I told a woman about the challenge before me: sample seven of the newest, gooiest, sinfully indulgent foods at the Florida State Fair. "How do I get a job like that?" she replied. Yeah, sounds easy, but I entered the day with some trepidation. Usually, the fair experience involves the simple task of going from the giant slide to the Himalaya. On this day, the challenge was more complicated: How do I go from the deep-fried ice cream burger to the maple bacon cupcake? How do I properly pace myself? How do I bypass the gyro and the turkey leg? My editor gave me one piece of advice: Don't invoke the clean plate rule. Sample. Take it easy. In the end, I survived the culinary crush of foods, but as I've written before, fair food is meant to be shared with a loved one. Trust me, you'll grow together. That's all I'm saying.
French toast cheeseburger
It's like someone took all of my favorite childhood foods and put them in one sandwich. Take two slices of french toast battered in cinnamon and Cap'n Crunch and place a bacon cheeseburger between them. Breakfast and lunch in one sitting and the $8 greasy/sugary combination comes together even better than last year's sensation: the over-the-top Krispy Kreme burger. I could eat the French toast by itself.
Rating: 4 (out of 4)
Ice cream cheeseburger
This one also comes from Carousel Foods, the epicenter of outrageous fried fair fare. They cook a regular cheeseburger and then pull out a frozen block of deep-fried ice cream — it's battered in corn flakes and cinnamon — and put it right on top of the burger. All for $10. But unlike the french toast burger, where the flavors melded nicely, this combination just competed against each other.
Hot wings popcorn
It's another offering from the Carousel area and the Reas Family of Corydon, Ind. I think they're on to something with this irresistible combination. If you like hot wings and popcorn, you'll have trouble eating just one kernel. Bags are $4 and $7.
Rating: 2 ½
Grilled meatloaf sundae
This concoction comes from the mind of fairground catering general manager Emil Russo. Grilled meatloaf acts as a brownie, mashed potatoes sub for ice cream, carrots and peas act as sprinkles and it's topped with a cherry — cherry tomato, that is. Easily the healthiest offering I had all day and one of the healthiest at the fair. Russo said he brought it out after it received raves at the recent RV show. Price: $6.
Deep-fried, cheese-stuffed shrimp po-boy
The Yacht StarShip makes its Florida State Fair debut with this remake of its regular shrimp bruschetta. Found at the Budweiser beer tent near Cracker Country, it's a delightful $5 combination thanks in part to the melted pepper jack cheese, but I'm biased. I know the StarShip owner, plus a po-boy once saved my life in New Orleans.
Rating: 3 ½
Red velvet funnel cake
Jane Harris from the Best Around Company explained that funnel cakes can be made from any kind of cake batter, and since her kids love red velvet, voila. Harris added to the moisture of the $7 cake with a cream cheese glaze instead of the traditional powdered sugar. Yum, yum. Rating: 3
Maple bacon cupcake
Remember that advice about sampling? I bit into the Cupcake Spot's $3 crafty creation — butter cake topped with maple frosting and a real piece of bacon — and before I looked up, it had been devoured. Nicole Longo, who owns stores in St. Petersburg and South Tampa, is ready for Cupcake Wars.