Iowa State Fair unveils new treats for food competition

Ready to try a Brownie Blitz: cream cheese, brownie bits, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and coconut? Or how about Caprese salad on a stick: a skewer of cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinaigrette?

The food at the Iowa State Fair is for the adventurous eater.  And this year they’ll have a whole new batch of items to chomp on while checking out the fair exhibits, livestock, and people.

Over 1 million people flock to the fair grounds each year, and over-the-top food items are a huge draw --generating sales of nearly $10 million, say officials.

There are about 200 vendors selling unique treats, including almost anything wrapped in or covered with bacon, mashed potato sundaes, deep fried Ho-Hos, and more.

As part of a competition among fair concessioners, eight entries battled to be a top five finalist in the Iowa State Fair New Food Contest. Fairgoers will vote on their favorite during the fair and the top pick will get bragging rights for the next year.

One finalists, the Brownie Blitz from Bauders Ice Cream, is made of brownie cheesecake bites, covered in whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and topped with coconut.

Mark Graziano came up with the idea after wanting to do an ice cream dish, but decided to go with brownies because they hold up better in the August heat. Graziano said as soon as they tried the concoction they knew they had something special.

“Everybody likes the idea. We did a trial run at the store and now have people coming in for it, but I’m not bringing it out until the fair,” said Graziano. “It’s a quality item for three bucks…I think it’ll attract a whole new crowd.”

Another finalist, the Smoked Brisket and Mac N Cheese from the Rib Shack, is chunks of smoked brisket in a three-cheese mac n cheese with apple wood smoked bacon on top.

The Steer N Stein’s Three Buck Bowl is two potato skins with scrambled eggs on top with salsa and shredded cheddar cheese.

And the fair’s New Food competition wouldn’t be complete without food on a stick, with some 60 items to choose from.

Included in that is Arnold’s Concession’s Funnel Cake Sticks made with a choice of vanilla, chocolate or strawberry batter, which is served on-a-stick and topped with icing.

And the odd-ball item of the batch is the Caprese Salad On-a-Stick. It’s cherry tomatoes skewered together with basil, mozzarella, and balsamic vinaigrette. It’s served by the Salad Bowl concession stands and is one of the Fair’s healthy food options.

If you’re wondering how a salad made it to the final round in an event dominated by decadent food, Iowa State Fair’s marketing director Lori Chappell said the presentation and the balsamic vinaigrette were what helped it pass the judge’s taste test.

The three entries that did not make the top cut are sour shaved ice treats called Zombie Cones, Jumbo Toasted Marshmallows On-a-Stick, and Red Velvet Flurry ice cream. All will still be available at the Fair.

Other new items available at the fair this year include Chicken Fried Bacon, Tater Dogs On-a-stick, Pineapple Inside Out Funnel Cake, Mexican Grilled Corn On-the-cob, and Chocolate Covered Bacon Nougat On-a-stick.

The only rule for the competition is the food had to be priced $3 or less. Chappell said the contest encouraged concessioners to get creative with their ideas.

“It was judged based on the value, on the flavor, the presentation, the appearance, and creativity,” she said.

Chappell said the best selling foods at the fair are foods that you can eat on the go. Corn dogs, said Chappell, are consistently the most sold food item at the fair.

“The contest is to encourage them to come up with new ideas, think outside of the box, and fairgoers love new foods and to try them. It’s a fun way to come up with new ideas.”

The State Fair is August 7-17 at the Iowa State Fair Grounds in Des Moines, Iowa.