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Food Fare At Iowa State Fair


Well, if you're at the Iowa State Fair, how about some cookie dough spaghetti topped with a chocolate hazelnut meatball and strawberry spaghetti sauce - and maybe a nice cold glass of pickle beer to wash that all down? Maybe that sounds great to you. Maybe that sounds gross. So, to find out, we're joined by Brian Taylor Carlson in Des Moines, Iowa.


SINGH: He is a brave food and restaurant critic for the Des Moines Register, and, all week long, he's been scoping out the food offerings at this year's state fair.

Brian Taylor Carlson, how are you feeling after all of that?

CARLSON: Well, I'm a little full, but I'm still ready to go for some more.


CARLSON: Thank you for having me.

SINGH: Like I said, you're brave, and thanks for joining us. OK. Let's run through the good, the bad and the really weird or bizarre. What was the best of the new offerings that you tasted so far?

CARLSON: So far, I'm really into brown sugar pork belly on a stick, which is a quarter pound of pork belly. It's like the best bacon I've ever had in my life. It is honey cured, it has a brown sugar rub, and it's just served simply on a stick. And that's really all you need. Then we have the All Iowa Belly Up Burger, which is a pork extravaganza, I'm telling you. It is a half a pound of fresh-ground pork belly served with pulled pork on top, some barbecue sauce, some thick cut candied bacon and some coleslaw. It's served on a brioche bun. And then we also have a dessert dish, the apple egg rolls. Egg rolls are filled with an apple pie filling, deep fried, covered with cinnamon sugar and then served with caramel sauce.

SINGH: So you've named the best that you've found so far. How about the worst?

CARLSON: I think this year there were a couple that weren't so successful. There is one called the Rube Dog. It's a hot dog, but it's topped off with a strange topping. It's cream cheese with some chopped pastrami, with Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut all mixed together. So that's real heavy, and it's something I would maybe try more when it's not 95 degrees outside.

Another one that we tried yesterday - we had the cookie dough spaghetti, which sounds great. The concept is fantastic. It looks fun. But I think that there's just too much sugar in the dough. It's cookie dough that's pressed through a pasta machine into the shape of, like, bucatini noodles. It's a little mushy, a little sugary and...

SINGH: Well, I - wait a minute. I'm really disappointed by that.

CARLSON: Yeah, we were, too. Cookie dough is all the rage this year. We have a lot of cookie dough, a lot of pork belly and a lot of pickles.

SINGH: OK. So then let's talk about what I'm sure was a huge hit at the state fair, which was that cold glass of pickle beer.

CARLSON: Well, I didn't actually taste it, but the chefs that did said that it was nice as a novelty but they certainly couldn't drink more than one because of the salt level.

SINGH: Do you look forward to the time you're going to get to spend with food at the state fair? Or is it like a marathon that you're really happy you did it, but you are really grateful that it's finally over?

CARLSON: Both. Every year, I look forward to it. I'm usually invited to the unveiling of the new foods and the tasting. But, by Tuesday or Wednesday, I'm pretty worn out, and so is the elastic on my waistbands.


SINGH: Brian Taylor Carlson, food and restaurant critic for the Des Moines Register.

Bon Appetit, and happy belly-busting.

CARLSON: (Laughter).

SINGH: Thank you, Brian.

CARLSON: Thank you for having me. It's been a lot of fun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.