Yesterday I took my taste buds for a treat and headed down to the Montana State Fair at Montana ExpoPark for what I knew would be a deep-fried free-for-all. Not to appear gluttonous, I invited My Guy and our friends, Dale and Margie Schuler, to join me on my culinary adventure. Sampling from all vendors was a feat that even we die-hard foodies couldn’t handle, but here are the highlights.
We began by tackling two tasty pastry selections from Stuff’d, the Russian Piroshki and the German Fleischkuekle. I attempted the old rule of saying a word three times fast to master the pronunciation but it was an epic fail – neither one slipped easily from my lips. What did slip easily through were the savory handpies, stuffed with a meat and cheese mixture then deep-fried, each with its own appeal. While the Fleischkuekle’s crust was like a deliciously flaky puff pastry, the soft dough of the Piroshki was favored by all four of us. You’d think good ethnic food would be hard to find in Montana, but Great Falls is the place for festive eats.
Hearing loud singing, we next traveled over to the Mercantile Building to find out what all the calamity was about. The singing was a group of buff, bicep-revealing men squeezing fresh lemonade while belting out their toils in military cadence a traditional call-and-response work song. The guys were twisting the juice to raise money for the Great Falls Lightning 1OU baseball team in partnership with BIC Concessions who have been offering up Old-Fashioned Lemonade for 80 years.
Word on the Electric City streets is that The Viking is the hands-down favorite among the Fair’s food. A much-touted meatball on a stick, battered then deep-fried, it is the stuff of legends. We stood in line for a long time waiting to order and enjoyed people watching and listening to the sounds of kids squealing in delight from the carnival area. I asked the other folks who were waiting in line with us about their take on the Fair’s fare, especially The Viking. Much of the response about The Viking included the phrase, “You’ve got to try it!” My list of foods to try was getting longer than the line I was in. Good thing I brought backup. I sent each one of my culinary cohorts to a different vendor to save on time with the plan to meet up for our feast.
When I finally made my way to the Son’s of Norway’s window, I asked the lady taking my order if she knew the secret to The Viking’s popularity. She told me in a conspiratorial whisper that it is made of different meats, both beef and venison, and that the spices are such a secret the meatballs come pre-made to the Fair. She actually put her hand up to her mouth to block the busy-as-bees workers behind her from hearing. Her antics had me checking over my shoulder, left to right, as if I’d get an escort out of there by security for even asking. There’s no taking chances from the Norway Sons, who have been dishing out the delicacy for well over 50 years. I met up with the rest of my gang at a covered seating area next to the Sons of Norway booth to sample our goods. The Viking was passed around with relish, being a ball of battered goodness big enough to share.
Our pick of the night was The Ranchero Cow Pie from GuttBusters – a juicy burger topped with pepperjack cheese, special ranch sauce and chilies, and then you guessed it – deep-fat fried. Making more friends as we waited in yet another long line, we talked Ron Mayernik into taking a bite while I took his picture. Margie Schuler stated after watching Ron take his first bite, to be sure to “have plenty of napkins and maybe a change of shirt” handy when visiting GuttBuster’s booth. Ron agreed, as he wiped the evidence of his eating off his shirt. Dale Schuler gave The Ranchero “four thumbs up, even though he only has two.” The four of us and all our thumbs would definitely dive into a Cowpie again. GuttBustershave been cranking out the Cowpies for about 14 years and love the excitement associated with the Fair.
Walking down Food Alley, I saw familiar face Courtney Ferrin. Courtney’s husband TJ and friend Kris Liggett were chowing down on foot-long corn dogs. Corn dogs are classic fair food, along with funnel cakes, cotton candy, meat-on-a-stick, elephant ears, and fry bread. By now, the four of us were pretty full and well on our way to letting loose of that top button.
Last on our list of “must haves” were Deep-Fried Jalapeno Sausages and Deep-Fried Cheesecake found at the vendor, Taste of the South. The Montana State Fair is the only fair they attend and the line-up of novelty foods and the people in line can all attest to why. The lady in front of us had the menu down pat and sounded like a carnivore carnie as she raved on and on about the Deep-Fried Jalapeno Sausages. We ordered two and they were as big as our fists. The cheesecake was drizzled with milk chocolate, white chocolate and maple glaze and I could feel my arteries seizing up as they surely were about to clog. I thought we were done, but during the wait My Guy had slipped away for an order of Deep-Fried Cheese Curds from Chadwick Concessions. We pounced on him and quickly downed those while walking to another seating area – they were that good! As we savored our newest eats we chatted with other fair goers and took in the sights, letting the flavors and the weight of what we just accomplished sink in. We rolled out of there as the sun went down with our bellies full, smelling like greasy goodness.