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Maryland Fair

August 5, 2015

Is the ubiquity of fair food growing? I’m not sure who manages concessions sales at regional fairs and festivals, but they are looking more and more similar these days.

Part of me wonders if that’s just a function of being older and wiser.

When I was a kid living in Miami, one of my favorite things was the Dade County Youth Fair, and my favorite thing about this annual rite was the food. Roasted corn was being cooked over open coals right at the main entrance, and everyone was walking around with butter dipped ears of the stuff. It smelled magnificent.

But perhaps my most defining food memory of those early days was the Italian sausage booths. To this day, the smell of frying onions and peppers with sausage is one of my favorite things.

However, these things aren’t unique to Miami. They exist at almost every fair and festival, sold at eerily similar concession stands. If one looks hard enough, there are still regional delicacies to be found. So, what delights were to await us at the fair in western Maryland?

Well, there was an unexpected nod to upstate New York.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find spiedies all the way out here. For those not in the know, this is the food that put Binghamton, NY on the map. But there they were at the Garrett County Fair. Here’s how it was billed,

Fresh all white meat marinated in original spiedie sauce.. a NY State classic served on a pretzel roll with cheese

Well, it’s nice to get the nod, even if the execution was a bit off base. I did get to take a look at one up close, and it did not resemble any spiedie I have ever seen. But I’m sure Chuck Schumer would be proud to see the culinary influence of New York spreading across the country.

What was really interesting about this fair in particular was that it appeared to have a handful of local concessions with more of a permanent spot in the park. These places set up shop in actual buildings on the grounds.

Sure, there were plenty of food vendors who sold their wares from mobile operations. Why would I want to buy a funnel cake from one of the out of town mobile operators, when there was a compelling local option where the production wasn’t done in a trailer?

I thought of these mobile operators as carpetbaggers. My friend bought a funnel cake from one of those trailers and it was overly greasy. The funnel cake from the hometown concession was excellent. And most of the notable food came from these more permanent structures, including unheard of values like a $1 grilled cheese sandwich.

Fairs offer too much food to sample it all in one day. So there was more that I missed out upon than what I ultimate tried. But one thing I couldn’t resist was the pit beef sandwich, especially after seeing the fellow behind the stand operate the smoker. It was serious. He was mopping and turning large joints of beef, and feeding soaked hardwood into the fire to produce copious amounts of sweet smelling smoke.

For six dollars, the sandwich comes on a kaiser roll with your choice of sliced raw onions, american cheese, or horseradish. It was my first time with the form, so I really wanted to try the beef on its own, so I went plain with horseradish on the side. Next time, I’ll try the classic build because it was a little dry and I think it could benefit from the creaminess of american cheese.

The $4 milkshakes from the local creamery were also excellent. The strawberry was better than the vanilla, with chunks of real berries providing some brightness to cut through a bit of the fat. But all shakes were super thick, and hard to suck through the straw at first. On a hot summer day, that problem doesn’t last for long. Man, those really hit the spot.

I do regret the milkshake binge, because they got in the way of some other unique offerings.

There was a crab cake, which was billed as 100% crab without any filler. Which had to be false, because without egg, how do you get the crab to stick together, so it can be breaded and fried? Looks like I’ll have to wait until next year.

Same goes for the $3 “walking onion” which appears to be a whole sweet onion cooked in foil. It’s made delicious with butter and a “secret ingredient”, but on a hot day I just couldn’t see myself walking around eating an onion.

I totally forgot about the Amish fry pies. These were something I stumbled onto early, and I planned to get one before I left. But after spending a day in the sun, I wasn’t thinking so clearly. These were homemade and filled with real fruit. Sigh.

With luck, the three families will fall in love with Accident, Maryland and we’ll make an annual pilgrimage the the county fair. Regardless, I learned some valuable lesson. Milkshakes are hella filling. And regardless of how unappealing it may sound to walk around eating a whole onion, there are some things I should be doing for the sake of science.

Today is another adventure.

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