State Fair food adventures: donut burgers & other high-calorie treats [Food & Dining]

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I like to think that I have a decently adventurous palate. I once, with zero hesitation, ate a taco filled with the pressed meat from a cow’s head – cheek, tongue, ear, and other bits – and thought it was delicious. There are, however, a few things that make my stomach turn: bugs, strangely colored foods (remember the green ketchup?), and food combinations that just don’t belong – like the bacon milkshake… or the Krispy Kreme Donut Burger.

The now-infamous cheeseburger, which replaces the traditional sesame seed bun with two glazed donuts, made its debut at last year’s Kentucky State Fair and became such a hit that it has made a return. (Also available this year is the chicken breast sandwich with hot pepper cheese, served on a glazed donut bun.)

I headed to the fairground this morning to check this out in person, and to sample some of the other exotic food offerings about which I had read.

The Donut Burger tent is located in the midst of several other food booths in front of Freedom Hall. I arrived a bit before the food tents were open, so I headed inside to check out the indoor portion of the fair. By the time I made it to the South Wing, food booths were open and I saw a sign proclaiming the sale of one of my targets: deep-fried Kool Aid.

This curiosity was invented this year by Charlie Boghosian, who introduced it at the San Diego Fair. The obvious question is: how does one deep-fry a liquid? It turns out the method is quite simple: cherry Kool Aid powder is mixed with funnel cake batter, which is then drizzled into hot oil and fried to perfection. The Kool Aid powder is supposed to dissolve in the heat to make a moist, cherry flavored funnel cake.

The booth attendant, who looked quite rushed as she ran back and forth between fryers containing corn dogs and candy bars, scooped a generous portion of thick, pink batter from a bucket and funneled it into the hot oil. (I had never realized why they were called funnel cakes; I suppose it makes sense.) After about five minutes it had been fried to a brownish-pink, and after being sprinkled with powdered sugar the whole steaming concoction was handed to me.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – it looked like a pink funnel cake. It turns out that it tastes like a pink funnel cake, too. The Kool Aid flavor was not very well defined, and it ended up tasting just like your average funnel cake with a little hint of over-sweet cherry. I came to the conclusion that while deep-fried Kool Aid is certainly an intriguing concept, the finished result is a little disappointing.  For those who wish to try, however, you can find it funnel cake-style in the South Wing for $5.50 or in ball form in the parking lot near Freedom Hall’s entrance for $6.00.

Also served at this parking lot food booth is my second target: deep-fried Derby Pie. Derby Pie is one of my all-time favorite desserts: chocolate, bourbon, and pecans, among other things, in a pastry crust. A slice of Derby Pie is thick and decadent and weighs very heavily on the stomach. Deep frying one seemed like asking for a heart attack, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued. As my wife mentioned to the nice lady in the booth, there is a reason Kentucky is ranked in the top ten states for obesity.

For $6.00 I received four egg-sized nuggets of pie filling dredged in funnel cake batter and fried to a golden brown, topped with powdered sugar and a raspberry syrup drizzle. The first bite was heaven: the sweet, crispy shell gave way to a warm, gooey, chocolatey inside. I finished off all four portions and immediately felt like I had gained fifty pounds. This is a good one for sharing.

All this grease and sugar needed time to digest before taking on my final challenge: the Krispy Kreme Donut Burger. (Here is a tip: if you have just consumed several thousand calories-worth of fried food in a ten minute period, you may want to stay away from the livestock area. The pungent smell of cows and goats [and their bodily excretions] does little to settle the stomach.)

I approached the Donut Burger booth with apprehension. I took a look at the sample burger on display, and… I chickened out. Such a combination is just wrong in my mind; I knew that if I took a single bite of this monstrosity, the Kool-Aid and Derby Pie warring in my belly would have none of it, and things would get very messy. I admit to feeling a deep shame – this is, after all, the reason I came to the fair.

I asked the man behind the counter what it was like, and he just shrugged and said, “It tastes like a burger. On a donut.” His co-worker jumped in, praising its great taste and insisting that it would become a normal household staple, like pizza on Friday nights. I could not be persuaded. I was chastised by both my wife and the concessionaires, but there was nothing for it; I couldn’t do it.

The Krispy Kreme Donut Burger costs $7.00, with bacon and cheese added for an extra dollar.

For the less adventurous, there is plenty of other food to be found at the fair: corn dogs, ice cream, pizza, pasta, and hamburgers (with a normal bun). Food tents and booths are everywhere, and there is something for everyone. Just expect unbelievably high prices, and bring cash.

The State Fair continues for another week, ending next Sunday, the 28th.

Photos: Allan Day

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