Geddes, N.Y. — We’ve made it through 15 days of the New York State Fair so far. That’s a lot of eating and drinking, a lot of Pepto Bismol and Advil. I should know; I have spent each one of those days and nights here sampling what syracuse.com readers suggested, oftentimes with those readers who reached out to me.
Some were favorites that you’ve eaten annually since you first started coming here as a kid. Some were dishes you just tried for the first time that blew you away. A couple were items you hadn’t had but were just curious about. Plenty were things I discovered on my own.
At the end of each day, I took the best of what I bought and created a menu for anyone looking for stuff to put on their State Fair bench.
With just a couple days to go, here is a compilation of the best I have consumed so far. I’ll continue to add to it until the end.
Lunch: Just because ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t eat a sausage sandwich at the fair on Governor’s Day didn’t mean we had to go without. Basilio’s makes a mean sausage. It’s a little spicier than most, and the fresh bun is the perfect size to hold the meat and the mountain of crisp peppers and onions. Basilio’s has been grilling sausage here for more than 60 years. They know what they’re doing.
Dinner: I usually end each day with a gyro. On many days, I finish with one from Kiki’s. This Camillus restaurant shut its doors during the fair’s 18-day run so it could set up shop here.
Dessert: Toss & Fire Pizza created a few special pizzas for the Fair this year. The Caramel Apple Pizza was the perfect after-dinner treat. It’s New York State apples with a crumb topping, caramel sauce and icing. It goes into a wood-fire oven and comes out crispy on the bottom and moist on top.
Beverage: Miller Lite beer from the tap at Tully’s Draft House near Gate 1. They pour a decent Lite, and at $5, it’s among the cheapest beer on the grounds.
Lunch: The butter double burger from Tommy C’s in the Colonnade ($11). They start by melting a couple tablespoons of New York State butter on the hot flattop grill. They plop two quarter-pound patties onto the butter for a couple minutes. All the while, they fry up some freshly sliced white onions. With about 30 seconds to go, they add a slice of American cheese onto the beef, and they toast a heavily buttered kaiser roll on the grill. Once that’s browned, they smear a couple tablespoons of butter onto the roll. In the Midwest, this is how most fair vendors cook burgers. Not in New York, and it’s a shame. This sandwich is loaded with flavor.
Dinner: Turkey leg from the Porky’s Barbecue and Grill ($12). This new stand, also known as the Pork Palace, is the second booth you’ll find on Restaurant Row. Vito Marotta and his son from Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, have been cooking barbecue pork, brisket and turkey legs for 35 years, but this is their first time at our State Fair. The turkey legs weigh 2 pounds when they hit the smoker for a few hours. The skin comes out nicely brown and perfectly crisp, and the meat absorbs just enough of the burning wood’s aroma.
Beverage: Genesee beer at the Showtimes bar. This is the main drink stand way at the back of the Fair in Chevy Park, the larger concert venue. Because of a shortage of plastic cups, the state is allowing fairgoers walk around with cans of beer. That’s a fine thing because Erinn McDowell and her employees here will sell you a 16-ounce can of Genesee for $6. It was 36 degrees when it came out of the fridge, so it hit the spot on a muggy day. (If you don’t care for Genny Red, they have all kinds of other domestic and imported beers.)
Lunch: Prime rib sandwich from Bosco’s on Restaurant Row, kitty-corner from the Expo Center ($14). The Bosco family has been selling all kinds of food here since they bought the stand from Peter Coleman in 1981. For this meal, they slow-roast a rib roast that’s been gently seasoned with just salt, pepper and garlic. Once the roast is sliced into an 8-ounce steak, they dunk it in au jus and flash sear it on a hot grill. From there, it goes onto a 6-inch sub roll.
Do yourself a favor and have them add grilled onions. I also recommend shelling out an extra $1 for sautéed mushrooms. You also MUST get an order of their Potatoes O’Rielly, their version of homemade potato chips for $5.
Dinner: Irish egg rolls at Horan’s on Restaurant Row. This is some of the best bar food ever, and Horan’s is pretty much an outdoors Irish Pub. It’s corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese inside an egg roll wrapper. It’s served with a side of Thousand Island dressing. They’re $3.50 for one or $6 for two.
Beverage: The Belle of the Fair at the Oh My Darling stand, near the front of the Midway. This delicate drink came in handy during a steamy Saturday. It cooled us right off. They mix 1911 gin with lavender and lemonade. It’s simple, yet it made me feel sophisticated. If that’s possible. It’s $10.
Lunch and Dinner: Byblos Gyro Pizza from Toss & Fire Pizza on Restaurant Row ($15). Nick Sanford and his staff at Toss came up with this State Fair-themed specialty pizza. It has a garlic base topped with mozzarella, gyro lamb, romaine lettuce, fresh tomatoes and Byblos tzatziki sauce. I was able to eat half of this at lunch and the other half for dinner on my way home for the night. Yum yum.
Drink: Cold brew coffee float from Recess Coffee near the entrance at Gate 1 ($6). It was hot and sticky on the first weekend, and I needed as much caffeine in me to jumpstart my enthusiasm. Recess pumps enough soft vanilla ice cream to fill the bottom third of the cup. They pour their medium roast cold-brew to the top. That’s it. Sweet and quite simple.
This did the trick. I pepped up and walked, ate and drank for eight straight hours (5.12 miles, according to my watch).
Lunch: A reader—Mark O’Brien of Liverpool—texted me early Sunday morning and insisted I try the Cuban quesadilla at Sarita’s in the Pan-African Village. I’ve heard nothing but raves about Sarita’s food truck, so I made that my first stop after “cooling off” at the Tully’s Draft House. (Stop rolling your eyes; it was like 112 degrees outside with no wind to stir up the humid air.)
Anyway, this grilled dish inspired by the traditional Cuban sandwich is $14, and it’s worth it. They clearly put a lot of time into this, probably hours before it hits the hot flattop. The pork spent a lot of time marinating in a garlicky-citrus mojo sauce. I got a hint of ground cumin, pepper, onion and oregano.
As the 10-inch tortilla warmed on the grill, they swiped it with a few tablespoons of yellow mustard before layering a slices of Swiss cheese across and dropping a few of their pickles on top. They folded a few thin slices of sweet ham on top of the cheese before loading it with about ¾ of an inch of the Cuban roasted pork. They fold it in half and let it cook inside the toasting flour shell. They offered a cup of sour cream and salsa. I tried both, but they were unnecessary. This portable meal was perfectly fine without any additional spreads.
Mark, I still owe you lunch. This kept me satisfied until my day-ending gyro from Kiki’s on Restaurant Row.
Drink: When it comes to alcoholic drinks at the State Fair, you’ll find mostly beer and wine slushies. Coco Bongo is a nice break from the usual. It’s a new stand to our State Fair this year, and it’s parked in the first space on Restaurant Row.
They offer frozen tropical drinks and traditional cocktails. This was perfect on Saturday. I went with the traditional margarita on the rocks ($12). They will line the rim of the 24-ounce plastic tumbler with salt if you wish (Of course!) before pouring in two shots of tequila and sweet margarita mix.
If the afternoon isn’t too hot, retire to the Coco Deck upstairs. This second-story platform is the ideal spot for people watching, as you get a decent view of the Fair from above. It’s a festive space, and it has a couple tables with deck umbrellas. Plus, if you stay long enough for a second drink, the chances are pretty good the speakers will belt out Jimmy Buffet singing “Mararitaville” … at least once.
Entrée: The traditional lamb gyro from Nancy’s ($12), located on Broadway facing the Wade Shows Midway, not far from the Expo Center. Let’s all give Steve Sadlocha of Minoa a hand for sending us a suggestion for today’s meal (Well, one of my meals.).
Steve fell in love with the Bosco’s prime rib sandwich suggested on Day 3. He returned the favor by urging us to try the traditional gyro at Nancy’s. This stand has been serving meat here for the last six years, but it’s been making fried dough and other sweets at the Fair for 45 years. As I’ve said oh-so-many times before, I eat a gyro a day, so that’s why Steve said I should give it a shot.
As the flat pita warms on the grill, the cooks drop chunks of lamb meet from a Chicago butcher onto the flattop. In about 2 minutes, the meat goes onto a bed of tzatziki sauce. Then comes large slices tomatoes cut into quarters, shredded lettuce, white onions and more feta cheese than I’ve ever seen on a gyro before.
“This is what my father taught me at a young age: If you serve good food, they’ll come back,” said owner Chris Bagnato of Rochester. “If you don’t serve good food, you’ll never see a line here.”
The line here should be 20 deep. The meat had a slight char to it, and the cheese cooled off the roof of my mouth.
Drink: Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap at The Shamrock ($4). As luck would have it, Nancy’s is right next door to one of my favorite State Fair beer-pouring places. I asked the folks there if it was OK if I ate my gyro at one of their tables if I bought a beer or two. They said they’d be happy to serve me.
I asked what everyone was drinking, and I got a quick “What do YOU think?” It was almost like that scene from “Blue Velvet” when Dennis Hopper the kid what kind of beer he likes. “Heineken?!” Hopper yells. “(Expletive) that (expletive). PABST BLUE RIBBON!”
OK, then. PBR it is. Owner Steve Sommers keeps his kegs cold. This came out at an even 35 degrees, and that keeps ME coming back. Perfect for a hot Tuesday morning.
Entrée: BBQ Split at Porky’s Barbecue & Grill on Restaurant Row ($20). I’m not going to lie. This thing is just dumb. It’s so stupid because it’s just so (expletive) amazing. I mean, who thinks turning the best-ever dessert into an entrée is a good idea? Well, the folks running this place did, and thank God they did!
Vito Marotta and his son from Massachusetts, have been cooking barbecue pork, brisket and turkey legs for 35 years. This is their first year here. Consider this savory sundae a collage of their best offerings. It’s pretty simple: two ice-cream-sized scoops of garlic mashed potatoes on top of a slap of beef brisket and a mess of pulled pork. (Mind you, that meat will have been slow-cooking for hours before it lands in front of your hungry face.) They top the taters with a few cherry tomatoes, and they line the edges with coleslaw. And just when you think you haven’t had enough, they sandwich the whole platter with two ribs.
That’s the reason this thing costs $20. This is plenty big enough to feed you and a hungry companion. For me? I had to get an Uber home because I was too full to drive.
DISCLAIMER: The photo does not depict a true BBQ Split. We had to order ours without slaw because the reader who suggested this place to me doesn’t like slaw. I still picked up the tab, even though he has questionable tastes.
Drink: Flower Power India Pale Ale on tap ($5). This just might be the best liquid deal at the State Fair this year. This fine beer costs just as much as some stands are charging me for Miller Lite and Utica Club. Trust me, I know, because that’s all I’ve been drinking up until now. My boss is also fully aware because he’s the one rubber-stamping my expenses.
This was such a great deal, I had to get one for me and one for syracuse.com’s booze writer Don Cazentre. And another one for me, and another one for Don.
Seriously, you’re not going to find 14 ounces of this Ithaca Beer Company for this cheep in any Central New York bar. And this is the Fair, where everything is going to cost a little more.
Entrée: Sausage sandwich at Daniella’s. Daniella’s is one of Syracuse’s premier steakhouses. This fine restaurant also has a food and drink stand at the Fair, located near the Indian Village.
The menu listing for this entrée is humble: Sausage sandwich, $12. C’mon, Daniella’s! Don’t be so modest. This is no normal sausage sandwich. This Italian sausage is made especially for Daniella’s by Fontanini Italian Meats in Illinois. The 10-inch piece of meat is sweeter than most other sausages, but it has a hint of zing to wake up your tastebuds.
Every meal here is made to order, and that goes for the basic sausage sandwich. It wasn’t made at 10 a.m. and stored in a steamer until I came along at 12:27 p.m. Ben Simone, who runs the stand for Daniella’s owner and longtime friend Charlie Roman, says they tell the customers to be patient because they’re going to start cooking the food when they order it. That right there is an invitation to order a cocktail or cold beer.
What sets this sausage sandwich apart from many others I’ve eaten over the past seven days is the buttered hoagie role. Seriously, anything on a grilled buttered roll is going to taste better. And a great sausage is going to taste even greater on a buttered roll. The onions and peppers were cut in the morning and tossed onto the flattop right when I ordered the sandwich. That explains why they were so crispy.
Entrée: Jerk chicken with a side of collard greens and an order of boiled peanuts at Henry’s Hen House in the Pan-African Village ($18).
Kevin Henry Sr. has been cooking his Southern recipes at festivals, clambakes and other large gatherings for 14 years. He became so popular that he decided to open Henry’s Hen House at the State Fair in 2012. It’s grown into a true family business with a devoted following. At lunch on Friday, the line steadily replenished itself with hungry folks. I was one of them, and I must thank Bill Lydon and his fellow Syracuse firefighters for texting me about this stand. Their co-worker at Station 2 on the North Side is one of the cooks here: Greg Henry.
Kevin grew up watching his mother and grandmother cook. They’re from South Carolina, and his father was from Florida.
“When I was a kid, I would rather watch them cook than go out and play with my friends,” he said during a break from the grill. “I was curious so I learned how to cook. It was like magic.”
Kevin designed his stand with an open kitchen so passers-by could watch them work. “It’s like ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.’ You know, how you can see the Oompa Loompas making all that delicious candy? This is the same thing.”
Watching them fry chicken and fish is like watching the Food Network. That alone is worth the price of this meal. The jerk chicken Kevin suggested is slow-roasted with a homemade, vinegar-based sauce seasoned with a variety of hot peppers and other spices. The Henrys use chicken thighs because it absorbs the marinade better, so it delivers a deeper flavor while maintaining the peppery zing. An order that weighs more than a pound costs $10. You can get an order with two side dishes (normally $6 each) for $18.
I had to try the boiled peanuts. The shelled nuts sit in a salt-water bath overnight before going over the fire. Kevin uses a cup of salt for every gallon of water. He boils them for at least four hours.
“They end up tasting like a cross between salt potatoes and beans,” he said.
If you haven’t tried such a thing, you must. Kevin introduced the State Fair to boiled peanuts nine years ago when he brought 50 pounds of nuts. He sold out then, so he brings more each year. He now sells more than 1,000 pounds.
Drink: Guinness Draught Stout at The Shamrock ($6.50). Peter Coleman, the longtime bar owner who helped turn Tipperary Hill neighborhood into Syracuse’s own pub crawl, died last Wednesday. It was only fitting that today’s menu featured the stout Coleman was a master at pouring. Coleman once had a stand at the Fair just up a ways, where Bosco’s is now.
The Shamrock, located on Broadway facing the Wade Shows Midway, and Horan’s are the only beer stands I could find that serve Guinness. It comes in a bottle, but both will be happy to pour it into a plastic cup for you, just that way you’d get it on St. Patrick’s Day at Coleman’s Authentic Irish Pub. Sláinte!
Entrée: The Picklewich from the Tiki Turtle stand in the Colonnade (You know, the area that used to house all the wine slushie stands just off Chevy Court.).
Jim Kerwin has been running this stand for 16 years. He has a vast menu, serving basics like a sausage sandwich, and he gets into the crazy stuff like the wildly popular deep-fried Reubens. He also offers frozen piña coladas and daiquiris. Remember, these are the folks who sell 14-ounce pours of Flower Power IPA from the tap for $5.
“This year is all about the Picklewhich,” he said. “We can’t make them fast enough.”
This really is THE best sandwich for a hot and humid day. It’s basically a sub sandwich on a pickle instead of a soft roll. It’s a low-to-no-carb alternative to a hefty deli sandwich. (Face it, when you come to the State Fair, you’re not really thinking about maintaining a healthy diet. But I try to do what I can every so often. That’s why I ordered a Miller Lite with my picklewhich instead of a Utica Club.)
Anyway, Jim scoops the seeds out of an oversized dill pickle with a mellon-baller. He spreads yellow mustard on the inside of the veggie ‘bun’ slice. He then lays either Board Head-brand ham or turkey, adds a piece of Swiss cheese and a tomato slice before finishing with more meat. I got one with half turkey and half ham, simply for the variety.
“I know this meat costs more than the basic generic deli meat, but you can taste the difference,” Jim said.
He’s right, you know. You can taste a difference. This sandwich can get a little messy because there’s no bread to soak up the pickle juice and other moisture, but that’s what napkins are for.
Drink: I needed to take a break from draft beer for a few hours, so I headed to the Dairy Products Building for something vastly different. This is the first weekend since the 1980s that the milk bar here has offered strawberry milk. They shelved the plain ol’ white milk until Monday. It’s either strawberry or chocolate, and it’s still just a quarter per cup.
I tried both, after a heavy dose of Lactaid to protect my sensitive belly. Both were overly sweet and rich. It is, after all, whole milk. You don’t come to the State Fair and drink skim milk. That would be foolish.
Brunch/Happy Hour: Loaded Bloody Mary at Daniella’s Fresh Seafood & Pasta House, the old Empire Room.
I had to get to the fairgrounds early Sunday to document our new governor eating a sausage sandwich. (She chose Basilio’s, the stand that served me my first sausage for this daily menu column last week. Gov. Kathy Hochul obviously has good taste.) Anyway, I was parched after that grueling assignment, so I followed a reader’s suggestion and headed to Daniella’s.
This Bloody Mary isn’t just a cocktail; it’s a full meal with meat, seafood and veggies. Brian Stolusky, the general manager here, came up with the recipe. He uses a tomato juice base with Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, pepper and just enough Tabasco sauce and horseradish to wake you up. He adds a dash of the seasoning Daniella’s puts on steaks. He mixes that with a generous shot of Ryze vodka from the Lock 1 Distilling Co. in Phoenix.
You can end it there. An unloaded Bloody is $12, and that’ll get you where you want to go just fine. But I was thirsty AND hungry. I had rolled out of bed and rushed to the Fair with nothing in my belly. So of course I spent the extra $4 (Actually, my company spent the extra $4.). That got me a skewer with two chunks of Italian sausage, a jumbo shrimp, two large olives, a hot pepperoncini pepper, a slice of lime and a salt potato.
I was good to go after that.
Dessert: Deep-fried pumpkin pie at the Fried Specialties stand on Broadway, next to the Expo Center.
Kathy Sakran, a reader from Liverpool, said I should tell everyone reading my daily menu about this $7 dessert. I resisted at first, simply because I usually don’t fall for the outrageous deep-fried novelties. She’s been there three times over the past few days, so I figured she knew what she was talking about.
Kathy nailed it. It was really good. It’s huge slice of what I’m guessing is a store-bought pumpkin pie. They dunk it into a milky batter and bathe it in 350-degree vegetable oil for three minutes. The pie comes out golden-brown and then gets dressed with whipped cream and cinnamon.
This dessert has already changed my Thanksgiving dinner plans. I’ll be deep-frying a turkey just so I can deep-fry a whole pumpkin pie my wife bakes. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it. And Kathy? You’re invited to our table. Bring the whipped cream! I’ll supply the loaded Bloody Marys.
Entrée: The THING from It’s a Utica Thing stand on Broadway, next to the Midway ($14).
This is the sixth year Charlie Digristina has brought his Taste of Utica stand to the Fair. They’ve been selling all the best their city has to offer: chicken riggies, greens, tomato pie and half-moon cookies. They’ve become so popular that he’s expanded to a double-wide slot that sports its own beer garden that, believe it or not, sells Utica Club.
During the restaurant (and State Fair) shutdown last year, Charlie and his sons, Vincenzo and Charlie, drove their food truck to neighborhoods throughout Central New York. It was there that they came up with the concept of a big-ass sandwich that folds their best foods into one portable meal.
Rather than force customers to choose between entrées, they put them all together. Instead of Italian bread as bookends, they use two slices of their tomato pie, a Sicilian-like pizza (without mozzarella) served at room temperature with savory tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese. They pile on some spicy Utica greens and then a couple inches of chicken riggies.
“When we first tried it, we knew it would be a hit,” Charlie Sr. said. “I asked them, ‘What do we call it? It’s going to be the thing at the Fair this year.’ We look at each other and said at the same time: ‘The Thing.’ So that’s what we went with.”
And it is most certainly a thing. In a year that vendors aren’t seeing many lines, It’s a Utica Thing is doing a brisk business. This $14 sandwich is three meals in one.
Syracuse.com reader Natalie Pagano, a senior at Niagara University, said she wanted to try. So we made sure she did.
You’d think a sandwich of this size would create a big fat mess, with all that cheese and gooey sauce and pasta spewing all over the place. It was surprisingly easy to eat. The provided knife and fork helped too.
“Oh wow! That’s so good,” she said.
She got through about half of it before the rest of us jumped in. And yes, it was that good.
Drink: Hard cider from 1911 ($8 each).
After 11 muggy State Fair days and nights full of cheap draft beer, it was time to mix it up. An old college friend and her husband were driving through town. We at Chevy Court for a drink, but they didn’t want Miller Lite or Utica Club. Or any beer for that matter. They wanted some of Central New York’s finest hard cider.
That’s a no-brainer. Beak & Skiff’s 1911 stand right behind us near the Horticulture Building has great ciders on tap and a bunch of flamboyant cocktails.
We created our own flight because, well, we all have different tastes. I wanted something not-too-sweet, so I ordered the New England IPC Hopped. Eva wanted something fruity, so she got the blueberry cider. Her husband, Brian, was the most adventurous of all and asked for the Cider Donut.
All were a nice change of pace from my normal. The hoppy New England cider did turn out to be my favorite, and their least favorite. The Cider Donut tasted like … you guessed it … a cinnamon donut dunked in apple cider. It was delicious, and I’m guessing it would be the best brunch drink on a Sunday morning. The blueberry cider was fun, especially if you like fruity stuff.
The nice thing about this stand is its size and cheery people working the bar. Keep it up!
Drink / Dessert: Milkshakes from Strong Hearts Cafe in the Eatery ($7.50)
Colin and Margot Edelman of Queens got married last Sunday. They honeymooned at the New York State Fair. “Why?” you ask. Because they went to the Minnesota State Fair with friends and figured ours would be just as good, if not better.
“And we wanted to go to a place we could stuff our faces now that I don’t have to worry about fitting into a wedding dress anymore,” Margot said. “This was the obvious choice.”
They texted me and asked about the vegan milkshakes at Strong Hearts. Honestly, I’m somewhat of an expert because 1) I love fattening sweet things, and 2) I’m lactose intolerant. Strong Hearts did, after all, make my list of the best places to get a shake in CNY in 2019. The shakes here are pretty much like those you’d find at an ice cream store, but they use a soy-based ice cream.
Margot ordered the Fair Special, a caramel apple shake with vanilla almond milk, caramel syrup and apples. Colin got the mocha shake with cold brew coffee from Recess and had them add some Oreo cookies. Both were just as creamy as a true-dairy milkshake, and I’m guessing they packed just as many calories.
They tried each other’s shake and gave them a thumbs-up. They ended up swapping drinks because Margot wanted the coffee boost, and Colin felt the caramel apple flavor was perfect for a cool pre-autumn afternoon.
“You’d never know this is vegan,” he said.
Congratulations, Edelmans! Hit me up at next year’s Fair, and I’ll treat you to an anniversary prime rib sandwich at Bosco’s.
Dessert / Breakfast: The apple dumpling with ice cream at Grandma’s Kitchen in the Eatery ($8).
Boy, did I miss the boat on this one. We published a story the other day listing nine great desserts you must try at the Fair. I obviously should’ve extended the list to 10. A reader called me on it, saying we obviously hadn’t tried the apple dumpling here. She was right. But I did on Tuesday, and I stand corrected.
Dennis Yost and his wife have been running Grandma’s Kitchen here for 32 years. I’ve eaten their desserts dozens of times. This is my favorite, though. They wrap a warm cored apple in a pastry shell and bake it. They coat the now-golden fruit with their homemade cinnamon sauce and plop a healthy scoop of vanilla next to it.
Believe it or not, this was my breakfast. It was the ideal accompaniment to my tall cup of black coffee. When I was done, I walked four steps to the Yosts’ stand next door—The Pig & The Potato—for a pork sundae. I could’ve easily stay there all day, especially since there was a beer stand right across the dining room.
Dinner: Shrimp & Grits at Oh My Darling near the Midway entrance ($11)
A year ago, I wrote about a guy and his family who had spent every day of every State Fair since 1999 in an RV … until then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo canceled it last year because of the pandemic. After a forced year off, Pat O’Brien visited the Fair yesterday and made up for lost time.
We met for drinks next to Chevy Court at the Courtside bar while listening to Tiger cover Journey’s “Still They Ride.” (By the way, Tiger and the band Off the Reservation will be there at 1:15 to 4 p.m. Monday, just before a Journey tribute band takes the Chevy Court stage. He’s REALLY good! I’ll be there.)
OK, sorry. Back to the menu. Patsy wanted to get a sausage sandwich at Basilio’s, and perhaps a gyro at Kiki’s. But he had heard so much about the Oh My Darling stand that replaced Tully’s. It was time for shrimp and grits.
Rob McAdams has been with Oh My Darling since they opened their restaurant on Salina Street in downtown Syracuse a few years ago. He came up with this recipe. These are cheesy grits, made of the standard corn, but with gouda and parmesan cheese and some roasted red pepper. He simmers this until it reaches a creamy, porridge-like consistency. Your mouth will immediately think it feels somewhat like Cream of Wheat hot cereal, but your tongue will quickly correct that notion and say it’s tasty and savory, and then your conscience will say it’s definitely not as good for you. (Who cares? It’s the Fair!) Rob finishes it with a couple of gigantic shrimp that he been dipped in an IPA beer batter before hitting the fryer.
Drink: Stoneyard Brewing Co.’s Peach Kolsch in the Eatery ($7)
Today’s drink-o-the-day comes from reader Kenny Feldman. He and his 14-year-old daughter, Zaz, took the train here Sunday from their home in Manhattan. He said they tried most of my menu suggestions while visiting, and he was wondering why I hadn’t recommended this refreshing beer.
That’s a great question, Kenny. The answer? Because I’m an idiot. Had I known such a bright and crisp beer from Brockport existed that would please me on a muggy hot day, I would’ve grabbed one earlier.
To thank Kenny and Zaz, I bought them tacos from the Taco Meet Plantain stand, located just around the corner from the beer stand serving this gem.
Sadly, they had a train to catch, so we couldn’t raise too many cups of this Kolsch, but we did exchange our favorite fair foods, and we’ll visit again next year.
(They were hoping to stop by the Tiki Turtle stand in the Colonnade for one more picklewich. I hope they made it.)
Drink: Black Magic Pumpkin Stout by Empire Brewing at the Beer Garden, across from the Coliseum ($8)
The temperature at the Fair was 65 degrees when I walked into the Beer Garden at happy hour (3:30 p.m.). It was simply too cold for a Pabst Blue Ribbon. I don’t care if a 14-ounce PBR was just $4. Too darn cold.
Erinn McDowell, the owner of the Beer Garden, was several steps ahead of us connoisseurs who earlier had to squeeze into ill-fitting bluejeans for the first time in months. Her beer of the day smelled, looked and tasted like autumn. After a few sips, all that cramming into the denim didn’t feel so bad.
“I put a lot of thought into my beer of the day,” Erinn said. “It’s not just the beer itself; it’s the mood and the feel.”
She rimmed the cup with cinnamon sugar before slowing pouring the dark stout. She suggested pairing it with the caramel apple pizza from Toss & Fire just around the corner.
Erinn, who does cancer research at Upstate University Hospital during non-Fair times, grabbed the baton from father this year after he ran a stand here for 34 years. She now learns about each of the 86 beers she sells so she can provide an informed suggestion to any customer who’s unsure of what to order.
Even in a year with low attendance, she keeps the energy high and chats with customers and other venders who stop in for a couple pops. “It’s all about keeping the vibe high,” she said. “We need the Fair. We want everyone to be happy.”
This is also a pleasant spot to take a break from all that watching and catch a game on one of the four large flatscreen TVs. Chances are they’ll have a good crowd Saturday night when the Syracuse University football team plays Ohio.
Dessert: Apple fritters from The Cabin, at the corner of Restaurant Row next to the Indian Village ($2)
Jason Hovak, an information technology consultant from Amsterdam, schooled me in what just might be the best food deal at the State Fair. Jason has driven back and forth to our Fair a few times, and he’s tried many of our daily menu suggestions. We met at the Beer Garden to talk about the best food he’s eaten over the past couple weeks. He suggested the perfect dessert to have after all those the pumpkin beers.
The Cabin is a short walk from the Beer Garden. This is the 14th year Carol Reed has been selling food here. It’s an extension of the Log Cabin, her restaurant in LaFayette.
Her fritters are among the best-sellers. She takes a few slices of local apples, dips them in a homemade batter and fries them for 3 minutes. She immediately rolls them in cinnamon and sugar. You get three warm fritters for $2.
That’s what a bottle of water costs here these days. I’d rather have fritters.
Nightcap: Peanut Butter & Jelly shot at Charlie’s Famous Steak Pit in the Colonnade ($5)
When Starship started playing “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” at Chevy Court on Thursday, we decided nothing was going to stop us from getting more to eat and drink. We made that 1-minute walk to Charlie’s Famous Steak Pit in the Colonnade for a $4 can of Busch beer. Then we saw we could get a PBJ shot for just a dollar more. Four please!
This drink has been around for a year or two, but it’s new to the Fair this year. Consider this drink when you’re all beered out.
It’s half Chambord raspberry liqueur and half Skrewball peanut butter whiskey. The bartender poured the two ingredients into a cup over ice, gave it a swirl or two and then strained it into 2-ounce plastic cups. It was sweet, cold and smooth. It does taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It might sound odd to you, but it was fun.
Late-night snack: Pot Roast Fries at Charlie’s Famous Steak Pit ($8.50)
We didn’t have to go far for good bar food. In fact, we didn’t have to move it all. We stayed at the Steak Pit. Dan Karleski (photographed at the top) helps run this popular stand. This is the fourth year they’ve served pot roast fries at the Fair. “It’s the perfect chaser to those PBJ shots,” he said.
They start with thick fries from nearby Deli-Boy and cover them in a hot cheese sauce. As the fries cooked, the grill-master sliced six pieces off one of the hunks of top round steak that had been on a slow simmer. The layer of fresh beef must have weighed about a half-pound. Another cook then poured a ladle full of beef gravy over the whole cardboard boat.
This Fair comfort food soaked up the booze quickly. It was the best food to eat at the end of this night. At least we thought so at the time.
Syracuse bar owners take note: Serve pot roast fries at your establishments!
Lunch / Drinks: Ascioti’s Braciole at JJ’s on Restaurant Row ($6) with Genesee beer ($4)
Fred Mangine, a reader from Syracuse, said if I eat one thing at the Fair this year it’s got to be the braciole at JJ’s. Well, Fred, I’m gong to eat about 101 more things before this fair ends on Monday. But braciole? I was intrigued.
Joe Todisco is known for his chicken riggies at this stand. He also makes a great breakfast. But after Saturday, I’m going to suggest he market the braciole.
The shell of this stuffed meatcicle is top-round steak that’s been pounded out until it’s about an eighth of an inch thin. Joe wraps that around his own meatball mix: one part beef and half-part veal and half-part pork, Italian bread crumbs, egg, grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. He grills it in vegetable oil.
It comes out covered in the same red sauce he makes at home, and he serves it with a skewer. You don’t need a fork.
He suggested Genesee beer because, well, he ran out of Utica Club. It was the same price, so it’s all good.
Snack for the ride home: BBQ Sundae from Porky’s Pork Palace on Restaurant Row ($10)
I was bushed after walking six miles around the fairgrounds Saturday, but I was still a little hungry. Rather than prolonging my stay with yet another sit-down meal, I decided to take my meat and potatoes with me.
Vito Marotta, this stand’s founder and pit-master, invented this parfait years ago by accident. He had prepared a full barbecue dinner one afternoon when suddenly a friend called to say he needed a ride. Vito was so hungry that he shoved the contents of his plate into a pint glass and hopped into his car.
It was so good that he and his son added the sundae to the menu of their Pork Palace. In the past four years, they’ve sold 15,000 of these.
First, they stuff southern corn bread into the bottom of a clear cup. They pour in barbecue beans, then a layer of garlic mashed potatoes and enough smoked pulled pork to serve as the plate-in-a-cup’s entrée. Lastly, you get a bunch of coleslaw and a cherry tomato on top.
This full meal fit beautifully in my car’s cupholder, and it kept me company for the entire 12-minute ride. By the time I got home, I was full again. (I was thirsty, though.)
MORE STATE FAIR COVERAGE
No Dino at the NYS Fair? No problem: 10 places to get a great sausage sandwich
How Sweet It Is: 9 desserts you must try this year at the NYS Fair
Here are 7 great places to find a cold (or hazy) beer at the 2021 NY State Fair
A guy in a kilt walks into a NY State Fair bar with a bird on his head. Then everything fell silent (video)