DES MOINES, Iowa – It’s no secret the Iowa State Fair is a fried food lover’s paradise. But with nearly 200 concession stands, this year’s vendors are urging fairgoers to make room for dessert.
Mike Biegger, a 15-year employee of Dipped in Chocolate, said sweet treats are becoming the new main course at the fair famous for its deep-fried corndogs and pork chops on a stick.
“We began experimenting with chocolate chip cookie dough a few years back and it just blew up like crazy with the fair attendees,” he said.
The booth, which specializes in items like chocolate-dipped bananas, cookie dough balls, and strawberries, is now introducing its newest show stopper – cookie dough spaghetti, a dish Biegger said can rival any fried concoction.
“It’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
The dish is a fun take on cookie dough in the form of a plate of spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce. Cookie dough spaghetti noodles are topped with a Ferrero Rocher chocolate "meatball," while the red sauce is substituted with a strawberry dessert sauce.
Other stands are joining the strange wave of entrée-themed goodies, including ice cream nachos, brisket mango tango, and beef sundaes. And with 56 new items just this year, fairgoers can expect the unexpected when it comes to the “new foods” lineup.
While Iowa may not be the biggest fair in the nation – Texas and Minnesota are larger – the 164 year-old-tradition sets the tone for bizarre food and competition.
“Every year we have a new foods contest and our concessionaires get real fired up about that and they’ll try crazy and wacky things,” said Mindy Willamson, marketing director of the fair. “The booth owners aren’t just after the best original recipes, they are also competing to attract the most visitors.”
Concession sales are a critical part of the fair’s success. The unusual food items helped lure in over a million visitors last year. According to fair officials, roughly 70 percent of the nearly 1 million visitors in Des Moines identified themselves as foodies who wanted to try the new and odd food.
“We had one individual concessionaire break a million dollars alone,” Willamson said.
But it’s still the new cuisines that get all the attention. A New Fair Food Contest is held every year among the newcomers – one of 228 different food competitions at the fair. Voting began on the first day of the fair and ends today.
Apart from taste, presentation and value are also important.
“You have to try to keep things reasonably priced,” Williamson said. “For the serving size, is that worth $3, or is that worth $6? When it’s judged, they do look at those things.”
This year, there are three finalists. The brown sugar pork belly on a stick, the all Iowa belly up burger, and the third finalist an apple egg roll. The winner will be announced on Wednesday.