A fried mozzarella stick that weighs a hefty quarter-pound, a funnel cake with a slurry of red beans and rice in it, a rainbow-colored grilled cheese and a Cuban pizza with pickles on it are among the shocks coming out of the deep fryers at the Florida State Fair this year.

The fair runs Feb. 7-18, and as the first state fair in the nation, Tampa’s attendees are often the first to try some of the jaw-unhinging food challenges from the fair’s vendors. Last year brought a chicken and waffles pizza. Then there was 2016’s cheeseburger with fried ice cream.

This year’s list seems to lean more toward huge portions than uncommon food pairings, but there is some of both.

Among them:

Giant mozzarella cheese stick

Giant mozzarella cheese stick. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Giant mozzarella cheese stick. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

A full quarter-pound of mozzarella cheese, or the equivalent of four string cheese fingers, are impaled on a stick, deep fried and served with marinara sauce or buttermilk ranch at Angela’s Pizza.

Red beans and rice funnel cake

Red beans and rice funnel cake. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Red beans and rice funnel cake. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

Instead of the familiar powered sugar concoction, this funnel cake is made by using spices, then red beans and rice are mixed in the batter to turn this cake savory fried golden brown. The Best Around concession stand then adds smoked sausage, onions, peppers and beans on top to bring it all together.

Grilled cheese four ways

The grill masters at the Giddy Piggy got creative with grilled cheese this year including:

Rainbow grilled cheese

Rainbow Grilled Cheese. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Rainbow Grilled Cheese. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

A colorful blend of mozzarella, provolone and Gouda that are dyed to match the colors of a rainbow.

Jalapeño popper grilled cheese

Jalapeño popper grilled cheese. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Jalapeño popper grilled cheese. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

Grilled cheese on Texas Toast stuffed full with jalapenos, bacon and an assortment of cream cheese, provolone and cheddar cheese.

Caramelized onion and pulled pork BBQ

Caramelized onion and pulled pork BBQ. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Caramelized onion and pulled pork BBQ. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

Pulled pork grilled with caramelized onions paired with sliced cheddar cheese.

Taco grilled cheese

Mexican-style cheese, taco meat, salsa, and shredded lettuce. Served with sour cream on the side.

Cuban pizza

Cuban pizza. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Cuban pizza. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

South Florida’s Versailles Cuban restaurant made headlines earlier this year with this idea, and the Pizza Emporium at the fair is all on. Like a Cuban sandwich, it has a Dijon mustard and mayonnaise base topped with a blend of mozzarella and Swiss cheese, roast pork, ham and pickles.

Black cherry burger

Black cherry burger. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Black cherry burger. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

From Carousel Foods, the inventors of the maniacally popular Krispy Kreme burger, comes a burger patty filled with cherries, basil, shallots, and garlic topped with Gouda cheese, two slices of bacon, and a cherry orange relish all on a toasted brioche bun.

BBQ pork on pork rind nachos

BBQ pork on pork rind nachos. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
BBQ pork on pork rind nachos. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

Watching your carbs? Fear not, says Carousel Foods, you won’t fall off the low-carb wagon with these nachos made from pork rinds topped with barbecued pork, cheese, jalapeños and tomatoes.

Buffaloaded mac and cheese quesadilla

Buffaloed mac and cheese quesadilla. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Buffaloed mac and cheese quesadilla. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

This huge quesadilla from Bryan’s Concessions is loaded with shredded buffalo chicken and queso mac and cheese, topped with bacon and crushed up Doritos.

Potato bowls three ways

Spicy loaded potato bowl. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Spicy loaded potato bowl. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

Ma’s Irish Kitchen has a way with potatoes, including:

Classic loaded potato bowl: Seasoned potatoes, crispy bacon, cheddar cheese, herb sour cream.

Green loaded potato bowl: Garlic and herb potatoes, seasonal vegetables, parsley pesto.

Spicy loaded potato bowl: Cajun potatoes, grilled chicken, bell peppers, spicy ranch dressing.

Cookie dough three ways

Fried cookie dough. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Fried cookie dough. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

The Happy Dough like to say it offers cooking dough, “Just like grandma used to make, but now it’s safe to eat.” This year brings its two most popular flavors: classic chocolate chip and sparkly sugar cookie, and also fried cookie dough — deep fried cookie dough with a mix of a crispy warm batter with a soft and gooey cookie dough center. Fried cookie dough comes in classic chocolate chip, birthday cake or peanut butter cookie dough.

The Birds Nest

The Birds Nest. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
The Birds Nest. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

Lock and Dam Eatery offers two large scallops wrapped in angel hair pasta, fried and topped with lobster cream sauce.

Italian Nachos

Italian Nachos. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]
Italian Nachos. [Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair]

Also from Lock and Dam Eatery, pita chips are topped with shrimp, tomatoes, banana peppers, chives and shrimp all finished with lobster cream sauce.

The Florida State Fairgrounds are at 4800 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. You can save money buying your tickets early at floridastatefair.com.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected]. Follow @SharonKWn.