Aug. 28, 2012 at 9:27 AM ET
No one goes to a state fair expecting diet food, but if you’re looking to balance some of this year’s newest creations on the circuit—like red velvet funnel cake or deep-fried PB&J—with some actual nutrients, you’re in luck: Concessionaires are hawking healthful dishes, and drawing long lines doing it. Here, we pay homage to the humble, healthier offerings at state fairs around the country.
State Fair of Texas, September 28 to October 21
The State Fair of Texas is legendary for its ongoing fried-food arms race (one battered addition this year: deep-fried Samoa Girl Scout cookies). But fairgoers who want to get in nutrition should seek out the Island Spot’s booth for grilled jerk tofu, whole snapper, tilapia and a new dish, ackee, a Jamaican fruit that’s sautéed with bell peppers and served with cod. This is the Caribbean restaurant’s second year at the fair; even the owner, Richard Thomas, says he was surprised at the booth’s success last year.
Grilled portobello mushroom bar and wine smoothies
Minnesota State Fair, August 23 to September 3
The folks from Minnesota Wine Country—yes, there are wineries in Minnesota—are debuting a refined and healthful fair option this year: a grilled portobello mushroom bar, where fairgoers can top slices of toasted sourdough with a garlic spread, romano or parmesan cheeses, and slices of portobello mushrooms, hot off the grill. The stand also features wine smoothies, made with local raspberry wine, which the health-conscious can remind themselves, is loaded with antioxidants. Elsewhere at the fair, Giggles Campfire Grill now has walleye rolls—the flaky white fish comes seasoned on a roll with wild rice, celery and a little mayo, but isn’t as big of a calorie bomb as its Maine cousin.
Tomato basil salad
The Big E (New England), September 14 to 30
Organizers at this giant New England fair laughed when they first heard that farmer Mary Beth Draghi wanted to peddle tomato basil salad, but she sold more than 4,000 last year, maybe thanks to her super-secret spice mix in the balsamic dressing that she tosses with mozzarella balls, basil and the late-crop tomatoes that she cuts into wedges for easy eating while walking. Look for the salads at the Littel Acres Farm stand in the Connecticut building, or head to the Maine building for other healthy eats this year, like salmon on a stick.
Grilled pork chop sandwich
North Carolina State Fair, October 11 to 21
Eating healthfully at the fair doesn’t mean you’re just stuck with veggies—at North Carolina’s fair, meat eaters should look out for the grilled pork chop sandwich at the N.C. Pork Council’s Pork Chop Shop. The fair keeps a nutritionist on staff, and this sandwich is one of her top picks. Not high on her list: the infamous Krispy Kreme burger, which would take 30 laps around the midway—about 15 miles—to burn off.
Maryland State Fair, August 24 to September 3
Consider this a healthier spin on that old fair favorite, the peach dumpling: the Maryland Foods Pavilion at this fair is offering peach-and-yogurt sundaes. Fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt comes topped with sliced peaches from local orchards (and optional whipped cream). It’s the perfect light dessert to walk away with after trying one of the midway’s newest offerings: deep-fried grilled cheese.
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