Freak Shows, Fried Snickers In Bacon And Other Delights At The New York State Fair

Where can you eat a triple bypass, get a 25 cent foot massage, count mullets, see the head of a beautiful girl on the body of an ugly snake, mingle with filthy swine and pick up a novelty license plate emblazoned with the Confederate flag? That would be the New York State Fair in Syracuse, New York, which runs through Labor Day. Most Americans hear the words “New York” and conjure up images of an urban jungle filled with sophisticated people who drink fair trade coffee and don’t own television sets. But New York isn’t all about the Big Apple – it’s a huge state with plenty of rural, pastoral beauty and there’s no better place to get a flavor of the state’s small town charms than the New York State Fair, held every summer since 1841.

I started my fair experience on Wednesday with a freak show. The cavernous fairgrounds are filled with farm animals, every type of fried food imaginable, midway rides and games, psychics, and hordes of people in all shapes and sizes. It’s sensory overload but a tinny voice coming out of a loudspeaker caught our attention.

STOP! WAIT! How could this ever come to be? She has traveled throughout the world telling her strange story of how her body transformed into an ugly snake to thousands of people. See Angel, the snake girl, with the head of a lovely girl on the body of an ugly, scaly, 200-pound snake.

My older son Leo, 5, and I couldn’t resist, so we plunked down $1.50 and headed inside. The “beautiful girl” was a haggard, middle-aged woman whose “story” seemed to consist of nothing more than her maniacal cackling, and we were kicked out after trying to shoot video (see above). But getting ripped off is an important part of any state fair experience, as is sampling all of the incredibly unhealthy food options.

I saw stands selling corn dogs, fried dough, dough nuggets, funnel cakes, and wild hog wings before I finally came upon a stand selling vegetables and thought that perhaps I needed a new prescription. Mushrooms, zucchini and cauliflower? But upon closer inspection, it turned out they were all fried. Phew. And then I came across Jim Hasbrook’s Fried Specialties, a kind of Shangri-La for people unconcerned by clogged arteries.

Jim sells just about anything you can imagine deep-fried: pop tarts, PB & J, lasagna, pizza, jellybeans, cheese curds, and a host of other delicacies.

“Last year we tried selling deep fried butter too,” Hasbrook said. “But it melts too quick and the truth is, it doesn’t taste that good.”

So Hasbrook dropped the deep-fried butter but brought back two other hugely popular specialties – deep-fried snickers wrapped in bacon, and a treat he calls the “triple bypass,” which is PB & J, two Oreos and two chocolate chip cookies, all fried, of course. When I asked Jim and one of his employees, Matt, if they felt bad about serving such decidedly unhealthy treats they were unapologetic.

“It’s no worse than French fries or chicken wings,” said Matt, a rail thin 20-something who said he eats the fried treats all day long. “People put a bad name on fried food because they think it’s so bad for you, but it’s really not because everything gets stuck inside your gut anyways.”

After spending roughly the gross national product of Namibia on rides and games for my two little boys, we almost bit on another freak show – a 29-inch tall woman on display for $1 a peak, billed as a “West Indies Cultural Exhibit.” Instead, we hit some of the farm animal exhibits – cows, sheep, goats, lamas, horses and, my favorite: pigs! In the Dairy Cattle Barn, I got to meet a few farmers, but felt like I needed to keep my voice down, as a host of others that had been up during the night tending to their animals were fast asleep on cots (see photo).

I bumped into Eli Stoltman, from Georgetown, New York, just as he was gently kicking one of his prize swines, trying to rouse him from a nap.

“I’m due to show him in the next round but the little rascal won’t wake up,” he said.

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“Well, he doesn’t really have a name because he’s going to be eaten,” he said, as the swine rolled back over and went back to sleep.

Visiting a state fair is like getting a snapshot of life in rural, red-state America. The food is plentiful, the people are open, honest and approachable, and you see plenty of not-very politically correct things, like Confederate flag license plates, mullet count boards and Captain Porkin’ T-shirts. Every urbanite should go at least once to see how the other half lives.

On my way out, I paid $3 to let a carnie guess my age.

“Take your sunglasses off,” he commanded.

I did as I was told, and he said, “There we go, I can see your age right there in your eyes.”

And sure enough, he nailed my age, guessing that I was two months older than I actually am. I had been hoping for an ego boost but left with a reminder to lay off the deep-fried snickers wrapped in bacon.

(Photos and videos by Dave Seminara)

The most outrageous state fair foods

Nothing says America like a wholesome state fair. And what’s more wholesome – or American – than filling your gullet with mounds of fried, sticky, salty, and/or sweet junk foods?

Beyond the carnival rides and the livestock judging contests, state fairs have always served as quasi-laboratories for American-style street food. In fact, the now-ubiquitous corn dog was first introduced to the public in the early 1940s at a state fair, though which one is still up for debate. The Texas State Fair, aka the “Fried Food Capital of Texas®”, and the Minnesota State Fair both lay claim to this distinctly American treat.

Each year, state fair food vendors try to outdo each other – and intrigue the crowds – with new belly-busting concoctions, usually inspired by local fare. For instance, dairy state Iowa features a deep-fried stick of butter at the Iowa State Fair, while the Texas State Fair has served up fried cookie dough and fried beer. The bigger and more artery-clogging the better when it comes to state fair foods. Here is just a sampling of some of the state fair foods Gadling found to be truly outrageous.


State Fair of Texas fried food finalists include fried beer and fried Frito pie

Every year, the food vendors at state fairs around the nation compete to come up with the most over-the-top fried food product.

The Texas State Fair is one of the most creative, and the list of finalists in this years Big Tex Choice Award are both mouthwatering and revolting at the same time. The Dallas Morning News picked the 8 best new foods at the fair, and will vote for a winner on Labor Day. The Fair itself opens on September 24.

The eight finalists:

  1. Deep fried s’mores Pop-Tart – deep fried chocolate, peanut butter and s’mores Pop-Tart, battered and served with chocolate syrup and whipped cream.
  2. Fried beer – beer filled battered and fried pretzel pocket.
  3. Deep fried frozen maragarita – margarita flavored funnel cake served in a salt rimmed glass
  4. Fried chocolate – candy bar and cherry stuffed inside a brownie, dipped in chocolate cake batter and fried. Served with cherry sauce and chocolate whipped cream.
  5. Fried lemonade – lemon flavored pastry baked and fried served with lemonade glaze.
  6. Fernie’s fried club salad – 12″ spinach wrap filled with ham, chicken, lettuce and tomatoes – deep fried and topped with croutons and served on a stick.
  7. Texas fried caviar – fried black eyed peas, served with “special sauce”.
  8. Texas fried Frito pie – traditional Texas Frito pie, battered and deep fried.


[Photo from Flickr/Traveling Fools of America]

Nativo Lodge offers New Mexico State Fair Package

New Mexico’s State Fair kicked off Friday and to celebrate, the Nativo Lodge is offering a special package. For $129 per night, families of up to four people will receive accommodations (with one king or two double beds), daily breakfast, four one-day passes to the Fair, and one parking pass.

The Nativo Lodge offers spacious rooms decorated with Native American touches. The property features a pool and Jacuzzi, free (and reliable) wi-fi, free parking, and a weekday Happy Hour reception. Rooms with breakfast normally start at $119 per night, so if you plan to visit the Fair, this is a good deal.

The New Mexico State Fair runs through September 27 and costs $7 per day for adults. The Fair showcases Native American, Hispanic, and African American cultures, and includes live music performances, livestock competitions, horse shows, and a rodeo. The Fair is held in northwest Albuquerque, less than 10-minutes by car from the hotel.

“Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel: Season 2, Episode 4 recap

Location: Andrew‘s adopted home state of Minnesota, where he’s lived for 16 years.

Episode Rating:
3 Sheep Testicles (out of 4)

Andrew heads to tiny Cyrus, Minnesota, for a supper at a senior center-slash-diner. On the menu is a Scandinavian dish called lutefisk, which is cod that’s prepared with powdered lye and resembles a slab of see-through fish gelatin. Perhaps the only thing more translucent than the lutefisk was the skin of the two women Andrew was dining with, who were a combined 193-years-old.

After his trip to Cyrus, Andrew heads to the Minnesota state fair near St. Paul, where he samples deep-fried Spam nuggets and every food that can conceivably be served on a stick, including spaghetti-and-meatballs and a reuben. In Andrew’s conversations with fellow fair-goers, one can hear more “oot’s” and “aboot’s” than in an NHL locker room.

After the state fair, Andrew heads to a “meat raffle,” which sounds like something that might happen at a bachelorette party, but is actually just a raffle for meat. As Andrew explains: “Buy a ticket. Spin the wheel. Win a pot roast.” Sadly, our host didn’t have much success at the ol’ meat raffle: “Fifteen spins of the wheel, 122 dollars later, and I’m still a big loser.”

It wouldn’t be an episode of Bizarre Foods if Andrew didn’t eat some testicles, and in this episode it’s those of a wild boar. “Fabulous,” he declares.

Finally, Andrew heads to the White Earth Re-Discovery Center to harvest some wild rice, and then goes up to a small northern Minnesota town and samples some sauerkraut pie at– where else– Betty’s Pies.

Bizarre Foods: Spaghetti-and-Meatballs On A Stick; Lutefisk; Deer Heart; Pig Toe; Fish Eyes; Deep-fried Spam Nuggets, Chicken Gizzards, A “Goober Burger”– A Hamburger Topped with Peanut Butter and Mayo; Herring Row (mmm!)

For more on this episode, check out Andrew’s blog here.