Pity those humorless souls who deride state fairs as carnivals for the overweight and undercultured, the simple and the soft. • Weep for them, for they will never know the exquisite joys of chocolate-dipped bacon. • Yes, the Florida State Fair returned to Tampa on Thursday, and with it came a new slate of exotic food fare on sticks, in bags and deep-fried. Here are three of this year's best. — Jay Cridlin firstname.lastname@example.org
If, for some strange reason, the thought of pig meat slathered in fudge doesn't give your stomach a tingle, then get with the times, man. In January, Time wrote about the proliferation of bacony delights on dessert menus in fine restaurants nationwide. Bacon ice cream has even popped up on Top Chef. Mark Boggs of Plant City saw chocolate-dipped bacon at another fair up north and tinkered in the kitchen with some recipes. He decided that freshly grilled Hormel applewood-smoked bacon worked best; for $5, you get four slabs with a cup of syrupy chocolate dipping sauce. Don't let the concept scare you — there is no meaty aftertaste, only a salty-meets-sweet flavor delivered via the peerless crisp-yet-chewy texture of bacon. Find it at Mavric's Chocolate Barn near Gate 2.
The Tornado Potato
It has hands-down the best name of any new fair food, but what exactly is it? Picture spiral-cut potato chips on a stick, and you'll get an idea. One of the few fair foods you can buy in bulk — they cost $3 apiece, 2 for $5 or 5 for $10 — they're hand-ground in a newfangled potato slicer, carefully speared on a stick and dropped into the fryer. Dust 'em with seasoning (barbecue, jalepeno, cajun or sour cream and chives) or drench 'em in ketchup or nacho cheese, and you've got yourself a crisp little snack. Words of the wise: The Tornado Potato can get messy, so it's best to eat yours sitting down, or at least with two hands. This is, after all, the state fair. Try to show a little class. You can get them in a booth near the paintball tent near Gate 4.
Deep-fried green beans
Another big-city export, deep-fried green beans come to the Florida State Fair thanks to Bill Lauther of Brandon, who encountered them on a menu in New York. His mind started clicking, and as soon as he returned home, he bought a bag of frozen green beans from Wal-Mart and started experimenting. His stand, Griff's Catering, already sold fried cauliflower, fried broccoli and fried pickle slices, but he decided that with a little ranch dressing, the beans ($5 per basket) are just as good. "The thing is getting people to try 'em," Lauther said. "They taste like French fries to me." Indeed they do — warm, crisp, unmistakably Southern and, while not exactly health food, certainly better for you than a deep-fried Twinkie. Griff's Catering is along the lake, near Kiddie Land.