Riding the Ferris wheel, shooting baskets for oversized stuffed animals and looking at a wiggly wobbly reflection of yourself in the fun house mirror is only part of the simple pleasures to be found at a carnival. The other part comes courtesy of the heart-clogging, high-sugar foods you’ll find for sale on the midway. This is not cutting-edge cuisine – most of it is quickly cooked in a deep fryer – nor does it pretend to be. It’s just really good food, even if it doesn’t happen to be good for you. Chefs are having fun with these lowbrow, high-calorie treats via refined riffs on carnival classics. Here are 11 indulgences inspired by the midway.
Landmarc at the Time Warner Center, New York, New York
Perhaps no treat is associated with the midway more than cotton candy. Every table at Landmarc gets a free order of the airy spun sugar confection, which comes in a revolving array of poppy colors. For once, it’s acceptable to lick your fingers in between bites.
Provision No. 14, Washington D.C.
Usually, funnel cake arrives on a grease-dotted paper plate with nothing more than a deluge of powdered sugar. Here it is served as an accompaniment to a whole fried chicken with maple-infused gravy on the brunch menu. Any day that begins with funnel cake is bound to be a good day in our book.
Fleur by Hubert Keller, Las Vegas, Nevada
There are the unnaturally pink hot dogs of unknown provenance cooked in dirty water at the carnival, and then there’s the one Hubert Keller makes. Forged out of Wagyu beef, it arrives in a pretzel bun with sauerkraut and a zigzag of mustard. Warning: It may spoil all other hot dogs for you, so proceed with caution.
Anthem Kitchen & Bar, Boston, Massachusetts
Deep-frying is an art and a sport for carnival culinarians. The unhealthier the item you’re dropping in the hot oil, the better. This deep-fried Twinkie is a perfect example. Don’t worry; it comes topped with fresh berries, so you can rationalize that it’s actually good for you.
Tico, Washington, D.C.
Chef Michael Schlow takes pillows of Manchego cheese and crusts them with thyme-accented panko to create a Latin-ish play on mozzarella sticks. The savory squares arrive with a sweet ‘n’ tangy pomegranate honey sauce for dipping. We recommend getting two orders because just one won’t do.
Alder, New York, New York
Corndogs are a favorite at the fair. But, of course, Wylie Dufresne wasn’t going to put an ordinary version on his menu. The sausages are made with pork shoulder, chicken liver, poblano, and parsley, speared on sticks, dipped in batter, fried, and served with Meyer lemon mustard and poblano relish.
Family Meal, Ashburn, Virginia
The joy of the jalapeño popper is biting through the crackly crust and the softened skin of the pepper to reveal the melted cheese core. Chef-owner Bryan Voltaggio has recreated that experience while putting a Southern accent on the flavors by using smoked peppadew peppers and piquant pimento cheese. Y’all will love ‘em.
Sage, Las Vegas, Nevada
The Pink Cashmere was born when mixologist Craig Schoettler was trying to come up with a fun twist on the Cosmo. He starts by putting a puff of pink cotton candy in a Nick & Nora glass, then pours over it a mixture of Grey Goose Cherry Noir, lime juice, white cranberry juice, and simple syrup. Don’t forget to extend your pinky while sipping it.
Rosa Mexicana, Oxon Hill, Maryland
This is a heart stopper — though perhaps corazón stopper would be more appropriate. Cinnamon-dusted buñuelos (flour tortillas) are ground up and used as a crusting for deep-fried vanilla-chocolate mole swirl ice cream, which is complemented with guajillo-raspberry sauce and whipped cream. The dessert is finished off with freshly fried churros, a staple of state fairs everywhere.
Añejo Tribeca, New York City
At the restaurant’s subterranean speakeasy, Abajo, you can indulge in a carnival ice cream stand favorite: the choco taco. Of course, this ain’t your average choco taco. A chocolate-dipped pizzelle (Italian waffle cookie) shell is packed with pistachio ice cream and topped with peanut butter caramel.
Charlie Palmer Steak, Washington, D.C.
Highbrow and lowbrow got together to create these lobster corn dogs with smoked cocktail sauce. Yes, you read that correctly. They should serve these skewered standouts at the Maine State Fair because we’re pretty certain they’d win a blue ribbon.
Do you have a highbrow or lowbrow carnival favorite? Tell us here or over on Facebook, G+, or Twitter. And don’t miss the final days to enter our #savortheroad giveaway for a chance to win one of ten $100 OpenTable gift cards!
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.