Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Step right up for guilty pleasures at Florida State Fair

TAMPA

The two women browsed the ice cream flavors Monday at the Florida State Fair.

A sign with a cartoon pig advertised Southern comfort ice cream: sweet potato ice cream mixed with seven ingredients, including waffle pieces and candied bacon.

"That seems weird. Why not?" Barb McMullen, 59, of Trinity said to the booth attendant. "Today is junk food day."

McMullen and Fran Viscomi allow themselves one day of fair indulgence each year. Breakfast was the strawberry-topped eclair. Lunch was kettle corn. For dessert, Viscomi chose pumpkin spice ice cream; McMullen, the Southern comfort.

"It's not a heavy taste," McMullen said as the two enjoyed their selections. "You would think one taste would overpower the other, but it doesn't."

With each bite, she discovered new flavors. Here, a piece of waffle. There, a taste of marshmallow. And wait, was that bacon?

"Eww," Viscomi said.

"Taste it!" McMullen encouraged.

"No, I'm not going to," Viscomi said. "I'm not eating ice cream and bacon."

"Chicken."

• • •

Deep-fried Twinkies set off a battered craze when they hit the fair scene years ago. The once-novel dessert now blends into a lineup of fried everything: butter, Oreos, Reese's, even peanut butter and jelly.

"Everything can be deep fried if you put enough batter on it," said Jeremy Benton, 28, of New Port Richey, as he bit into the last of his doughnut burger.

Jeremy and Jessica Benton start counting down to the fair once the holidays end. This was the first trip for their 16-month-old son, Josiah.

He was still too young for his own deep-fried Oreo, so Jessica would give him little bits of what they ordered.

He clapped when Mom cooed the magic words: "Funnel cake."

"We already stopped and ate twice," she said. "We got here 30 minutes ago."

• • •

Fair food veterans suggest trying the new treats but not ignoring the classics like corn dogs and elephant ears.

Susan Coats, 53, and Kathy Morrow, 55, always save space for their favorites: fried cheesecake and the Amish doughnut. And the taco pie. And the fried tomatoes.

"We don't eat it all every time," Morrow joked.

Thomas Smith, 33, of Tampa has a system. First the classics: a corn dog and an elephant ear, then a turkey leg. Next the fried category: vegetables and Oreos. Then this year's front-runners, such as the Southern comfort ice cream and the bacon maple funnel cake.

"I've got to try anything with bacon," he said. "This is my first day here without the kids. I can enjoy it without spending a million dollars."

Despite the fun of exploring new flavors, fairgoers aren't naive about the health value of the food.

"The fair is sweets and fried food and food with too much salt," K.J. Gardener, 42, of Lakeland said.

As McMullen and Viscomi finished their ice cream, they took a digestive break.

"Now I'm not going to be able to eat anything for a week," McMullen said.

Vicomi nodded. "Good thing we have a lot of walking to do."

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or 813) 661-2443. Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2453.

     
           
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