Review by Christine Basile
The Erie County Fair had a stormy start to its "Taste of the Fair" on Aug. 20 but, despite the rain, brave fairgoers faced the windy weather to find the best food of the fair.
The event was divided into six different sections in terms of location for the participating food stands. The sections for "Taste of the Fair" were the Avenue of Flags, Trackstand, Showplace, Grandstand, Broadway and 42nd Street.
From Greek food to Cajun spice, the Erie County Fair had something to satisfy the taste buds of every visitor who walked through the gates.
With $2 sample portions provided by the 100 food vendors, I put on my rain jacket and galoshes and braved the storm.
Not only did I hit the typical fair stands, such as corn roast and kettle corn stands galore, I also visited local vendors who had booths, stands and tents scattered across the fairgrounds.
Out of all of the stands I got to visit, here are my top 10 bites at the 2015 Erie County Fair:
Venus served up a plate of Chicken Shawarma ($2) on a rainy August day.
No. 1 - Venus: Chicken Shawarma over Rice
Venus brought the flavors of the Middle East and provided it to fairgoers. Not only was the service from this stand simply the best, the dish Venus was sampling had a large variety of spices which made it stand out.
Chicken shawarma over a small bed of rice was cooked to order in front of each guest and packed an exotic taste into each tender bite. With tzatziki sauce drizzled over top and homemade hot sauce on the side, each bite transported my taste buds to the Middle East as I stood in Hamburg. While the dish was not overly spicy, once the homemade hot sauce was added the dish gained more heat but remained flavorful.
No. 2 - Chester's Cajun Grill: Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Jambalaya
Chester's Cajun provided $2 samples of the south: Chicken and Andouille Sausage (left) and Seafood Jambalaya (right).
One of my last stops of the day was this savory trip to the south. Both the jambalaya and gumbo brought the aromatic spices and creole flavor to dance across my palate.
The chicken and andouille sausage gumbo was extremely flavorful with notes of fresh herbs, spicy cayenne and juicy chicken accompanied by succulent andouille sausage chunks over a bed of herbed rice. While the dish needed a little bit of salt, it was still delicious to the last bite.
The seafood jambalaya was extremely spicy and packed a punch on the palate. With pieces of tender shrimp, crunchy bell peppers and pieces of assorted seafood scattered throughout the dish, this dish brought the sultry flavors of the south to life.
With delicious food and great service, Chester's Cajun Grill provided two great dishes and created an enjoyable culinary experience.
No. 3 - Armor Inn Tap Room: Bacon Mac and Cheese
The Armor Inn Tap Room, which is located two miles from the fairgrounds, was back and brought a great representation of its restaurant. The bacon mac and cheese stood out with rich flavors from the cheeses, a slight kick from the hot sauce, macaroni perfectly cooked to al dente, and chunks of crispy bacon mixed into one delectable bite. This delicious dish came out the window quickly and piping hot.
No. 4 - Henry's Kettle Korn: Kettle Corn
As the day cleared up, the Corn Roast served up $2 grilled corn on the cob.
Located at Gate 2, Henry's Kettle Korn was selling its small bags for only $2. While it was one of the longest lines of the day, I am glad I waited. Out of all of the kettle corn stands I visited, this had the best sweet-and-salty combination. Even the experience of watching them make batch after batch of kettle corn was intriguing and kept me fascinated while I waited. I can guarantee I will be visiting again next year!
No. 5 - Mineo & Sapio: Classic Italian Sausage Sampler
Mineo & Sapio's served up an Italian Sausage Sampler ($2).
The local sausage maker came out with a killer sausage sampler that showed why it is a strong competitor at the fair, as well as grocery stores throughout Western New York area. Served along with a small roll, rounds of Mineo & Sapio's classic Italian sausage paired extremely well with sautéed green bell peppers and onions. After adding a little bit of Frank's Red Hot sauce, this small sample was a screamingly tasty hometown snack.
No. 6 - Chester's Gators and Taters: Pork Butt on a Stick
While this was nothing more than marinated and seared pork butt on a stick, this sample packed a great deal of savory succulence from first bite to last. Greasy? Sure. A little out there? Definitely. Delicious? Absolutely!
No. 7 - Angelo's Italian Pastries: Miniature Cannolis
A small bite of Italy from Angelo's Pastry: Angelo's miniature cannoli ($2).
Everyone going to the fair wants a special treat, and Angelo's Italian Pastries always leave sweet teeth satisfied. This delicious, bite-sized cannoli was a testament to why Angelo's has three pastry stands spread out for all fairgoers to enjoy. The ricotta filling was sweet, but still held its form even as the day warmed up. The shells were crunchy and covered in powdered sugar with colorful sprinkles on the ends to catch the eye as well as the tongue.
No. 8 - Charlie the Butcher: Beef on Weck Egg Rolls
Charlie the Butcher used a fusion of Buffalo and Asian cuisine to create its Beef on Weck Egg Roll ($2).
How do you improve on a Western New York classic? Charlie the Butcher brought a twist on this Buffalo classic, the Beef on Weck, for one day to the Erie County Fair. Each egg roll was delicately wrapped and fried up in small batches and set aside to cool. Served with a tasty horseradish dipping sauce, this fusion of Buffalo and Asian cuisine was definitely a stand out from all the other fried food.
No. 9 - Let's Wrap: Small Chicken Wrap
Let's Wrap brought a small lunch sample of their Chicken Wrap ($2).
This small stand was noted two years ago as the "Fare of the Fair," having brought a healthy and quick lunch to this yearly exhibition of food and fun. While sandwiches are not always considered as "fair food," this stand serves up fresh and healthy food with entertaining service. With a large variety of fresh vegetables cut every morning, this chicken wrap boasts a build-your-own style wrap that could be packed whatever way you like.
No. 10 - American Family Concession: Conch Fritter and Walleye Finger
American Family Concession's Conch Fritter ($2) and Walleye Finger ($2).
This seafood stand sat right next to the Conservation Building and served up some new and eye-catching options. The conch fritter was nicely fried on the outside, but seemed a bit runny on the inside, while the walleye finger was perfectly cooked and extremely tender. A great spicy sauce accompanied both deep-fried treats.
After getting to visit nearly half of the stands, to say the Erie County Fair has a variety of food is a complete understatement. For each taste, there's a different stand to satisfy whatever you are craving. I can honestly say I am looking forward to next year when new contenders and veteran vendors grace the fairgrounds with their delicious wares.