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About Utah: State Fair is promised land for deep-fried food

Published: Sunday, Sept. 11 2011 11:05 p.m. MDT

Columnist Lee Benson gets ready to eat a deep fried twinkie as he tries a deep fried Twinkie as he tries to eat his way through the Utah State Fair Friday, Sept. 9, 2011.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — I started with The Steve Young, a funnel cake about the size of Neptune, followed that with a Colossal Onion Blossom, moved on to a deep-fried Twinkie, polished off a serving of maggots and scorpion, said thanks but no thanks to the Healthy Deep-Fried Fresh Fruit and finished with a plate of Hawaiian Vilo chicken and a bottle of Mount Olympus spring water.

At the Utah State Fair they have a name for all of the above.

Lunch.

I took it all in on a recent tour of the culinary exhibits at this year's fair, where I discovered that if you can imagine it, you can order it — and if you happen to like your food deep-fried, well sir, welcome to the promised land.

Deep-fried pickles. Check. Deep-fried cheese. Check. Deep-fried PBJ sandwich. Check. Deep-fried macaroni and cheese. Check. Deep-fried zucchini. Check. Deep-fried frog legs. Check. Deep-fried Snickers. Check. Deep-fried Kool-Aid. Check.

Deep-fried cotton candy. You bet.

Theoretically, you could deep-fry your whole meal, including beverage, all at the same time.

There's a guy named Jon who runs Jon's Famous Fresh Lemonade stand, which is merely a front for his deep-frying machine that is more versatile than Derek Jeter. Name it, he'll throw it in there. The other day he deep-fried an ice cream cone. This year his specialty is deep-fried bacon-stuffed Twinkies, which are selling like deep-fried hotcakes.

Jon said he was pretty sure the bacon-stuffed Twinkies would do well because last year the deep-fried chocolate bacon was a huge hit.

"The Steve Young" funnel cake caught my eye on the menu board at a place called the "Classic Bakery," which also advertised "The Jim McMahon" and "The Wilford Brimley."

Owner/manager Kristin Atkins explained that every time they haul the "Classic Bakery" trailer into a new fair, she Googles "famous people" for the city and gives their name to the deep-fried funnel cakes.

Last week they were in St. Louis and "The Steve Young" was "The Albert Pujols" and "The Wilfred Brimley" was "The Budweiser Clydesdales."

Either way, she said, they're fat free and under 200 calories.

Louis Deckard, the man selling the Colossal Onion Blossom, first tried to push the Rocky Mountain oysters, aka calf's testicles. "There's a certain shock value to it," he said, "but if you're a Basque or a cowboy and it's roundup time, it's considered a delicacy."

It all seemed quite tame once I arrived at Jungle George's Exotic Meats & Bugs. There, the menu offers yak, elk, crawfish, python, ostrich, alligator, antelope, deer and black bear. Unfortunately, they're all out of African lion at the moment. They grill the exotic meat, but they deep-fry maggots, crickets, chocolate-covered scorpions and Rock Star energy drink.

Jungle George's big seller is the maggot melt sandwich, made of cheese and maggots, also known as "baby worms." George said you'd be surprised how many people eat maggots on purpose. At the California State Fair he sold 23,000 maggots. I tried a maggot, followed by a scorpion. To be honest, they tasted a lot alike. Blindfold me and I couldn't tell you one from the other.

They also sell a doughnut burger and a doughnut hot dog — a hamburger or a hot dog inside a doughnut that has been sliced in half.

They call it the cop dog.

After the maggots and scorpions I passed on the deep-fried Snickers at Jon's Famous Fresh Lemonade stand and the "New this year" item at the Sky J Ranch stand, "Healthy Deep Fried Fresh Fruit."

This was the description: "Fresh strawberries and pineapple on a stick, dipped in our special sweet batter, fried and drizzled with strawberry cream cheese, powdered sugar and chocolate syrup, $6.50."

It's enough to turn one into a health nut.

At the end of the loop I ran into the intoxicating aroma of the Hawaiian Vilo Chicken stand, run by a Tongan family, the Taufas, where they sell turkey legs, chicken and pulled pork.

"The secret is our secret seasonings," said David Taufa, "and I'm sorry but I can't tell you what it is."

Whatever it is, it isn't a deep fryer.

I ordered a plate of everything.

It wasn't maggots, but it wasn't half bad.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com

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