I am a sucker for fairs and festivals, whether it’s the Luling Watermelon Thump or the Navajo County Fair. Think about the innovations that were developed for fairs: the Eiffel Tower, the Ferris wheel, and fried Twinkies. Where would we be without them? Speaking of, our very own Arizona Exposition and State Fair is in full swing at the Arizona State Fairgrounds where it will run through October 28, 2018.
In honor of the fair, I have gathered a couple of facts from hither and yon about state fairs, plus I have included a list of local restaurants where you can get some of your favorite fair food year round. Will I be attending the AZ Fair this year? The jury is still out, but if I do, you will find me on the Ferris wheel sippin’ on some sweet tea. xoM
- Arizona’s fair is older than the state, first held in 1884 when AZ was a territory.
- Over a million people attend the Arizona State Fair, making it one of the five largest State Fairs (in the US) in terms of attendance.
- The largest in total attendance is the Texas State Fair in Dallas, with over 3,000,000 in attendance. I know, I know…everything is bigger in TX. However, the largest in daily attendance is the Minnesota State Fair, with over 200,000 people passing through the gates in a day.
- The Ferris wheel was invented by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., and debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Originally designed to be America’s answer to the Eiffel Tower, the first Ferris wheel became the center of many lawsuits and wound up in a junkyard in Louisiana, the inventor dying bankrupt at the age of 37.
- The Ferris wheel you will see here in AZ, the Grande Wheel, is the largest transportable Ferris wheel in the world.
- The following statistic comes from the Minnesota State Fair, and it really surprised me: ten foods make up 48% of the total food sold at fairs. And if you thought you could list them, you may be surprised. Cookies, specifically Sweet Martha cookies, are the biggest seller by a large margin. Next comes pronto pups (aka corn dogs), milk, pickles, French fries, roast corn, cheese curds and BBQ to round out the top eight.
- At the AZ fair, you can have scorpion two ways, deep-fried or covered in chocolate. I double dog dare you…and if you don’t think you will make it to the fairgrounds this year, or if scorpion is not your thing, check out these valley eateries for some tasty fair fare:
Frito Pie – TEXAZ Grill
The fair in San Antonio coincides with the annual stock show and rodeo, and nothing (other than maybe Rocky Mountain oysters) represents the fair for me other than Frito Pie. Lucky for me, and countless others in the Phoenix valley, Steve Freidkin at the TEXAZ Grill offers a state fair menu through October 21 with Frito Pie, Corn Dogs, and Cotton Candy Lemonade Cocktails. Want to know how to make Frito Pie at home? Take a bag of Fritos and top it with chili, onions and cheese. It’s as easy as that. Be sure to wash it down with a Shiner Bock, and then you’ll feel as if you are in Texas for sure. I have also made Walking Tacos at home, which builds on a similar idea, but with Doritos.
TEXAZ Grill, 6003 N. 16th Street, Phoenix
State Fair Shake – ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho
This shake from ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho is guaranteed to bring the whole fair to you. Pastry chef Lisa Graf mixes Twinkies into a vanilla ice cream shake, adds some funnel cake, a popcorn ball, fried cheesecake ball, taffy, cotton candy and a white chocolate covered Twinkie. This is Chef Graf’s latest in the Show Stopper Shake series, where a new shake is debuted every month.
Hotel Valley Ho, 6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale
Southwestern Poutine – Brat Haus
At the Brat Haus on Scottsdale Road, you can check off many of your favorites from the fair: foot-long hot dogs, fried pickles and giant pretzels to name just a few. However, for a western twist on cheese curds, order the Southwestern Poutine: Belgian fries that are topped with Arizona jalapeño cheese curds, green chili pork and a fried egg.
Brat Haus, 3622 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
BBQ Pork Sandwich – Various BBQ Locations
I really wanted to try Little Miss BBQ’s pork sandwich for this post. I arrived on 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, only to be told by a gentleman manning the parking lot that they already had a 2-hour wait. He also told me that BBQ was not fair food. (Obviously, he does not read texAZtaste or he would know that BBQ indeed is fair food). I love my readers, but I also have a deadline (granted self-imposed) that does not include waiting in line for 2 hours. Where else would I choose? When I moved here in 1993 there were few choices, but that is no longer the case. Rudy’s Country Store and Famous Dave’s have 3 and 5 locations, respectively, throughout the valley. In addition, Bobby-Q and Liberty Station both churn out some fine ‘cue. An interesting tidbit is that Liberty Station and Famous Dave’s in Mesa use Camelback Smokers made by Scott Holmes of Little Miss BBQ and John Rippel.
Sno’ Cones – Snoh Ice Shavery
You won’t find your usual sno’ cone at Snoh Ice Shavery, but rather an Asian specialty called bao bing, a cross between shaved ice and ice cream. Owner Tony Chanthavong brought the idea from Los Angeles and has enjoyed noticeable success, opening a second location in downtown Phoenix to complement the original location on Camelback and 9th Street. Combo cups feature Asian “snoh” flavors such as red bean, matcha, taro and Thai tea with exotic toppings of lychee fruit, mochi, and black sesame glaze. I ordered the Cotton Candy Snoh with marshmallows, sprinkles and blueberry purée.
Snoh Ice Shavery, 914 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Fry Bread – Fry Bread House
For fry bread year round, the Fry Bread House has you covered. I knew I had to visit when I read they have received a coveted James Beard Award. Yes, you heard me correctly. In 2012, the Fry Bread House received a James Beard Classics Award, an award given to legendary family-owned companies. Started in 1992 by Cecelia Miller of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Fry Bread House is known for its flaky fry bread filled with Southwestern ingredients such as green and red chilis and chorizo. I ordered an Indian Taco, thinking that I would just have a few bites because it was so big. But I kept eating until it was gone…needless to say, the Fry Bread House is delicious and a must visit in Phoenix.
Fry Bread House, 4545 N. 7th Ave., Phoenix
Grilled Corn on the Cob – Otro Cafe
At Otro Cafe on 7th Street, you will find delicious grilled corn on the cob, Elote Callejero, with mayo, cotija cheese and smoked paprika. You can either eat it on the cob, or they will expertly shave it off the cob so you don’t risk getting corn stuck in your teeth.
Otro Cafe, 6035 N. 7th St., Phoenix
Fried Oreos – At Home
The kids’ favorite fair food, hands down, are Fried Oreos. There are many recipes online for fried Oreos, and while I haven’t given this one a try as of the writing of this post, my kids will make sure that we give it a whirl.
- 20 oz. package of Oreo cookies, or similar cookie from Trader Joe’s
- 2 cups of Bisquick, or favorite pancake recipe
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups of milk, or almond/soy milk
- 1/8 t. salt
- 3 teaspoons oil
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
Blend Bisquick, eggs, milk, salt and oil. If using a deep fryer, preheat to 375 F. If frying in a pan, use a thermometer and bring temp of oil to 375. Dip cookies into the batter and place into hot oil. Cookies will float! Brown each side of the cookie and remove. Enjoy!
Fun Events This Fall In AZ:
Lastly, I would like to repost a press release for an event to happen in Sedona that sounds dreamy, the Meet the Winemaker Creekside Reception with Isabel and Michael Mondavi at L’Auberge de Sedona from 6:00-9:00 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2. This event is perfect for Valley residents who would like a taste of the Mondavi Experience, but may not be able to visit Sedona for the entire weekend!
Both Isabel and Michael Mondavi will be in attendance to meet and interact with guests as they taste and savor all the flavors at this intimate gathering. L’Auberge de Sedona’s Executive Chef Franck Desplechin has curated a menu that perfectly pairs the Isabel Wines from the Mondavi Family estate and the Creekside setting. The menu includes passed hors d’oeuvres, chef’s action station, and food stations. Live entertainment will be provided by recording artist Anthony Mazzella.
Tickets for this one-night event are $200 per person, and can be purchased here.
All photos by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com.