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Thursday, Aug. 19, 2004 01:54 am

Butt-growin’ time in Springfield again

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Teresa Ristick (holding a Haug Daug) and Michael Ristick of Michael’s Concessions
Photo by Nick Steinkamp

The Illinois State Fair offers carnival rides, farm animals, and lots of entertainment, but one of the event's biggest attractions is the food -- lots and lots of food. The fairgrounds are a food-lover's dream, with vendors selling everything from traditional corndogs and lemonade shake-ups to unique offerings such as fresh mango juice, cheese curds and giant turkey legs. There seems to be an unwritten rule that to be acceptable fair food, it must be fried and served on a stick. What other event would prompt otherwise rational people to stand in line for fried key lime pie or pizza on a stick?

Of course, the best way to eat your way through the fair is to start with a Vose's corndog (located on Grandstand Ave. across from the Grandstand). These large hot dogs, clad in a slightly sweet, crunchy cornmeal coating, are the best version of this state-fair staple. After that, there are plenty of interesting options.

You still have four days left (the fair ends Aug. 22) to try some new and tasty culinary treats at the fair. A few are actually healthy and -- gasp! -- never come close to a deep-fryer.

Here are a few recommendations:

• Fresh watermelon juice, served at the Gateway to India food tent, located next to the Dairy Building and across from the Emmerson Building east of the four-way stop. This is the first Illinois State Fair appearance for Charles and Loneth Soares, who own the Bombay of India restaurant in Springfield. They offer several Indian dishes, including chicken tikka masala, garlic naan (a kind of bread) and aloo papri chat, known as the "street food of Bombay," a spicy, delicious concoction of onions, potatoes, garbanzo beans, and rice, served cold. The best thing to wash down the rich flavors of the food with is freshly squeezed juice. Try the watermelon, which is a nice, refreshing way to cool off your tongue.

• Fried livers and gizzards and stuffed and fried black olives, served by Taft's of Rochester, located on Grandstand Avenue. In addition to fried jalapeño poppers and hot wings, this stand offers tasty fried livers and gizzards. Dennis Shelay of Springfield, who shared an order with his 9-year-old daughter Nicole says they both love the meaty, chewy chicken organs coated in breading. A new offering this year is fried black olives stuffed with cheese and salsa.

• The Haug Daug, served by Michael's Concessions. New at the fair this year, this concoction is a cross between an egg roll and corndog. A hot dog, wrapped in bacon and Cheddar cheese, is then wrapped in a pastry shell and deep-fried. The combination of flavors is interesting of flavors, and the airy, crunchy coating covering the cheesy dog is a nice change of pace -- and the Haug Daug's not served on a stick!

• Fried everything at Fried What! on Main Street (across from the Ethnic Village). Even if you don't want to actually eat a fried chocolate-dipped Twinkie, Snickers, or Oreo, it's fun to stand back and watch people as they try these sweet, gooey mounds of calories. There's no denying that these offerings are for the diner with a sweet tooth, but they're not as disgustingly sweet as they sound. The batter is similar to a funnel-cake or pancake batter. I actually heard one customer compare the s'more with the Twinkie -- which meant he had eaten both in one day.

• Curry chicken at the Jamaican tent in Ethnic Village. This rich blend of spicy curry, red beans and rice, and chunks of tender chicken is one of the best offerings of the ethnic booths. The dish is served with a few slices of sweet plantain. The Ethnic Village, located next to the main gate and Adventure Village, offers 14 food booths representing regions around the world and is one of the best spots in which to enjoy a snack and listen to free entertainment. You'll also find an international beer garden and shaded picnic tables.

• Sweet-potato fries served by Prairie View Farms, located in the Commodities Pavilion, across from the grandstand. In addition to grilled lamb burgers and smoked-lamb sandwiches, this stand offers sweet, lightly salted slivers of sweet potato, a great alternative to regular french fries.

• All Natural Flame-Roasted Sweet Corn. You can watch as the ears are shucked behind the stand (located across from the grandstand); placed in ovens, in which they are dry-roasted at 350°F; and finally dipped in melted vats of butter before being wrapped in foil. The husk serves as a handle.

• Fried s'mores and pickles from the Outback Shack, located on Central Avenue, across from the Coliseum. Michelle Mortensen of Albert Lea, Minn., says she was bored one day while working an event and decided to play around with her deep-fryer. The result was a fried s'more: The campfire favorite of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker is coated with batter and fried, then dusted with powdered sugar. I must admit, it's delicious. The chocolate and marshmallow melt together, and each bite tastes like a warm filled doughnut. Mortensen also sells fried pickle spears, long slivers of dill pickles lightly coated in batter. They're even better when dipped in ranch dressing.

For most of us, normal eating routines will resume next week. But you have a few days left in which to throw calorie-counting to the wind and head to the State Fair to expand your idea of what can be done with a little batter, a stick, and a deep-fryer.

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