At the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, which runs through Sunday, the fairgrounds are jammed with restaurants and street vendors serving cheese curds, burgers, brats and seemingly everything in the supermarket on a stick. At the fair on Wednesday, my 13-year-old daughter and I saw a sign that read “Frozen Lemonade Cheese on a Stick,” and honestly weren’t sure whether there was a punctuation mark missing there or not.
I had brought my daughter along to the fair as a sort of “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” kind of road trip, assuming that she’d be charmed or tickled at seeing her father eating strange foods for a living.
Instead, she was horrified at what I was putting into my mouth. The deep-fried bacon-wrapped apple apparently falls far from the tree.
When looking for new foods to try at the state fair, a good rule of thumb is to look for the big yellow “Sporkies” signs on the fairgrounds. The “Sporkies” are a food competition that skews toward weird and wonderful foods.
Our first stop was the Budweiser Pavilion for the Triple Threat ($12), which consisted of three sliders impaled on a stick, like a totem pole of meats. On top was a sliced brat slider with bacon, cheddar and jalapeno jelly, which was very tasty. Then came a rather unimaginative BBQ pulled pork slider and a bacon cheeseburger slider that reminded me of White Castle. It was worth it for that brat slider, but Budweiser could have gotten a little crazier with the other two — they were more like stern admonishments than real threats.
Things got crazy over at Albanese’s Roadhouse with the Spaghetti & Meatballs Mozzarella Stick ($9), a name that doesn’t capture how bananas this appetizer is. For years, the Wisconsin State Fair has been fascinated with the idea of creating spaghetti and meatballs that people can walk around with and eat with their fingers. A couple of years ago, I had a spaghetti and meatball on a stick, which was a big meatball with spaghetti cooked into it.
But the Albanese’s creation is something else. It’s basically like a giant, deep-fried mozzarella stick, a wonton that contains not only cheese but a hunk of meatball and cooked spaghetti as well. Size-wise, it's more like an egg roll than a mozzarella stick. Add in some marinara sauce for dipping, and you’ve got yourself a full Italian dinner in your hands.
The mozzarella stick won the Golden Spork (“Sporkie”) award on Thursday, an honor that speaks more to the sheer creativity and audacity of the dish than how it actually tastes. The fried wonton is pretty thick, and trying to bite through it to get to the spaghetti and meatball inside makes for a messy dining experience. You might as well just eat spaghetti and meatballs.
We finished our day at the state fair with a stop at Sax’s for their Monkey Business ($6) for dessert. It’s like a supercharged version of the peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich I liked when I was a kid — and an adult, actually. A burrito is stuffed with bananas, peanut butter, and bacon jam, then deep fried and covered with honey and cinnamon.
It was delicious, and I finished every last bite. Some day my daughter will understand.