I recently attended the Minnesota State Fair. Thrice in a fortnight, no less! OK, it was actually thrice in a week, and the fair only lasts for 12 days anyway, but if you’re going to use a word like “thrice,” it feels necessary to complement it with another like “fortnight.”
There are many (potentially) appealing things about the fair: the midway rides, the sheep barn, machinery hill, the swarming throngs, the concert performances by musicians whose popularity peaked during the Carter administration. But I think the defining element of the fair, the thing that makes the fair The Fair, is the astonishingly vast array of foodstuffs available in a singular form: impaled on a stick, doused in corn batter, and deep fried.
Yes, you can get just about anything on a stick. Corn dogs — a.k.a. pronto pups, although apparently there is a distinction (which I happen to know, genius that I am, but I’ll leave it to you to research that matter on your own) — started it all, innocently enough. And in retrospect, the corn dog seems an almost obvious invention. At least, that is, when compared to the things you can find on a stick these days.
Along the road leading to machinery hill, just across from the obnoxiously expensive Rainbow Play Systems (although I suppose if you’re buying a large prefab structure for your kids to play on in the back yard, you want to know from the price tag that it’s well-constructed), you’ll find a little place called “J.D.’s Eating Establishment,” which proudly announces the availability of “Definitely nothin’ on a stick!” But J.D.’s is decisively in the minority.
Last year I was simultaneously impressed and frightened by the sight of a “Spaghetti and Meatballs Dinner on a Stick.” This year, it was a Swedish booth (although I think “Swedish-American” is more accurate, as this is a purely Scandisotan [a word, incidentally and double-parenthetically, that Google confirms I did not coin] concoction) selling “Hotdish [sic... it is one word, you know] on a Stick.” I was tempted to try it, but as with most items whose names end in “…on a stick,” it was dipped in corn batter and, from the outside, indistinguishable from the sickeningly large corn dog I had just consumed.
Getting in on the “on a stick” gag, we have Tim Pawlenty’s Governor on a Stick, which is a hand fan emblazoned with a photo of the governor. Seems a bit self-defeating, however, given the conceptual similarity of “Governor on a Stick” to “Governor’s Head on a Pike.” (Hey, I’m just sayin’….)
Of course, the granddaddy of them all, the item that put the Minnesota State Fair on the map for those seeking instant coronary distress, is the “Deep Fried Candy Bar.” Apparently the concept was invented in Scotland, and I seem to recall seeing it on an episode of A Cook’s Tour on Food Network; it was the same episode where Tony Bourdain boldly ventured into the world of haggis… and made it seem almost palatable.
But there’s one thing that was always missing from the Scottish delight (the deep fried candy bar, that is… although I’m sure haggis could find a comfortable home at a grease-drenched food booth at the Minnesota State Fair): the stick.
Never fear, though. Where Scotland fails, Minnesota succeeds. (Don’t quote me on that. When World War III starts, I want Sean Connery and Groundskeeper Willie on my side.)
I saw the deep fried candy bars being made at the fair. I saw someone eating one. I even walked through the dense cloud of grease vapor hanging in the air surrounding the booth. But nothing… nothing could make me try one. Even if it is the highest-calorie food item at the entire fair. Which it is, although I think that’s relative. Maybe as an individual item it’s the most calories, but I think the available (to use that word in the car commercial sense) 64-ounce buckets of either french fries or Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies, if consumed by one person, must contain more.
All of this stuff-on-a-stick gave me an idea though. It seems you really could sell just about anything as a food item at the Minnesota State Fair as long as it’s on a stick, dipped in batter, and deep fried. My wife and I joked about a “Stick on a Stick” concept. But understanding the true nature of fair food as only a native of this great state can, I think one slight modification may be necessary. And with that, I present to you the final concept for the ultimate fair food item. I encourage any would-be entrepreneurs to take this idea and run with it; just give me a little recognition when you make your first million (which, apparently, is not unheard of for a successful food booth in the 12 days of the fair):
Stick of Butter on a Stick.