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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005 01:57 am

New treats

Thai coffee, chocolate-covered berries, and fried cheesecake are among new state fair fare

Whether you see the Illinois State Fair as a dieter’s nightmare or a junk food lover’s dream, there’s no denying that it’s one of the few Springfield events to offer such a variety of culinary treats.

This year, there are more choices than ever, including iced Thai coffee (coffee topped with heavy cream) sold by Red Iguana Coffee Co. and chocolate-covered strawberries from CocoFlow Chocolate Fountains.

Among other new food entries:

• “Texas-style” quesadillas and nachos prepared on a five-foot replica of a cast iron skillet. This snack is available at the Skillet, a stand operated by Debbi and Mike Oxford of Granbury, Texas. The Oxfords also offer a low-carb tortilla with only 14 carbs compared to the 44 carbs of a regular tortilla.

• Fried cheesecake served by Michael’s Concessions. There are three versions of this new treat: plain, strawberry, and turtle. The outer layer of the turtle variety is a thin, crispy, hot pastry coating that resembles pie crust coated in cinnamon and sugar. Take a bite and the cold, creamy cheesecake melds with the melted chocolate and nuts.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to eat at the fair. Here are some options:

• The 4-H Junior Livestock Building foodstand serves pancakes, sausage and gravy for breakfast, and brats and ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Most items are under $3.

• Free ice water is offered by the Lutheran Hour Ministries, on Pat Henry Lane, north of the Coliseum. Tents staffed by state and local officials also offer free water.

• Ice-cold watermelon is available in the Farmers Market tent on Farmarama Lane, on the east side of the Floriculture Building. Peaches, garlic, ice cream, and cider slush are also for sale, but it would be nice to see a more abundant selection of fresh produce here. The fair should copy the twice-a-week Farmers’ Market in downtown Springfield: It would be nice to see a lively, outdoor market atmosphere at the fairgrounds, promoting Illinois produce and offering taste samples.

• The Prairie Farms stand near the Milk-A-Cow display offers a chocolate-coated ice cream bar for 50 cents. It’s one of the best deals at the fair.

On the other end of the eating spectrum, there are many more expensive food items. The curry chicken at the Jamaican tent in Ethnic Village has always been one of my favorites. But it seems the price has increased over the past few years, while the portions get smaller. This year, the tasty concoction of red beans and rice, topped with chunks of spicy chicken served with one meager sliver of plantain, was $6. It’s still delicious, but one of the more expensive items I tried.>

The Illinois State Fair runs through Aug. 21.

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