Dining With Denise Neil

Is there anything the Kansas State Fair won’t deep fry?

They could keep it simple and just make sure that the Pronto Pup guy shows up every year.

But the folks in charge of food at the Kansas State Fair – which, let’s be honest, is one of the main reasons to go to the Kansas State Fair – like to keep things interesting.

That’s why they encourage vendors to come up with some sort of crazy, off-the-wall invention each year. And that’s why they keep coming up with new ideas to help people try as much of that crazy food as possible.

Visitors will find plenty of crazy food on the menu when the Kansas State Fair opens on Friday in Hutchinson, from frozen pickle juice pops to deep fried mac-and-cheese burgers to totchos (think tater tots meet nachos.)

And there are also a couple of new food features, including the new $2 Tasting Tuesday which will allow visitors to try mini versions of any food being sold at the fair for $2 apiece, and a $5 coupon book that will offer discounts on food items and other fair experiences.

Here’s a look at what fair food fans need to know this year.

Wild, weird and deep fried:

State Fairs are known for their bizarre, deep fried fare, and the Kansas State Fair always has a long list.

Among the oddities fairgoers can sample this year.

▪ Totchos: Pretend you ordered nachos, but instead of chips, the base layer was tater tots. That’s the concept behind this why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-? dish. It’ll be available at Creamy Rich inside Cottonwood Court.

▪ Mac attack burger: A mac-and-cheese topped burger is one thing. But a mac-and-cheese topped burger that’s deep fried is a fair thing. It’ll be available at the Carousel Cafe at 306 Ft. Riley Blvd. That vendor also is serving a Roni Dog, which is a mac-and-cheese topped hot dog.

▪ Stuffed pickle on a stick: From the same people who last year brought us “bickles,” (battered and deep-fried bacon-wrapped pickles) comes this creation, which takes the bickle up a step. It’s a hollowed-out pickled that’s stuffed with hamburger, cheese and onions then wrapped in bacon and deep fried. They’ll be at the Katy B’s BBQ and Bacon booth at 313 Ft. Riley Blvd.

▪ Funnel burger: Carousel Cafe is long famous for its Krispy Kreme burger, which rejects the boring hamburger bun in favor of two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. This year, it is adding a funnel burger, and it’s exactly what you’d think: A burger whose bun is two funnel cakes. Carousel Cafe is at 306 Ft. Riley Blvd.

▪ Calf fries: If you don’t know what calf fries are, we don’t want to be the ones to tell you. Just know that this Kansas delicacy is available deep fried this year at Smoke Stack BBQ in Cottonwood Court.

▪ Deep fried stuffed soft pretzel bites: Just when you thought they’d run out of things to deep fry, they throw pretzels in the fryer. These nuggets will be available at Chubbs & Spuds at 410 Bison Boulevard.

▪ Fajitas: Though they’re not exactly crazy, fajitas have never been offered at the Kansas State Fair before, and that’s crazy. This year, Silver Spur at 302 Pride of Kansas Avenue will be selling both chicken and beef fajitas. Their sister booth at 413 Pride of Kansas Avenue will sell fajita fries and fajita nachos.

$2 Tasting Tuesday

Always wondered if you’d like a jaffle but didn’t want to risk the dough? Sue Stoecklein, who is the fair’s longtime director of commercial exhibits, has implemented a new program designed to let people taste every type of food the fair has to offer at the risk-free cost of $2 a bite. (It’s also designed to get crowds on the fairgrounds on one of its traditionally slowest days.)

Here’s how it works: Stoecklein has persuaded all the food vendors on the grounds to offer bite-sized servings of all of their menu items, meaning a person with a $20 bill could try samples of 10 different foods they’ve always wondered about.

Stoecklein said she offered vendors a “bye,” telling them they didn’t have to participate if they didn’t want to. But so far, not a single food vendor has asked not to participate. Instead, they’re all working on figuring out ways to deliver their dishes in smaller portions.

The deal is offered only on Tuesday.

$5 coupon book

This year for the first time, the fair also has produced a 38-page coupon booklet that features discounts on a variety of items, including food. Those who purchase a $5 book can get discounts on their meals – and on things like mattresses, sheds and hot tubs. The books are available in the administration office in the middle of the fairgrounds.

Dramatically different Dairy Bar

The popular Dairy Bar – the ice cream vendor under the Grandstand where everyone in-the-know stops for a cone before the fair is over – has undergone a dramatic redo. It has a new look that makes it resemble a 1950s ice cream shop, and most important, it now has six cash registers instead of two, meaning lines should be more bearable.

Pronto Pup gear

The Kansas State Fair standard is the Pronto Pup, and this year, its fans their corndog affections with fashion. The fair’s many pronto pup vendors will be selling T-shirts featuring their logo in a variety of colors. (And coupon book buyers can get $1 off.)

Related stories from Wichita Eagle