Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Booty Fries and Whisker Biscuits

Our state fair is a great state fair
Don't miss it, don't even be late
Our state fair is great
It's dollars to doughnuts at our state fair
It's the best state fair in the state

Er, make that the Commonwealth.

After a short drive up Route 301, we waited for friends at the gate next to Mount Olympus' pumpkin display ("Please photograph our pumpkins, but do not sit on our pumpkins") under a bodacious blue sky.

Just as they showed up, I felt a hand on my arm and turned to see a Richmond restaurant owner smiling and saying, "I almost didn't recognize you with your sunglasses on."

How is it I go all the way to Doswell and still see people I know?

Moving through the entry gates, our friend began singing the song from "State Fair," a 1962 musical I've never even seen. Even so, we hadn't missed it and we weren't late.

A big part of the reason these friends had even been willing to come to the state fair was because they'd read about the abundance of Virginia craft breweries ("Beer IS agriculture") representing, so we immediately set out in search of some.

Actually, my friend was also hoping he could find a t-shirt saying "Beer is agriculture," but it was not to be.

Instead, he found a guy he'd grown up with and another he'd worked with for years. I put my money on him running into at least one, if not two more, people he knew (one, so I won that non-existent bet).

The problem with our state fair is that the map they give you is worthless for locating craft beer stands.

At the Secretariat booth, we finally found directions to the craft beer, but only after half our group had settled for Budweiser.

In a lucky stroke, next to the array of Virginia-brewed suds was an award-winning food stand where we scored butt fries, affectionately referred to as "booty fries' by the proprietor, ribs, cole slaw and beans.

In case your curiosity is screaming to know what booty fries are, let me tell you: fries covered in shredded pork butt, cheese sauce, sour ream and chopped scallions.

As my girlfriend put it, "No one needs to eat this, but it's so good." Honestly, I liked the ribs better, but that's just me.

I was perfectly happy with Prosecco on tap, but the beer drinkers satisfied their need for hops with Midnight Brewery's Virginia Midway, an American wheat ale designated the official beer of the fair, and Lickinghole Creek Magic Beaver, a Belgian-style pale ale.

Hardly surprisingly, all that talk of magic beavers led to discussion of magical whisker biscuits, a phrase new to me but laugh out loud worthy at the same time.

It's always nice to have some language humor when you're in the middle of a state fair crowd.

Looking at the fair schedule, we were bummed to see that we'd missed last night's coon mule jumping, in which mules jump from a standstill when raccoon hunting.

Because only at our state fair could I learn that coons and mules spent any time together.

Finishing our meal, my friend looked at her beloved and announced, "I'm going to need something sweet," echoing my exact thoughts after a salty meal.

My choice was a mixed vanilla and chocolate dipped cone, while she got a hot fudge sundae and we made our way to the festival stage to hear the funky Latin grooves of Brooklyn-based band Jose Conde y Ola Fresca.

Sprawling out on the grassy hillside in front of the stage, the Prosecco stand conveniently located right behind us, we were appalled to see no more than a dozen people taking in the rhythmic sounds of the band (keys, congas, drums, guitar, three horns and Juan singing and playing percussion).

It was mostly original material, both the band's and Juan's, with songs about the drummer's hands (the same texture as the skins on the drums), a sinuous cha cha cha, a song called "Flavor" and an abbreviated cover of "Let's Groove Tonight," to prove Juan was old enough to remember that classic.

The Afro-Cuban band was terrific and deserving of a far bigger audience than they had, and certainly of more people dancing down in front of the stage. Juan himself was an ideal instigator, moving his fluid hips non-stop as he sang.

Although he wore a hat to cover his bald head, he didn't hesitate to point out the conga player's magnificent Afro and admit some envy that he couldn't grow the same.

Tonight's beautiful weather made for a pretty terrific evening to be in a field moving to stellar Latin grooves, the neon lights of the midway and screams of the children off in the distance.

Once the music ended, we wound our way back, following the scent of frying oil to find that most traditional of fair foods, a funnel cake, sharing it four ways before ending up at the pig raceway tent.

Because what's a State Fair experience without seeing the racing pigs?

The little, pink pigs were cute and fast, the older pigs focused and faster but the Asian pot-bellied pigs with their enormous bellies dragging on the straw-covered raceway, were hilarious, lumbering along and not terribly interested in crossing the finish line, especially Lindsey Lo-Ham, who practically laid down and took a nap mid-race ("She's having flashbacks!" the swine-master said).

Only then, after a heaping helping of proper fried food and racing pigs could we exit the fairgrounds alongside kids carrying plastic bags of goldfish they'd won, feeling fully satisfied with our experience.

I'd vehemently passed on the Texas rattlesnake show and we'd never found the masters of the chainsaw, but all in all, I'd have to say it was the best state fair in the state tonight.

Where else could we have learned that beer is agriculture?

Dollars to doughnuts says only coons and mules could have made it any better.

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