Even driving for two hours in a light rain could not dampen our spirits. Leslie and my mom took turns reading food categories with all the anticipation and embellishment of deserted island castaways. I hadn’t eaten all day and the others in the car skipped lunch which, admittedly, is a far cry from actual starvation or even Day 5 on Naked and Afraid, but we were pretty hungry. Breakfast items, food on a stick and the latest Sporkie Award entrants supplanted more cliched family road trip options including show tune karoake and I-Spy.
Our 2014 visit proved to be a tough day with a borderline food coma and mild sunburn sandwiched between long drives in the morning and evening. This year, we decided to stay overnight at the Hampton Inn across the street from the fair grounds. Arriving Friday afternoon not only gave us the opportunity to partake of more food, but spread the travel out as well. After checking in, we crossed the street and entered Gate 5.
Once we cleared security, a woman at the information booth waved us over. Although our top priority was the Bacon Bottom Pizza, we had no idea where to go so we challenged her knowledge of key food locations. “Can you tell us where the bacon bottom pizza is?” Yes! Yes she can. Flipping to the map at the center of the WI State Fair Daily Schedule, she traced the route with her finger. Dairy Lane to Main Street to Grandstand Avenue. Brew City is halfway up on the left.
The walk was only a few of blocks, but the once welcome misty drizzle we thought would be our friend and keep the crowds away had steadily progressed to a light rain. While Brew City did have some indoor seating, the few other brave souls challenging the elements had already staked their claim, leaving a few small outdoor tables barely protected by patio umbrellas for us. So we split off. Bill and Leslie dried the table and chairs as mom and I went to get our first samples.
Bacon Bottom Pizza
We didn’t attend last year, so the 2015 second place Sporkie winner was new to us. The concept is as straight forward as it sounds. The traditional pizza crust is replaced with bacon…and it wasn’t just a few strips. They build an impenatrable lattice that, in places, was three layers thick. That is topped with a mild pizza sauce, some pepperoni slices, sausage (pork three ways) and mozzarella. Not that crust-haters (you know who you are) need an extra incentive, but the cheese went all the way to the edges and beyond. Honestly, if it wasn’t raining, one might think those were tears of joy.
The bacon crust provided a solid platform. A really solid platform. Remember the “impenetrable” comment above? I broke a plastic fork while trying to hold it down and cut through all that bacon so we could share around the table. That says much more about the quality of the free utensils than it does about the pizza.
PRO TIP: Bring flatware from home. Not only will that help reduce the trash, but it will slice through just about any food you need to divide amongst your family and friends without breaking.
Mac Bottom Pizza
When we got in line for the Bacon Bottom Pizza, we noticed a worthy cousin, the Mac Bottom Pizza, so we ordered one of those as well. It, too, was as advertised. Replace the bacon with a deep-fried mac-n-cheese patty and there you go. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with this version. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed doubling up on the cheese, but the “crust” really couldn’t stand up to a traditional hand-to-mouth pizza eating technique. If melted mozzarella is the most cohesive item on the plate, grab some napkins! Ultimately, I finished with a knife and fork.
Several around the table suggested starting with the bacon crust, spooning a layer of fresh mac-n-cheese, followed by the pizza sauce, pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella. Sporkie 2017 entrant?
By this time, the rain was coming down fairly steadily. We hunkered down under the Brew City table umbrella and plotted our our food route for the evening. In addition to the Daily Schedule, the woman at the information desk provided a nice New Foods list complete with vendor name and location. Each of us selected foods we wanted to try and Leslie annotated the handy map with circles and arrows and paragraph on the back…well, you get the picture.
Leslie had the foresight to bring a coat and an umbrella, but the rest of us did not. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished and as the coat rested on the back of the chair while we ate, the hood began collecting rain. Let’s just say no one escaped the rain.
Deep Fried Ol’ Fashioned
Two blocks over was a collection of stalls that piqued our interest. Mom set her eyes (stomach) on the Deep Fried Ol’ Fashioned from the Water Street Brewery which consisted of orange pound cake with cherry and brandy cream cheese filling and bitter reduction whipped cream. I have never had an Old Fashioned, but she said it was an honest interpretation the drink. The outside of the cake was well caramelized while the inside cake was moist. The filling, whipped cream and some orange caramel provided a good contrast to the cake.
Scotch Egg On-A-Stick
While waiting in line for the Ol’ Fashioned, I saw Scotch Egg On-A-Stick on the menu. If you have never had a scotch egg, this version consisted of a hardboiled egg wrapped in Kissinger’s pork sausage and then deep fried accompanied by a small side of whole grain mustard. All in all, it was a good dish. Not as good as I thought it might be and the mustard was a bit strong for me.
Leslie also called an audible while we were in line and asked me to pick up a Wis-Cone-Sin, described as “an exclusive miller bakery soft pretzel cone, filled with German rotkohl (red cabbage dish), hand breaded chicken schnitzel, a homemade potato pancake wedge topped with crispy cinnamon apple straws and a drizzle of Oktoberfest beer reduction.” Any crispy texture expected from the potato pancakes and schnitzel was dampened by the overpowering rotkohl. Not sure if it was the wet melange inside or the drier than expected bread that put us off but, sadly, this did not live up to the hype suggested by its 2015 Sporkie Award and was the only dish we did not finish.
At this point, we were about an hour and a half in. If you want to measure by meals instead of minutes, we’re up to five. The rain and humidity were like old friends, so rather than lose our latest table umbrella, Leslie (the one with the coat) popped over to Rupena’s.
Deep-fried Stuffing Balls
We had stuffing balls in 2014 and they were favorites, so we went back to the well. Unfortunately, it was a different well. These were a bit over cooked and didn’t have the mushy stuffing centers we remembered. Still the flavor was good and they came with a plastic ramekin on the side filled with gravy for dipping which raised their game.
The stuffing balls combined with the Wis-Cone-Sin so impacted Leslie’s confidence that she refused to contribute to the next food selection. Indeed, we hit a rough spot both from a food perspective as well as a weather perspective and needed something to brighten the day.
Crabby Lobster Melt
Our next stop was Tropics At The Fair. The Crabby Lobster Melt called to us and it did not disappoint. Spilling over what tasted like a Hawaiian bread (not sure if it was) lobster role bun was creamy blend of crab, lobster and shrimp covered in a bit of white cheddar cheese. Our family vacation in the summer of 2001 was a New England cruise, so the subsequent conversation drew favorable comparisons to the lobster rolls of Maine and Massachusetts. Spoiler alert: We picked up another one of these the next day.
Texas Tater Tots
Tropics also had margaritas (big surprise there) which may have helped the mood as much as the food did. Leslie felt strong enough to get back on the horse and order their Texas Tater Tots which heaped BBQ sauce, beef brisket, melted cheese and bacon on to unsuspecting tater tots.
This was perhaps the perfect sharable dish because everyone could easily stab a tot…or two…or three. (Bill) There was no sawing of woven bacon. The pressure of the plastic cutlery didn’t smash delicate pastry. Get in. Get out. Get happy.
If there was a flaw to be found, it was in the execution of the build. The Texas Tater Tots suffered from insufficient layering. Typically, nachos are the most egregious perpetrators of bad construction, almost to the point of acceptance. To see those bad habits manifested on my plate of tater tots was a bit disheartening. For all such dishes, I have one basic principle: if you layer anything, layer everything.
In this case, it should have gone tots, brisket, sauce, cheese, bacon, green onion followed by tots, brisket, sauce, cheese, bacon, green onion. It should not have gone tots, more tots, brisket, sauce, cheese, bacon, green onion. Two layers of tots in a row means the bottom tots get no love, which is very sad. Nonetheless, the combination scored big and we finished the plate. Overall, the lobster, tots and drinks clearly made Tropics At The Fair our winning vendor for the evening. (And for those of you making nachos, c’mon already! Chips, salsa, cheese, chips, salsa, cheese, chips, salsa, cheese. Not chips, chips, chips, salsa, cheese.)
We closed the night out with a WI State Fair cream puff. We didn’t get one the last time we were here because the line had literally over a hundred people in it. But at 7:30pm on the last Friday night of the Fair with a light rain outside, there were barely ten people ahead of us. Even with that, standing in line took longer than it did to eat it. While the parents went to pick up a giant eclair (no lie, it was almost two pounds) Leslie and I finished our puffs. It proved a good chaser for the night. Always end on a high (sweet) note.
For those of you keeping score, we tried nine plates on our first day. Some plates hit several categories.
- Foods with cheese (4)
- Deep fried food (3)
- Foods on a stick (2)
- Desserts (2)
More to come, as we are joined by my brother and his wife on Day Two.