Sometime around 3 p.m. and 90 degrees Monday afternoon, I lost track of one of my very last senses. It was the one that reminds me not to dance in public.
It took a lot to get me there.
Six food stops to be exact. I was waiting on an order of cauliflower buffalo wings — and I was pretty scared of them — when my shoulders began to betray me.
As one-man-band Mark Dobson snag “Jack and Diane,” without realizing it, I began to do my signature shoulder shake, usually reserved for the car and special celebratory occasions among friends.
It wasn’t until a woman in an electric scooter rolled by with a big smile and an uplifted thumb that I realized I had become part of the free entertainment at the State Fair of West Virginia.
But it was a good song and my stomach was so very full. And I thought maybe if I kept moving I might have a better chance of eating my way through this year’s New Fair Food Contest list.
So I lifted my foot and added a shuffle while I waited.
I turned and waved at photographer Jenny Harnish, who shared my eating adventure, but I’m pretty sure she looked away.
• • •
It’s difficult to know where to begin a 9-stop eating tour, but I picked Mexican street corn from Gussie’s.
I had no idea what I was in for, but a very reassuring girl named McKenna said I could order this entry featuring corn, roasted peppers, onions, queso cheese, queso blanco crumbles and chipotle ranch as either nachos or sidewinders — a bed of twisting pub fries. The fries sounded good so that’s what I did.
If you’ve read any of my other fair food journeys, you know I’m pretty bland in terms of peppers, onions and pretty much anything with flavor, so it’s always a little iffy for me to try these.
Honestly, I don’t know why I do it. Honestly, I don’t know how I liked it. I shouldn’t have. It goes against my food sensibilities. But it was really good.
Alas, we had to stop eating.
Eight more stops and all.
After a bite of something savory, I thought maybe something a little sweeter was in order, so we headed over to PCM La Creperie where retired teacher Catherine Miller served up a blueberry & strawberry crepe with homemade cream.
Did I mention there was a lot of cream? And a lot of crepe, too. There was no way to make it through even if I hadn’t had seven more stops. But I did finish the blueberries and strawberries. That’s healthy, right? Even dipped in cream?
I fought the urge to wave “bonjour” to the ladies inside the stand decorated with art from France as we walked away, leaving with a simple "thanks," instead, heading south of the border to a Taste of Mexico.
There we ordered Pollo con Arroz.
Ready to assist those — me — who might not know just how to pronounce the food they’re ordering, workers have a sign ready.
“Poyo cone ah rose” is grilled chicken with cheese dip served over a bed of rice. It might be familiar to locals who frequent Carlitos in Lewisburg, as it has the same owners as Taste of Mexico.
Again, I had to remind myself there were other locations, but even when I said it out loud, it took a few minutes before I closed the box and walked away.
I’d like to pause right here and take a moment to apologize to Steve Hlay at Trudy’s Dairy World.
It’s not that I did anything wrong. It’s just that I apparently have bad timing.
Trudy’s entry into the contest is bacon, maple, walnut ice cream.
And it’s popular.
So popular that it sold out over the weekend and Hlay did not have any for me to try or for Jenny to photograph Monday.
(This happened last year with their German chocolate ice cream, too. See? Bad timing.)
But don’t fear! Hlay was busy making more Monday — it takes 24 hours — and he says it will be back and ready to serve this morning.
In its place, I tried his homemade strawberry ice cream on a homemade waffle cone. It was delicious.
This time, I was yelling at Jenny to stop eating because we had four more stops. She didn’t listen.
“It’s like buffalo wings on a pizza,” is how Brian Gillette described Gillette’s buffalo chicken pizza.
Interestingly enough, I don’t like buffalo wings or chicken on pizza.
I like pepperoni and cheese and that’s about it.
But I somehow liked this. A lot, actually.
And the crust on their pizza was delicious, too.
Gillette’s won the contest last year with its bacon mac & cheese calzone.
I don’t know how this will do, but I’m going to go back and try pepperoni and cheese. (Basic, you know.)
After we left the pizza place, I needed a break, so we headed into the carnival for a bit, trying to walk it off.
I don’t know if it worked, but when we left, I had the courage to try the flaming hot Cheetos corndog at Swift Concessions.
So I like Cheetos as much as the next person. In fact, I just bought a bag of baked Cheetos the other day.
But I’ve never tried Flaming Cheetos. I never intended to try Flaming Cheetos.
The fair makes you do weird things.
Apparently this concoction started out as something they call the "Firecracker" with Cheetos spread on corn on the cob.
But at the State Fair of West Virginia, a corndog is covered in Monterey jack cheese spread and layered in Flaming Hot Cheetos crumbles before it’s served to people like me.
“It only burns for 30 seconds,” I was told as I received the bright orange corndog.
I positioned my water nearby and I took a bite.
I wasn’t sure what was going to burn, but I kept eating until something did.
Finally, I discovered it was my lips.
It was never bad, but it was definitely there.
Again, I liked it. But it was so messy. I was a walking flaming hot Cheetos mess.
That’s part of the game though.
Where I lost my mind.
Not only did I dance here, but I also felt judged as I started to see many of the same faces that I had seen on different parts of the fairgrounds. I realized I was always eating when they saw me.
I felt the urge to stop them and say, “I see you looking. This is for a story, so you know. This is art.”
But I didn’t.
This was the food I was most afraid of.
Cauliflower buffalo wings at Ring Master Gentry’s.
I had no idea what they were. I just knew I didn’t like wings.
After I finished dancing and talking to strangers in my head, the food finally came out.
Not wings at all, but breaded cauliflower, covered in buffalo sauce.
I don’t like hot things, so I asked, “On a scale of 1 to death or 1 to fire, how hot are these?”
The guy must have been confused by my scale because he said 7, which I thought was excessive.
But, for the sake of “art,” I ate them.
How in the world did I like cauliflower buffalo wings? I did.
That’s all I have to say about that.
We moved on to Harvell’s Cajun Chicken & Foods, where the entry is a bacon chicken and waffle sandwich.
I might be the last person to try chicken and waffles, but I’ve done it now, even with owner James Harvell’s mother’s special hot sauce-infused maple syrup.
(I love chicken tenders, by the way, and bacon, too, and this stop gave me just that!)
I know I said it was difficult to pick the order, but saving shrimp and grits for last was Jenny’s idea because she wanted to take leftovers home.
So we headed over to Apples & Cream for the only menu item that isn't an apple.
Ten years ago, I would have hated this. I remember going to Bob Evans as a kid and being so upset when my dad wanted me and my sister to eat grits. Now, however, I order grits everywhere I go.
It’s funny how your taste buds change. Or maybe how you change when someone isn’t making you do something.
Anyway, even though I like grits now, I’ve never had shrimp and grits. I just haven’t reached that level yet.
Like I said, the state fair makes you do weird things.
I’m glad, too.
Booth owner Ruthie Allen told us her ingredients, but she was most excited about the chorizo and it’s what stuck out most to me, as well.
I have to say shrimp and grits is an odd thing to have at the fair, but I liked it.
And looking back at a lot of this stuff, what’s normal anyway?
• • •
So that’s it.
I’m sunburned and I’m tired and a little full.
I can’t tell you which food is my favorite. When I say I didn’t dislike any of them, I mean it. I’m not sure how that’s possible because I was scared of some of them.
But they’re all good and drastically different.
There’s a little something for just about anyone, I think.
I would, however, suggest maybe spreading your tasting out a bit more than I did. Or maybe just go for it.
Go crazy. Who cares?
It’s the fair. Live it up.
I do have a confession before I go.
I dragged myself to my favorite lemonade stand, Cowboy Dan’s, when I was done eating. I shouldn’t have had room in my stomach for it or energy to get there, but it’s like an addiction.
I told them I was going to take the week off next year and work for them. They’ll probably fire me for hitting the lemons too much, though.
But I’ll dance all the way down the midway with my cup in my hand.