As part of my attempt to be, in my mother’s words, ‘productive’, I worked the Wisconsin State Fair again this year.  Six hour shifts selling tickets on the Midway’s not exactly fun, but experiencing the fair while on break is a double-edged bonus.  For most of us, fair food is a treat.  But when you’re there for eleven days straight, the very scent of Fried Something becomes a little oppressive, and this comes from someone who adores anything cooked in deep fat.

Eventually one develops some instinct for sniffing out the best eats, as well as unique treats and deals (hint: look around before you buy and save a few cents).  Unfortunately, I can’t recommend any alcohol, ’cause I wasn’t allowed to drink on the job, obviously.  Here are a few thoughts from the last two years, regarding where to go and what to do if you find yourself in West Allis next August:

Sprecher Ravin Red Soda ($2.75)
“Cran-cherry soda with a hint of ginseng”?  Yeah, I guess.  Sprecher’s latest is allegedly supposed to invoke the edible of Wisconsin’s Northwoods industries–cranberries, Door County cherries, and ginseng plants.  And it’s not bad by any means; tolerably fruity, not too tart or too sweet.  It was the price and the last sip of foam, which was stunningly acrid for some reason, that put me off.  Blech.  Worth it for the try, but stick with Sprecher’s root beer or alcoholic beverages.  In fact, go for the apple council’s apple cider, which is cheaper, tastier, and comes in a cute sipper.

Lakefront Brewery Golden Maple Root Beer ($2)
A root beer flavored with maple syrup sounds ridiculous, but this soda is so very, very good.  This year Sprecher embargoed the maple syrup growers association for a day regarding sales, but eventually things got sorted out, fortunately.  Don’t know what kind of float this would make, but it’s worth a try.

Honey ice cream bar ($2.50)
Again, honey’s the universal sweetener, and it’s quite subtle in this ice cream.  However, it adds a certain depth of flavor and smoothness to it, making a rather lovely treat, if a little softer than one’s usual frozen milkstuff.

Usinger’s sausages ($2)
I had the pleasure last year of trying their cheese frank, which was a delicious beef frank with a strip of slowly melting cheese in the center.  Unfortunately, this year they didn’t have it, but they did, for a few days, bring smoked chorizo (the latest thing here in Milwaukee, partially because of the Sausage Race at Brewers games…if you don’t know, never mind).  I’d only ever had it before in dishes, but this one was made for eating in a bun with plenty of mustard.  Spicy, but not too much to keep me from having one each day it was offered.  I’d buy these and grill them.

Country Fresh Meats snack sticks ($2)
These were the perfect size beef jerky sticks for eating quickly if one wanted something savory–plenty large.  I had, over the course of the fair, mild, hot, garlic, and land jaeger flavors, and the only one I wasn’t too fond of was the hot (which wasn’t, and tasted vaguely of anise, which I hate).  Only complaint, which may be TMI?  They made me burp like nobody’s business.

Rare and Exotic Meats! (various)
Well, maybe not so rare.  But each year I made a point to try one new kind of meat…vegetarians may want to turn away.  Last year, it was buffalo/bison, which was  tasty, rather like beef but a bit leaner.  This year I tried ostrich, which was remarkably not like any other poultry I’ve had in my day, more rich, and rather good also.  It pays to not be picky.

Berres Brothers Coffee ($2)
A rather expansive coffee roasting franchise located north of here somewhat, Berres Brothers do some rather fine roasts, as well as unique flavored coffees, including flavor mixes.  My choice for almost the whole fair was Highlander Grogg, a mix of hazelnut, caramel, and butterscotch.  Probably the most expensive cuppa at the fair, but worth the price.  Especially as I got it free twice for being a repeat customer.

Funnel Cake ($5)
So I couldn’t let a bit about the fair go by without mentioning a personal favorite, even if it is fried…and how it is fried.  For those who don’t know it, it’s a mess of batter run through a funnel or tube into boiling oil in order to make a bird’s nest of fried dough, with far more fried surface area.  Plain with powdered sugar is good, as is Boston cream, which costs extra and makes your paper plate fall apart, but is probably worth the price.

In terms of a good deal, I highly recommend hitting up the Wisconsin Products Building, wherein all of the above can be found except for the funnel cake.  There’s also the Pork Schoppe outside, where one can get the Wisconsin version of the Iowa State Fair classic pork chop on a stick.  Their pork burgers are quite good, if a little bland.