What Not to Miss at the NC State Fair?
Just got home from the fair and, with the exception of my traditional cotton candy to-go on the way out, I made a point of buying from local vendors. Here's the run down...
Ham biscuit from Cary UMC, to go, eaten while watching the holstein dairy cattle show. Not the best biscuit, or the best ham, but some of the best people so I always go there.
Cinnamon pull apart brioche from La Farm Bakery, they have a booth in the Got To Be NC tent. I had no idea they would be there, but when I saw the booth, I had to have the bread.
Cookies and cream ice cream cone from NC State. I loved it and I'm a Tar Heel. The ice cream serving is ridiculously huge. And good.
Butterfly chips from the state farmer's market booth. The first few bites were good, but then it gave way to too much grease and not enough salt. I wish I had gone for my traditional sweet potato fries.
And to top it all off, a kosher dill pickle from Mt Olive. Always, always have to have a pickle, and a scratch-n-sniff sticker.
I also learned a very important lesson. Don't buy cotton candy from a booth next to the turkey legs. The smoke gets into the sugar as it's spinning, so the cotton candy has a hint of smoked turkey flavor. Didn't ruin my day, but definitely made it more interesting.
There are at least 4 hand-dipped corn dog places still at the State Fair.
I tried all 4 today, and the best one (for me) was the jumbo corn dog place that really only serves corndogs. They are located directly opposite Hunnicuts, which is one of the permanent restaurants in the location often referred to as "the church places".
These folks and one of the other 4 were definitely superior, and I was quite pleased.
Corn on the cob!!! Fried Snickers, you don't want to like it, but it is like sugar overload. My husband and I, buy something eat a few bites, then go to the next stand, I had a little trouble with only two bites of the snickers. There is crazy people watching at the NC State Fair, where do these people come from?
I've been going, that I can remember, for 45 years. Things change of course, but I try to keep up. Regarding my own tastes, the following are no-miss:
Pittsboro Kiwanis has the best country ham. Their biscuit is straight from a store-bought tube, but the ham is the best.
Cary Methodist church has decent stuff, esp for breakfast. Decent biscuits.
Richardson's Root Beer. It's a red&white small tent behind Choplins Hot Dogs. Draft, inexpensive, very good.
Frozen banana Stand. Located across from the Farmers Market stand at a major intersection. This one is my "go-to" frozen banana place year-in and year-out.
Choplins Hot Dogs. Across from Hunnicutts, which is one of the restaurants in the long building that curves along the edge of the old race track (now gone and replaced by the main midway). Get a hot dog. Ask if they still hand dip their corn dogs fresh...(n.b.: only ever eat fresh dipped corn dogs, never frozen ones)
Mini-donuts. Best early in the morning. Kitty-cornered from the waterfall. She makes them to order in a cute donut machine. Go for plain or maybe just a touch of cinnamon sugar.
The NC State dairy ice-cream. I like the milkshakes myself, but it's all good.
From here, look uphill facing the "fork" in the road. Take the right fork and up a bit on the left is a gyros guy who makes all-lamb gyro. It's better than lamb-beef some of the other places serve. He also has all beef and all chicken gyro....
3 Tents down from Richardson's is a place that sells fresh limeades, orangeades, and lemonades. I like my orangeade with no sugar, and using fizzy water. It's plenty sweet and very refreshing.
The Pork Chop Shop. Just the plain pork chop sandwich with slaw. Pass on the rest.
Roasted flavored almonds and Fresh roasted peanuts. These are near one another above the embankment of the rear of the old race track (race track is where the midway is now). Both these places are the best nuts here.
Continue on down this path for the gingerbread muffin place next to the pig races. Buy muffins before you go home -- eat them the next morning.
Big Jim's Ole Fashioned Hot Dogs -- a relative newcomer to the Fair, they are down just before the Rabbit Barn. They have Nathan's hot dogs, Southern red hot dogs, Kielbasas, and all the fixings.
Fresh Apple Cider down behind the flower show. Made there.
Tater Hut. At the head of the midway, these people use Idaho russets, and vegetable oil. She tries to get potatoes with enough sugar to brown them nicely, and they tend to make you wait while they fry them, two points in their favor. Al's Fries last year and this year have been a disappointment, I don't know why yet.
If you want candy apples, ask what kind of apples they use. Granny smith apples make better candy apples that also last longer (if you take some home).
Cotton Candy: In two of the exhibit halls you can find a) Maple Sugar cotton candy, and b) Honey cotton candy. These two pass all other at the fair in quality and flavor.
Also in the exhibit halls: Neese's free samples, Mt. Olive pickles, Milk, Muscadine slushies, Peanuts of various types, Truly fancy gourmet candy apples (probably the best at the fair, but expensive).
Apparently gone this year: Ostrich meat stand, Emu burger stand, the new "milk" samples place is no longer as good as it used to be, the German food place that was here the past 2 years is apparently gone, there are no good sno-kone (New Orleans style) places remaining. I can't find the elephant ear place that in years past used real butter as a coating after cooking, but I'm still looking for them...
Rules: Don't drink at the eating places, only drink at the 2 stands mentioned (or water). Don't deviate from listed foods, other foods at listed places may or may not hold up. Pace yourself, try to split 1 of everything between 2-4 people, you'll get further....
I have to admit that going from hot dog stand to hot dog stand and sampling 1 hot dog with identical ingredients between 2-4 people is more fun than eating at only the "recommended" sites. This way you get to learn and Know yourself, and it's more "Questy". Otoh, if you are only at the fair one day a year, that cuts down on the variety of what you eat.
Personally, I skip all the pizza places, and I avoid the Farmers Market stand like the plague. If you don't believe me, eat there, go ahead.
Places like Brinkleys, Santiagos, Bearfoots, O'Briens are all fair Institutions. If you're new to the Fair, certainly you should try them and many others. Take your time.....
The cookie dough is at the same stand (D'lites, I think) that has the fried mac n cheese. The fresh pressed cider at the Village of Yesteryear is incredible. Get either hot or cold, depending on the weather. The kettle corn in the same area is better than the other stands, IMHO.
The Pork Chop Shop represents value and is a respite from fried, fried, fried. The quality is acceptable, but not great.
All the church-run breakfast places have something to recommend them and a reason to avoid them. One has good grits, but serves artificial creamer with their coffee (Ugh!!!!). Another has great biscuits, just eh sausage. You get the idea. Btw, I can't remember who has the link (vs. patty) sausage there. Anyone know?