Today, the North Carolina State Fair hosted a media preview lunch that featured a sneak peek at one of the best things at the fair in any given year: the food. It’s one of the best and worst things I’ve ever had the privilege of doing, but journalism is a demanding and often difficult public service. Thus, my findings about this year’s new foods at the fair are below.
First of all, yes, the hot Cheeto-encrusted corn is delicious. I had my doubts, because I didn’t think you could improve upon roasted corn, one of the fair’s greatest simple pleasure snacks. But the hot Cheeto coating added a little extra crunch to the corn and a spicy kick, positive attributes both.
Arepa Loca won a teal ribbon for best new fair food, voted by lunch attendees, and for good reason. Its beef arepa was packed with more flavors than I could pick out, with tender, flavorful beef and more stuffed inside a delightful little pocket. If you want something unique and portable but not dripping with grease, Arepa Loca has an unimpeachable winner.
The Thanksgiving Egg Roll from Woody’s, another eye-catching item, is a divine abomination. Some evil genius wrapped up turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy into an egg roll wrapper and deep-fried the bastard, topping it with a tangy swirl of cranberry sauce. If a divine being doesn’t punish me for eating this, my own body certainly will. Woody’s also has bacon cheese collard bites, which taste like tender, creamy semblances of vegetables.
On a similarly creative tip, Ragin’ Cajun had deep-fried dirty rice balls, which were like fluffier hush puppies with a little extra spice. Hot Chix Hot Cakes & Chicken’s Breakfast All Day Chix is a bold effort, but not one that feels entirely appropriate for the fair. It’s a solid concept: a pancake stuffed with scrambled eggs, a chicken tender, bacon bits, and a little bit of syrup. It’s delicious, a solid balance of sweet and savory, but it won’t hold together well if you’re trying to eat on the go or if you have to improvise a seating area. Neomonde’s lamb burger, another unexpected option, is earthy, rich, and excellent.
Moving on to the sweeter end of the spectrum, the two biggest winners were Chef’s D’Lites’ deep-fried key lime pie bites and La Farm’s strawberry and Nutella hand pie. By the time I got to it, my key lime pie bite—topped with a raspberry drizzle with a dollop of whipped cream at its side—had cooled. That can be disastrous for deep-fried goodies, as it means the dough can get soggy and gross as the grease settles. But the key lime pie bites suffered no such fate; inside, the pie filling was like a rich, tangy pudding, and the graham cracker crust was extra crispy. La Farm’s hand pie, which looked like a significantly more refined take on a PopTart, featured Nutella and strawberries snuggled up in a flaky pastry crust. I want one of these for breakfast every day now.
Only one of the dishes I tried was outright bad, and that was the barbecue-and-coleslaw waffle sandwich. It was somehow extraordinarily greasy, even by fair food standards, and the barbecue mostly just tasted like smoke.
There are still plenty more new food options at this year’s fair that weren’t represented Monday afternoon, and a few others that I just didn’t have room to try—you can see more about those here. The fair’s gates open at three p.m. on Thursday, so you’ve got plenty of time to prepare for your culinary journey. Godspeed, intrepid eaters.