As American as apple pie — and as Illinoisan as deep-fried Snickers.
Hot-oil entrepreneurs have converged on Springfield for an annual showcase of extreme comfort foods,
Fairgoers often head straight to the corndog and corncob stands, but few snacks feel quite as indulgent — or quite as fertile for fairgrounds — as the array of deep-fried offerings on tap.
“It’s what the state fair is all about,” Riverton resident Ian Conard said while waiting in line for a $6 batch of cookies to emerge from their oil bath. “Deep-fried everything.”
The Sun-Times went downstate to sample the saturated-fat smorgasbord. Here’s a taste of seven standout — and sometimes oddball — deep-fried goodies in Springfield.
Coated in breadcrumbs usually reserved for walleye, a pound of pickle chips are submerged in vegetable oil for several minutes and served with a gob of ranch dressing.
“People go nuts for them,” said Natalie Pritchard while doling out batches at the Lemonade Jacob’s stand. The bitter crisps burst with saltiness. “Goes great with lemonade.”
Peanut butter and jelly
The newest menu entry at Lemonade Jacob’s sees a Smucker’s Uncrustable slathered in funnel cake batter and lowered into the oily abyss.
“It’s ready when the edges start browning,” Pritchard explains.
Powdered with the obligatory confectioner’s sugar, the fried sandwich’s jelly and butter melt together into a syrupy, sweet mess.
A standby at dozens of state fair stands, Fred Jackson says his stand out because he uses peanut oil at his Manna Foods stand.
“It’s not for me,” the Pinckneyville native said, rubbing his belly. “But people have gotten more interested in it the last few years. All these young people come in and take pictures of it with their phone. I never let a picture get between me and my food.”
Nothing got between a Sun-Times reporter and a pile of funnel-caked Oreos, which soften in the hot oil.
Another state fair staple, the name-brand candy bar’s sweetness is scaled up a notch with a deep-fry dunk.
“This is the one that everyone wants to try,” Jackson said.
Somehow it feels even more indulgent than the other deep-fried goods — and even harder to finish. A bite or two seems destined to send blood-sugar levels skyrocketing.
The soft outer pastry layer melds into the funnel-caked crust — not that purveyor Todd Burton of Grafton will tell you what goes into it.
“You don’t walk into Kentucky Fried Chicken and ask the colonel for his recipe,” said Burton, who takes his “Fried What?!” stand across the Midwest and South nearly year-round.
Whatever it is, it feels oh-so wrong, but right at home in Springfield.
Macaroni and cheese
Bites of pasta and cheese are balled into batter and submerged in oil — a savory, merciful respite for a reporter eating an inadvisable number of sugary snacks.
“We are always experimenting. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it really doesn’t work,” Burton says, recalling an ill-fated test run of deep-fried sticks of butter.
But the mac-and-cheese is a hit — especially with another side of ranch.
Key lime pie
Named the best dish at the ’22 state fair, a full slice of crisp Key lime maintains a bit of its coolness despite the hot wrath of the deep-fryer, a satisfying contrast in temperature and texture.
“That was another one we tried on a lark that ended up sticking,” said Burton, who also has s’mores, green tomatoes, pecan pie and even other reasons on his unholy menu to come back for next year’s fair.