PALMER — Alaska’s greatest champion is undeniably Olympic Gold Medal Winner Kikkan Randall, but perhaps the greatest male champion Alaska has ever produced is Mark Schlereth, a Service High product who won Super Bowl titles with NFL teams Washington and Denver during his playing career.
Schlereth recently took to the wild world of the Internet with a little segment he called “Man: 101. You’re welcome,” which my favorite radio show tirelessly humiliated. However, I’m going to borrow his tag line for my Alaska State Fair food column this year, Fair 101.
Many have argued over what delicious dish in Alaska State Fair food history reigns supreme, but I’ve chosen simply to cover all my bases in this entry level course into the ASF food euphoria.
Potato Palace: Buffalo Chicken Baked Potato
The new spin on the classic staple was a hit. The combination of the perfectly grilled barbecue chicken did not overload the soft baked potato. Potato Palace added cheese and ranch with the chicken and potato, making for a tasty mix of meat, cheese and potato packing flavor that lasted until the final bite. Eager to try the new fair food item, I unwisely ingested the entire potato with a bottle of chocolate milk. The new spin on the classic led off the fair food tirade with a home run.
Slippery Gulch: Grilled Ham and Cheese
Of all the places to go for a meal at the fair, the Slippery Gulch may be one of the most cost effective. Run by St. Michael’s Catholic Church, I had a lovely chat with Pam and Roger behind the counter as my ham and cheese sandwich was grilling. The small building next to the cabins has been a fundraiser for the church, and a way to skip long lines for hungry fairgoers. In any lineup of fair food on an afternoon catching the lumberjack show or the giant cabbage weigh-off, any hitter in the lineup must be able to move the runner, or in this case quickly and efficiently dispel the hunger. The Grilled Cheese Sandwich came in at under $5 and provided a walkable snack in my fair food adventure with my family. The Slippery Gulch served as the slap singles hitter in my family fair food lineup.
Aloha Whip: Hala Kahiki
Any dangerous lineup in baseball has a feared hitter in the middle of the lineup with power. Aloha Whip had lines miles long, and with good reason. The power of the Hala Kahiki was what demanded the attention of hungry fairgoers the last two weeks. The Hala Kahiki is served in a hollowed out pineapple, and looks almost as good as it tastes. The mixture of ice cream and whipped cream atop the pineapple base was a grand slam. The attention to simply holding the massive pineapple dessert allows the appreciation of how delicious the Hala Kahiki was.
Bushes Bunches: Peanut Pot
The pride felt in Palmer when the fair brings fall into the Valley is like a good late inning rally. After all the long, hot summer, it’s energizing to see the results of our labor. Among seeing those results in the form of massive produce grown in Alaskan soil that broke records a this year’s Fair is the delight of eating those vegetables. Bushes Bunches provided a mixture of two things I love, locally grown produce and bacon. The Peanut Pot is served with small sliced hot potatoes and a smoky bacon dip. Any productive lineup has not just one hitter in the middle of the lineup who can beat you, but versatile hitters who can thrill in a variety of ways. While sugary and savory may be among the sweetest swings in fair food, locally grown always gets the job done.
Fish On Grill: Salmon Sliders
Among the many showmen at the fair are monster truck drivers, antique tractor drivers, farmers, and the grillmasters. Brady Hayden at the Fish On Grill puts on a show that the people want to see. Like a flashy infielder creatively maneuvering around the bag and runner to complete the double play, the Fish On Grill brings the delicious feast from Alaskan rivers to the Fair with flair. I ordered the Salmon Sliders with each available sauce, wasabi and ranch. Both sauces were an amazing complement to the well constructed but soft salmon patties and bun. The show put on by Brady Hayden and the Fish On Grill was the well-deserved dramatic bat flip after mashing a no-doubter walkoff home run into the night.
Russian Eats: Spicy Beef Piroshki
Smart baserunners are able to take extra bases if they are paying attention. Eager fair food consumers must also take calculated risks, avoiding lines and putting the team’s tastebuds ahead of your own. The line at Talkeetna Spinach Bread is well deserved, but the Spicy Beef Piroshki’s served up next door are incredibly satisfying. The soft, but crispy outer shell of the piroshki was not too heavy, and the mixture of spicy beef and veggies inside the bun were able to slide in safely ahead of the throw.
Rollin’ Donut: A Dozen Mini-Donuts
Just like strikeouts from a dominant pitcher, if some is good, more is better. Finishing out a strong performance from a starter with a dominant relief pitcher is the best way to win in style. Relief pitchers are throwing harder than ever, lighting up the strike zone with 100-mph pitches all over the league to end the game. I picked the most dominant reliever I know to end my nine innings of fair food and went with mini-donuts from Rollin’ Donut as I walked out. The donuts are mobile, easy to share, and easy to eat the whole thing and forget where you were going, distracted by the delicious cinnamon sugar around the fresh, hot dough. The best way to end a game of state fair food consuming is with one hot sugary classic after another.
Fair: 101. You’re welcome.