It’s the Year of Soybeans at the Indiana State Fair, a theme that carries over into the so-called “signature” food. And while the little wonder certainly contributes mightily to our regional economy, the mention of it doesn’t exactly send the salivary glands into manufacturing mode.
Still, as they do each year, organizers staged a signature food competition in conjunction with The Indianapolis Star. The top five dishes are available for purchase during the fair from their respective creators. Here’s what I found as I made the rounds to each of them:
For an appetizer, I started with the Deep-fried Tofu with Dip ($3) from Ulrich Concession inside the Ball State University Ag/Hort Building. But maybe I wrote that wrong. Is there a singular for tofu? Because all I could stomach was one of the oddly textured foursome skewered on my plate. The formerly healthful non-meat—made from tofu, of course—was deep-fried in soy oil to a crunch-free consistency. The spicy dressing provided to dip couldn’t mask the fact that this is, well, tofu.
Also in the skewered department, Barto’s Catering and Concessions concocted a delicious Honey Sweet Chili Garlic Soy Marinated Beef on a Stick with Sesame
Ginger Soy-infused Sauce. I just wish the guy in charge weren’t so rude about the whole thing, stating that the announced $2-per-stick price was only on Tuesdays and refusing to give the promised dipping sauce.
The American Dairy Association and the Indiana Pork Producers both strutted their stuff successfully. I was concerned when the Pepper Jack Sandwich on Sour Dough ($3) was handed to me so quickly from a warming tray at the Dairy Barn. But what I was so casually served turned out to be an ideally toasted (crunchy but not dark) sandwich of spicy melted-and-still-warm cheesiness. The soy connection is a bit of a stretch—the cheese is made with the milk of soy-fed cows—but that’s OK. Oh, and extra points for the pricing. No grilled cheese sandwich anywhere should cost more than $3.
The pork producers offer what they call a Bacon-Flavored & Fabulous Pork Burger ($5). Again, the soy-relation is tenuous—this time, the process began with soy-fed pigs. But the result, while not quite “fabulous,” is remarkably smooth, subtly (for State Fair food) flavored, and made all the better by tangy, thin barbecue sauce from Shoup’s Country Foods in Frankfort.
I almost skipped dessert, since I lean toward the non-chain offerings at the State Fair. But the powers that be awarded Baskin-Robbins a place in the pantheon for its Deep-fried Ice Cream ($5). It’s hard to argue with a dish of ice cream on a hot day at the fairgrounds, but here the crunch (fried in soy oil) and character were lacking. Perhaps I should have gone for the not-in-competition Deep-Fried Fruit instead.•
Next week, we return to this month’s series of reviews of new arts district eateries.