5. The food stand is across from the women’s bathroom outside the Sam Rand Grandstand.
▪ S2 Concessions will be selling two new treats: deep-fried peanut butter pickles (giant pickle cut in half, smothered in peanut butter, dipped in batter and fried) and deep-fried bacon-wrapped Tootsie Rolls (giant Tootsie Roll, cut in half, wrapped in bacon, dipped in batter and fried.) Cost: $6. The booth is a mini donut trailer parked in Kiddieland.
▪ McBride Concessions is offering peanut butter and jelly chicken wings (think Thai peanut sauce) as well as “pinchos,” a pork or chicken skewer. The wings cost $6 for six, $10 for a dozen, $20 for 24. The pincho costs $7 for one skewer or $9 with a tortilla, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, sour cream and cheese sauce. These new items are only available at the McBrides’ location across from the Expo Center.
▪ Country Folks Creamery is offering two new ice creams this year: sour ice cream and country folks vanilla ice cream with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. (This stand also sells what they call the hottest ice cream made with Carolina Reaper peppers.) Cost: $5. The stand is adjacent to Gate 1, near the men’s bathroom.
For more information about the fair, which starts Thursday, go to ncstatefair.org