I’m not sure why you go to the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, but I go to eat. (I know, I know. It’s a huge surprise.)
I suppose there are other reasons, but I can’t really think of any right now.
I often get asked which are the best foods at the fair.
It’s a difficult question. The food at nearly every fair is beloved, but particularly so at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, where there’s a place called Food Row with permanent buildings, not just tents and concession trailers.
From those structures, and others around the fairgrounds, come deliciousness. Volunteers from civic groups and 4-H clubs make and serve food items.
Professional vendors who tour the state and beyond during warm months crank out great stuff, too.
Here’s what I eat every year at the fair. I’ve been eating most of these items since I started covering the fair as a rookie reporter in 1993. I’ll savor other things, but here’s what I look forward to the end of every July.
Soft serve from the Dairy Bar. I don’t often go out of my way for soft-serve ice cream, but I do at the fair. A paper cup of ice cream is a daily treat. It’s thick and creamy. It’s a refreshing treat from being hot at the fair. It’s inexpensive, at a couple bucks a pop. If you’re lucky, you get a teenager who sees it as a challenge to put as much ice cream as possible towering over the rim of the cup. Some people love the strawberry shortcake, Dippin’ Dots or frozen yogurt, but this ice cream stole my heart a long time ago.
Greek potatoes from Joe’s Gyros. These are broasted potatoes, fried twice and then topped with squeeze margarine and Greek seasoning. Yes, they’re probably horrible for you. Don’t think about that, just this once, or get a Greek salad to go alongside and call it even.
Pork burger from the Elkhart County Pork Producers. Mishler’s Packing, based in LaGrange, makes this ⅓-pound pork burger. Those in what was once called the “pork tent” slather it in a ketchup-based barbecue sauce and cook it over charcoal. A patty or two goes on a soft, white bun and makes the awesome sandwich. If I could only eat one type of animal for the rest of my life, it’d be pork and this sandwich is one reason why. If this were a restaurant, I’d want a better bun, but this is the fair and brioche would be laughed off of Food Row for being pretentious.
Pork chop from the pork producers. Not the butterfly. Just the thick ol’ pork chop cooked in that sauce over that fire. Did I mention that I love pork? Did you know that I was bitten by a hog as a child, had to get my first stitches and classmates in school called me “Sow-bit?” Yep, eating pork is revenge. Very tasty revenge.
Elephant ear from the Big Red Barn. OK, it’s a very expensive piece of fried dough with sugar on it. It doesn’t need pie filling. Stick with cinnamon sugar. I don’t need a whole one. I want a few bites of fresh, hot elephant ear at least once during the nine days of the fair. Watching a worker cut, roll and fry one of these always impresses me, because it’s not something I can do at home.
Egg rolls from Bounthanh’s. You have to get one that’s so fresh it’ll scald your mouth for half the fair if you’re not careful. But get one. They’re made in Bremen. The family who started the company has been good to the area. The pepper steak and other food that’s cooked in big woks over gas in the tiny trailer are good, too. Chinese food at the fair? Yes.
Steakburger, sweet corn and potato salad at the Goshen Noon Kiwanis booth. It’s a very good hamburger cooked over charcoal. It’s not fancy, it’s just good. The ear of corn is from Sweet Corn Charlie’s. The potato salad is made at Dana J’s Deli. It’s a great summer meal. As part of this service club, I help make the food. We sell it to raise money for scholarships and other charity. But I don’t eat it out of obligation. I eat it because it’s good.
2015 Elkhart County 4-H Fair
July 24 to Aug. 1
17746 C.R. 34, Goshen.Admission: $8 at the gate; advance tickets available through Thursday, July 23, for $6. Kids age nine and under enter free.
After this list, I eat other things, including lamb burgers from the 4-H Lamb Club and funnel cakes and … oh, you get the idea.
I know someone else’s list would be different. This is mine. As I wrote it, my mouth watered at the description of every item. That’s what the thought of fair food does. That’s part of why it’s special.
We gather at the fair every year and see friends and eat food and ride rides and watch the shows. Oh, look. I thought of other reasons to go to the fair. In my book, though, the food is still the best one.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.