Local chef tastes fair food and you won’t believe what he liked

Aug 5th, 2014 | by Eat Drink Indy | Events, Jolene’s Blog, News

By Jolene Ketzenberger

I couldn’t resist the Buzzfeed-style headline on this one, because when I sampled fair food with Meridian Restaurant & Bar executive chef Dean Sample, it really was surprising which of the goofy foods he actually liked.

Dean Sample, executive chef at Meridian Restaurant & Bar in Indianapolis

Dean Sample, executive chef at Meridian Restaurant & Bar in Indianapolis

Fried butter.

Yes, that most over-the-top of fair treats, fried butter, was actually good, said Sample. I tried it too, and it really isn’t as awful as it sounds. They take butter, mix in cinnamon and sugar, freeze it, dip it in batter and deep fry it. Some of the butter melts so that when you take that first bite of the powdered sugar-covered pieces, it’s dripping with melted butter. Inside the hollow piece of dough, you can see the partially melted butter.

There are certainly worse things to eat than buttery fried dough.

Deep-fried butter at the Indiana State Fair.

Deep-fried butter at the Indiana State Fair.

Like, oh, say, the donut burger. That one was definitely not a hit.

“The burger with the donuts was pretty disgusting,” said the 24-year-old chef. “The donut was hot, it was sticky, and eating the donut with vegetables was really, really bizarre for me, so I don’t think I would go for that one again. Powdered sugar and tomato don’t go well together. But the deep-fried butter, as scary as it sounds, as horrible as it sounds, was actually pretty delicious.”

Sample, a one-time fast food cook who admits to deep frying plenty of foods himself, was surprised at the deep-fried butter.

“I was expecting it to be disgusting,” he said, “but it was really really good. I would definitely eat that again. It held its shape really well, and then when you bit into it, it was like an explosion of butter in the center of it.  It was pretty awesome, for sure.”

The donut burger, a best-selling item at the Indiana State Fair.

The donut burger, a best-selling item at the Indiana State Fair.

But the deep-fried Twinkie, another of those classic fair foods, was a disappointment.

“The deep-fried Twinkie, they misinformed me,” Sample said. “They told me it would taste like a strawberry shortcake, which I like, and it did not taste like that at all. It was very hot, very sticky; it was dangerous to eat.”

We set out to try some of the fair’s signature food finalists (though we skipped the grilled cheese and couldn’t find the Gobble Gobble food truck’s mac and cheese). And the signature food of the fair, the Fruit Twister Shake-up, which included lemons, oranges, strawberries and pineapple, was a winner, Sample said.

“The drink was definitely good,” he said. “I liked it a lot. Very refreshing.”

The deep-fried cheeseburger basket on a stick, another signature fair food finalist, also got a thumbs up.

“The deep-fried cheeseburger was actually not bad,” Sample said. “I expected a whole cheeseburger breaded and deep fried. It was almost like a meatball with hash browns that was breaded and fried. Not my favorite thing in the world, but pretty good.”

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Chef Dean Sample bites into the deep-fried cheeseburger basket on a stick at the Indiana State Fair.

The deep-fried cheeseburger, from Barto’s Catering & Concessions, was located near the Coliseum, and the Fruit Twister Shake-up, from Goodwin Family Products, was situated near the Home & Family Arts building. Near the kiddie ride area we found another of the signature fair food contestants, the funnel cake ice cream sandwich, which required a knife and fork. “Extremely, extremely messy,” said Sample. “To eat that as a sandwich would be literally impossible.”

Just for fun, we also stopped at a buffalo trailer and tried the “buff brat.” And while it had potential, “I don’t think that it probably met the mark for me,” Sample said. “It didn’t have the snap or the good spice to it. And I love bratwurst, so maybe I’m a hard critic on that one.”

After a couple hours of tasting, we’d had enough and headed out. We didn’t find many fair foods that we’d try again, but it was definitely fun — and interesting for me to get a chef’s perspective.

“I come to the fair every year,” Sample said. “I’m always curious what these things taste like, so I’m glad that I tried them. And I imagine that next year, if I see another crazy one, I’ll probably try it. Just for the fun of it.”



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