Another Venedocia Lions Club sausage sandwich is purchased by a hungry fair-goer. The Lions booth has become a traditional food stop for many local residents.
Another Venedocia Lions Club sausage sandwich is purchased by a hungry fair-goer. The Lions booth has become a traditional food stop for many local residents.
BY ED GEBERT

Times Bulletin News Writer

egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN?WERT - The Van Wert County Fair means many things to many people. Animals, rides, games, entertainment and homegrown fruits and vegetables all have their appeal, but for many the best part of the fair is the food.

The fairgrounds are packed with enough gastronomical delights to make a glutton struggle to make a decision. Where do you start? 

Maybe something traditional and hometownish like a stop at the Van Wert Band Parents or the Crestview Band Parents stand would be a good start. Or how about a nice sit-down eating experience like the Farmer's Daughter, the Chicken Shack or the Farm Bureau tent?

There is always the ever-popular sausage sandwich. Rager's sausage sandwiches have been a fair tradition for more than 50 years, while the Venedocia Lions Club has been serving them up for at least 15 years, although nobody at the stand could remember exactly how long it has been.

But somewhere in the maze of corn dogs, french fries, polish sausage and elephant ears are the items that stand out from the crowd.

"This is a Wisconsin cheese curd," said Mike Whiteside of Mike's Cheese Shop of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. "We deep fry them. They are crispy on the outside and hot and melty on the inside. We offer ranch and pizza sauce on the side to dip them in."

This year is the seventh for Mike and his wife at the Van Wert County Fair. "It's our favorite fair out of the whole summer. We do 28 shows all summer long. We're always excited to come here. We get to new spots and hand out thousands of free samples, but we come to Van Wert and everybody has told everybody. It's a great fair."

Fried cheese is only the beginning of the fried food experience. Diners can choose from fried vegetables and even a fried pickle for the adventurous. But the hot trend is toward deep fried sweet treats, like the classic Oreo cookie.

Deep fried Oreos are the up-and-coming fair staple. They don't rival elephant ears or funnel cakes just yet, but they are getting plenty of word-of-mouth advertising around the grounds. Bill Evans of Fiske Concessions noted, "It's getting to be a hot item. I've already had four or five customers come up today just for that reason."

How do you deep fry an Oreo? "You take three Oreos, dunk them in funnel cake mix and fry them up," described Barb Raines of Poor Betty's Fun Food. "It gets kind of soft, but it doesn't get gooey like when you dip one in milk. Just put it on a try and sprinkle some powdered sugar on it, then some chocolate syrup or some caramel."

Evans is offering several flavors of Oreos to choose from. "We sell peanut butter Oreos, mint, chocolate, and regular.  Regular is the best seller, but chocolate is pretty close behind. And the mint ones taste like a warm Peppermint Patty."

Poor Betty's also sells deep fried Twinkies and deep fried Fig Newtons, but those just aren't quite as popular as the Oreos.

If you'd rather avoid food from the deep fryer, how about a fudge puppy? Lisa Myers of Myers Broaster Express said, "It's belgian waffle mix that we bake and we hand-dip it in chocolate. Some are rolled in nuts. Then we put whipped creme on it and it tastes like a chocolate donut on a stick."

This is no place for a dieter.

Still, a huge breaded tenderloin protruding from the comparatively undersized bun or a jumbo lemon shake-up or even an Oreo cookie fresh from the fryer could be one of the more lasting memories of the 151st Annual Van Wert County Fair.