It used to be that if your body was tattooed from head to toe, you wore large hoop earrings and 50 necklaces, sported a beard and rode a unicycle, the only job you could get was in a circus sideshow, or running a midway ride for a traveling carnival. Now, you can be a basketball player, a famous chef, a star in a reality show, or you could just be an admission-paying visitor to the state fair -- without being one of the attractions.
Of course, the visitors to the state fair are, at least for me, the big attractions. That, and rabbits the size of small cars, cows the size of big cars and chickens that look as if they are wearing hats in a royal wedding. But still, the animals come in a distant second to the people.
What kind of crazy, nutty, fruitcake-batty person do you have to be to eat a deep-fat fried Oreo? Oh yeah -- me. It's the state fair. You gotta do it. At first, my goal this year was to spend the day only eating food that came on a stick. But except for the traditional corn dog and the ever-popular chocolate-covered frozen banana, the on-a-stick pickings were slim. I'm nothing if not adaptable, and quickly changed my goal to only eating things that were deep-fat fried. Now, you don't have to go to the state fair to eat deep-fat fried food. French fries and fried chicken are available almost everywhere, as are blooming onions and fried clams. But until someone opens a chain of franchises called "International House of Funnel Cakes" or "Fried Twinkie Hut," you pretty much have to go to a state or county fair to scratch that particular itch.
Sure, there are always new culinary innovations, many including bacon -- chicken-fried bacon, roasted bacon-wrapped corn, chocolate-covered bacon. But the new height of fryolator art is more than simply selecting a foodstuff, dipping it in batter, tossing it into a wire basket and lowering it to its greasy death. Like a pickle or a BLT, it is a combination of unlikely things. I am talking about a peanut butter, bacon and banana bomb.
The vendor's menu featured a long list of the usual suspects for frying: Oreos, Twinkies, Snickers bars. But at the bottom it said, "Peanut butter, bacon and banana."
"Is that a sandwich?" I asked.
"No," said a young man holding a fistful of five-dollar bills. It's peanut butter, bacon and banana."
It was hard to picture what I would actually be getting for my money, but there was a long line behind me and a few insulting stage whispers about me holding things up.
"I'll take one."
The cashier takes my bill and yells over his shoulder to the cook, "One Dead Elvis!"
Seconds later I was handed a softball-sized blob of hot, fried goodness on a paper plate. The goodness was not the banana. A deep-fat fried banana tastes like baby food. The peanut butter was problematic, too. Hot peanut butter hits the relatively cool roof of your mouth and solidifies into a protective shell. It takes the work of a finger, a mirror and a spork to remove it. I probably should have used my own finger, but I do want to thank the stranger who finally pulled it out.
The bacon, however, was sublime. A poem of pork, a song of swine, a melody of meat. Perfect with cheesy fries and a non-vintage red wine slurpy.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. The hottest thing in novelty food right now is the cronut -- the head-on collision of a croissant and a donut -- and it has people standing in block-long lines in the few big cities that have it. Next year, you can bet it will be the hot new thing on the carnival, county and state fair circuit.
Can the Dead Elvis stand up to the challenge?
(Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.)