"" What's She Eating Now?: Fabulously Fair Food

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fabulously Fair Food

This past weekend we made a trip to the Ulster County Fair in New Paltz, New York. When I was a kid, the fair was an annual commitment that has since gotten more few and far between so I was excited when my father told me he would be taking my five-year-old nephew to the fair and invited me and Dan to join.

I found out on the drive up that Dan had never been to a county fair before, and his knowledge of such affairs was limited to a short documentary film we saw about a man who tried to eat one of everything fried or on a stick at the Wisconsin State Fair. While for me the food is an important part of the event for sure, there are also rides, bright lights, games, animals, all sorts of contests, and real people not stylized by New York City’s trend police. I was eager to see Dan’s reaction.

My sister, Amanda, craving some nostalgia joined us as well. Amanda is my ultimate food companion. When we traveled through Japan it was sort of a given we would eat dinner twice per night so that we could try more things and neither of us felt sheepish about stopping to buy an interesting looking street food item even if we had just had lunch. And sometimes when I am missing my old East Village stomping grounds Amanda, who lives there now, will take me on a food tour, reminding me to pace myself along the way so we can make all the stops she has in mind.

When we pit-stopped for gas, Amanda and I were alone briefly while Dan handled pumping duties. “I would love to stop at Gadaleto’s for a lobster roll on the way to the fair but I am not sure Dan would understand that. Next time,” I said. “What do you mean he won’t understand? We’ll just stop there. You’re driving,” Amanda argued a little desperately, “Just pull in. We’ll explain later.” Amanda and I joked about it along the way and then on Route 299 in New Paltz I made an unannounced left-hand turn into a non-descript strip mall. “Where are we going? You two can’t be serious, I thought we were eating at the fair?” Dan squawked, confused by our Shanghai.

Amanda and I ignored Dan, not wanting to explain we were doing what we sisters do when he’s not around, eat on the way to eating. Knowing there could possibly be beer involved we had faith he would follow, which he did. Indeed odd given its location, Gadaleto’s is a gem of a seafood market which also runs a restaurant and they make a great lobster roll, which we got one of to share and a beer for Dan, of course. Having polished off every crumb, we had completed our warm-up, we were ready for the fair.

Traffic slowed as we approached the fairgrounds and I bounced in my seat with excitement at the first sight of ferris wheel lights. As a flood of childhood memories came rushing back I glanced over at Dan whose eyes were twinkling, mouth slightly agape. I couldn’t be happier.

After entering the main gate, our first order of business was to procure some sausage and peppers, perhaps my favorite of the savory fair foods. Now with sustenance to fuel us, we searched for my dad and the rest of our fair-going troupe. As I had anticipated, the remainder of my sandwich was seized and devoured immediately upon meeting, which was fine with me as there were so many other things to try. This is when I shared with Dan the cardinal rule of fairs: if you don’t go home with a slight stomach ache, you did something wrong.

Next, Dan and I shared a corn dog. Neither of us are really corn dog people per se, but we were lured in by the intoxicating scent of the batter. Beneath the fried shell was a fluffy layer of what can only be described as a corn muffin meets a pancake surrounding a hot dog. “We need a beer to accompany this,” Dan rightfully declared, and we were off to the beer garden to find a proper pairing.

We looked around at all of the other savory choices. Hamburgers and hotdogs. Stuffed baked potatoes. Bloomin’ onions. Turkey legs. Corn. Cheesesteaks. Pulled pork and barbecued chicken. Steak sandwiches with grilled onions and peppers. What a feast one could have here. But it was time for a break. I wanted to walk around and take in the festivities. We saw baby goats and cows. Games where you could win giant stuffed animals and gold fish. Rides which made me dizzy just to watch. And when we had made a complete circle around the grounds, it was time for funnel cake. With a side of fried oreos.

I have loved funnel cake ever since I was little but the introduction of fried oreos to the fair must have happened during my hiatus. The first bite was sickeningly sweet. I put the partially eaten treat back in the bag thinking the combination of fried and oreo is like when two really attractive people have an ugly child. A minute or two later, however, I found myself taking another bite. The flavor and texture is perplexing at first, but after the brain takes it all in it realizes it’s gastronomical genius. I felt I had selected wisely, forsaking ice cream, sno cones, candy apples, and elephant ears for my chosen sweets.

We walked around some more and as the night grew late we all started to get a little sleepy. Most of the vendors had begun cleaning up except a guy selling gyros near the exit. Dan had run off to check something out and Amanda gave me a look with which I have become very familiar. Even I thought she couldn’t be serious. But she was, and as I sampled her pita clad sandwich I was glad. Before we sat down to dine properly, however, I was smart enough to pick up some something for Dan. As he approached a few minutes later, his eyes darted between me, Amanda and the gyro, in horror. But before he could say a word, I whipped out the giant bag of cotton candy I was hiding under the table. Dan’s sugary Achilles heel. As he ate alternating bites of pink and blue fluff he said in a voice muffled and garbled by sweet cotton, “Its so good, but there is so little of it.”

The three of us stumbled back to the car, tired and drunk from fair food and excitement. Dan fell asleep as soon as we pulled out of the lot, much the way my sister and I used to when we were kids. This gave me comfort and satisfaction that his first fair was a success. The sound of gravel as we pulled into my Dad’s driveway woke Dan up and we all joked about our stomach aches and hypothesized about where on earth we could have gotten them. Dan said something along the lines of doing it again next year. We let Dan walk inside first, then Amanda and I looked at each other devilishly, knowing that the Dutchess County Fair is only a few weeks away.

Gadeleto’s Seafood Market and Restaurant

246 Main St
New Paltz, NY 12561
(845) 255-1717

Upcoming Dutchess County Fair

August 25-30, 2009

Rhinebeck, NY


  1. I loved this! John is from Indianda so he had to introduce me to the concept of a fair and fair food (we didn't have those in Brooklyn) :)

    - Jen P.

  2. i'm STARVING now!!! Oh my god i love fair food. Barnstable county fair, how sweet you are. Of course, I need to put in my 2 cents that the BCF delicacy "Fried Dough" is WAY superior to any funnel cake I've ever had. And i've had a lot as I love fried dough and am constantly trying to find its replacement, as it does not seem to exist outside of new england. Zeppolis are also not even close. You see, the first greatness of the fried dough is that in addition to the delcious doughnuty dough served w/ powdered sugar, the giant fried dough piece is covered w/ butter. And the second greatness involves that giantness. Funnel cake has too much surface area to gooy inside ratio, so its not as smooshy and doughy. The Zeppolis are better, but no butter and still the dough is not as good. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  3. The wondrous treat known as fried dough in New England is called Elephant Ears in these parts. If you're so inclined check them out at the Dutchess County Fair :)As for me, I will be sticking with the funnel cake.

  4. It's not too frequently that I think fondly of the summers I spent out on Cape Cod. However. Jess, you've got me all nostalgic for Four Seas ice cream. I never even get to say "Frappe" anymore. Mmmmm coffee frappe mmmmm. Black Cow, anyone?