Dining With Denise Neil

Denise Neil’s 10 traditional fair foods you must eat

Members of the South Hutchinson United Methodist Church have been serving chicken and noodles at the Kansas State Fair for 68 years.
Members of the South Hutchinson United Methodist Church have been serving chicken and noodles at the Kansas State Fair for 68 years. File photo

Fried-food fads come and go at the Kansas State Fair. But if you want to dine like a traditionalist, there’s a definite list of dishes you must try.

Some are served on a stick. Some are self-contained. Some are basic. Some are weird. Some are standard dishes made by local church ladies and gents but have become such a part of the State Fair fabric, it would be a culinary crime not to try them at least once.

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Here is my list, based on nearly 20 years of Kansas State Fair eating, of the 10 standard state fair dishes you must try. Why not this year?

10. Pronto Pups: If you’ve never had a Pronto Pup at the Kansas State Fair, you probably haven’t been to the Kansas State Fair. It’s a corndog, yes, but it’s so much more. The breading is sweet, the hotdog is steaming, and the greasy tissue paper it comes wrapped in is a crinkly harbinger of fall. The fair has five Pronto Pup booths stationed around the fairgrounds so that you’re never too far away from a fix.

9. Jaffles: Remember in the 1980s when you could buy a sandwich grill as-seen-on-TV? Your grill has long since gone in the garage sale, but the delicious results are still available every year at the Kansas State Fair. Jaffles are hot, steamy sandwiches filled with pizza toppings like pepperoni, ham, mozzarella and pizza sauce that are pressed flat and melted on a special grill. At the State Fair, they’re a 37-year tradition. Get them at the Jaffle stand at 309 Grandstand Ave.

8. Roasted ear of corn: Another fair and festival must-have, a roasted ear of corn is about as farm-friendly as it gets. And it’s probably the healthiest thing you can order at the Kansas State Fair. The most popular place to get an ear is the Original Corn Roast booth at 302 Fort Riley Blvd., though they’re also available at Youngers Concessions inside Cottonwood Court and at C/J Griffin Concessions at 610 20th Ave.

7. Knights of Columbus Pizza: Yes, it’s kind of like convenience store pizza. But the slices sold each year by the Knights of Columbus inside Cottonwood Court are such a State Fair staple, people will stand in long, long lines to get them. The booth runs like a well-sauced machine, and the pizza is one of the most kid-approved items available. Choose from toppings like cheese, sausage, pepperoni and supreme.

6. Our Lady of Guadalupe tacos and enchiladas: The Our Lady of Guadalupe booth in Cottonwood Court serves the kind of enchiladas I ate at church fundraisers when I was growing up in Dodge City – the excellent kind, stuffed with melted cheese and onions. They also have fried flour tacos, tamales, pork tostadas, burritos and some of the best Mexican rice and beans you’ll have outside a Tex-Mex restaurant. Tip: Drench everything in the church’s excellent homemade salsa, which is dispensed in self-serve pitchers at the end of the line.

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5. Bierocks: Kansans are among the Midwesterners who understand the joys of German bierocks, which are hand-held pies stuffed with meat, cabbage and sometimes cheese. And the Kansas State Fair is a good place to enjoy one. At least three vendors sell them, including Wheatland Cafe in the Pride of Kansas building, 2-Y Enterprises at 306 Cottonwood Ave. and Apostolic Faith Tabernacle at 301 Bison Blvd., which also serves a version that’s drenched in nacho cheese.

4. Kansas Dairy Association ice cream: I’m not even sure what makes this ice cream so desirable, but it must have something to do with the long, long lines of other ice cream eaters always waiting to get it each year. That and the assurance that a dairy association surely knows its ice cream. The ice cream can be obtained in dishes, sugar cones or waffle cones, and the booth also sells shakes, root beer floats, ice cream sandwiches and ice cream by the pint on the final weekend of the fair. Its space is underneath the grandstand, and this year, it has a new farm-themed facade that makes it even more appealing.

3. Monkey tails: There’s always at least one uncomfortably warm day during the Kansas State Fair, and nothing tastes better than a frozen banana dipped in chocolate – also known as a monkey tail. I always get mine at Cee Bee Concessions near the Domestic Arts Building at 210 Cottonwood Ave., but they’re also available at Granny’s Cheesecake and Moe at 401 Bison Blvd., Wells Concessions at 311 Bison Blvd. and Cappuccino Connections at 311 Fort Riley Blvd.

2. Cheese curds: The word “curd” is not very appetizing, but about three years ago, I finally ordered the fried cheese curds sold at two fair booths. It was a life-changer. There aren’t words to describe the greasy, gooey texture of this fried-cheese delicacy, made more delicious dipped in a side of pizza sauce. My daughter thought they were disgusting until one year she finally sampled one of mine and then promptly finished the basket. Now, she talks about cheese curds from September to September. Get them at the O’Neil Amusements booth at 305 Bison Blvd. or the one at 305 Fort Leavenworth Blvd.

1. Chicken and noodles: It comes in a Styrofoam bowl, and it’s not like it’s difficult to make. But there’s something magic about the chicken and noodles sold by the folks at the South Hutchinson Methodist Church booth inside Cottonwood Court. It’s home cooking at its best, and nothing is more comforting on a cool fall day – the first of which almost inevitably arrives each year sometime during the fair. This will be the church’s 68th year at the fair.