August 27, 2008

Foods of the 2008 New York State Fair

We're smack in the middle of Central New York's fried food fest -- the New York State Fair.

They'll dip anything in hot grease. You may remember two years ago when I sampled the interesting flavors and textures of a fried snickers. After a year away from the fair, I'm pleased to report that I visited last night and can bring you reviews of some properly fattening fair fare.

Loaded fries
4/5 sporks
French fries shine when you need a fork to eat them. Slather on obscene amounts of gooey cheese and cool sour cream, then top it off with crumbled bacon and a generous helping of jalapeno pepper slices, and you've got a real treat. They're a kind of successful cross between a baked potato and nachos. And while nothing at the fair is cheap, you'll get a reasonable amount of food for your $5.50.

Gator bites
3/5 sporks
Supposedly these deep fried bits of alligator taste like chicken, but the experience is more like biting into heavily seasoned breaded chicken that tastes like a scallop. Seafood lovers will be ecstatic at all the ocean-fresh flavor without the chewiness, but those who are more tentative will only want to try a bite for $1.00. Even if you don't like the taste, you'll be able to say you've eaten alligator.

Deep fried Oreos
4/5 sporks

These are a much more successful deep-fried dessert than the Snickers of two years ago. There's no need to freeze the cookies or put them on a stick, so biting into them is completely unhindered. It just tastes like you're downing some chocolate flavored fried dough. But at $4.00 for 6 cookies, it's an expensive "yum."

Wine slushie
3/5 sporks
It's not as bad as it sounds. I can't pretend to be in love with the things, but there's an interesting change in flavor that comes from slushifying wine. Each straw sip is exceedingly sweet when it first hits the tongue, but is quickly followed by a nearly-breathtaking red-wine flavor. It works out to a more complex and satisfying alternative to a regular slushie. Depending on the vinyard and size of your wine you'll pay various amounts, but there are 10 oz. cups for $3.00 if you look around. It's a pretty good drink deal at the fair.

3.5/5 sporks
I actually visited on "beef day," but this was the closest I came to eating any cow. The dog itself is thinner than a hot dog, but it's much longer too. That adds up to a lengthier eating experience, which is always good. Plus there's good old hot dog flavor for $3.00.

I wouldn't recommend eating all of these items in one night. Your wallet will hate you, and your stomach will be even more resentful the following morning. The next time you step on a scale, you'll despise yourself, too.

But go with the right attitude. It's okay to try a fattening food or two in the name of science -- and what says science like fried Oreos? Enjoy the fair! There are plenty of sporks to be had.

August 24, 2008

The long wait: Part III of When good food goes bad

Things can go wrong when you're eating in a restaurant. Then you're left spitting an undercooked burger into a trash can or waiting in a 20-minute line when you're already late for work. It's time to take a look at the dark side of the food industry.

The words "so near and yet so far" are pretty painful when you're hungry. Especially if you're in a fast food restaurant and it's past lunchtime. And somehow, at 2:30, those words always seem to fit.

Sometimes the store is empty and you expect to get your burger quickly. Since there are no other orders. yours can be rushed to the counter, right?

Um ... no. The person running the fry machine left for a smoke break but decided to run to Wal-Mart since no customers ever come in the middle of the afternoon. Now you have to wait for an 18-year-old to get back from buying another pack of Malboros before your fries can be cooked.

Other times the place is full and there isn't enough staff to handle the crowd. That happened to me Thursday. I stopped in at a McDonald's next to the interstate to grab a couple of late McChicken sandwiches. Construction had snarled traffic and left me running behind and my stomach running on empty. Judging from the size of the line at the register, it left at least 10 carloads of people in the same position.

In both situations a manager always seems to be out to try to solve the problem. A sweaty guy in a polo shirt usually pops up in McDonald's telling customers to "Have a nice day" while he orders his staff to make that double cheeseburger cook faster. A washed-up hippie saunters through Taco Bell, telling the new hires that you have to turn on the Quasadilla machine.

And it would be a pretty good spectacle if you weren't so hungry. Can the staff feed all the hungry people before time expires and they leave? Will they find someone who knows how to work the milkshake machine?

But you are hungry, so it isn't a spectacle. It's a debacle. And while good things usually come to those who wait, you're more likely to be thinking "there's no time like the present."

August 15, 2008

Overpaying: Part II of when good food goes bad

Things can go wrong when you're eating in a restaurant. Then you're left spitting an undercooked burger into a trash can or waiting in a 20-minute line when you're already late for work. It's time to take a look at the dark side of the food industry.

One of the nicest things about fast food restaurants is the fact that their prices are displayed on giant billboards behind servers' heads. It gives a pretty good idea of how much you're paying.

But what happens when the person serving you can't seem to read those giant prices? What happens when you order a $6.95 burrito and the kid behind the cash register asks you for eleven bucks?

There are only two options: Point out that you're being overcharge and explain that you know the worker's job better than he or she does, or grit your teeth and part with the extra cash to avoid the trouble.

When there are four people waiting behind you in line, impatiently shuffling their feet, nobody wants to be that person who asks to see the manager. Nobody wants to hold up the line and deal with the disapproving stares and sighs of exasperation from fellow customers.

Giving the person behind the counter a hard time isn't easy, either. Most of the time it's some teenager who's probably doing their first job. Even if they're unmotivated and mumble like they came straight from a morphine-filled dentist visit, it just doesn't feel right. None of us want someone to give us a hard time at work, so we don't want to ruin anyone
else's day --especially some kid who should be off drinking Red Bull and playing Nintendo in a dark basement.

Match that against the feeling of Mr. Washington in your pants. He certainly knows how to whisper sweet nothings. Breaking up with him is hard to do, especially when you're being asked to pay more than you should.

So it's a no win situation. Point out the price
discrepancy, and there's a big fuss that leaves you feeling sour. Cough up the extra cash, and you're annoyed you get ripped off.

It's the easiest way to ruin a meal before even seeing the food. Maybe it would be nicer if we didn't know the prices before we ordered.

August 9, 2008

Food poisoning: Part I of when good food goes bad

Things can go wrong when you're eating in a restaurant. Then you're left spitting an undercooked burger into a trash can or waiting in a 20-minute line when you're already late for work. It's time to take a look at the dark side of the food industry.

Getting sick of food isn't a big deal. Just eat something else. But getting sick from food can leave you with a permanent sour taste in your mouth.

Now, there are different varieties of food poisoning. Some of them are more severe than others. Last week I think I picked up one of the less-serious types.

But it's hard to be sure if you really have food poisoning, or even if you're sick. So I'm going to conceal the establishment that I believe passed me a little stomach-borne bug. I wouldn't want to unfairly ruin their reputation.

I picked up a tuna-sub at the unnamed establishment and began chowing down. Before I started I was pretty hungry for tuna. By the time I finished, I really didn't want to taste tuna for the rest of my life. That probably should have been a warning to stop eating.

Yet I continued to eat like some sort of little old lady swallowing a fly. I don't know why I did it, but I paid for it later.

Fortunately nothing came back up the hatch. My stomach just twisted itself into knots and rejected any notion of food. The next day was the killer, though. When I woke up in the morning, every muscle in my body ached and I couldn't shake that exhausted feeling. It was similar to dehydration or the sensation you get from a low-grade fever. Only the aches were worse and I drank plenty of water to rehydrate. Plus, I had a normal temperature.

It took a day before I started to feel better. That's a trademark of food poisoning: It doesn't last much more than 24 hours but makes you feel terrible.

Looking back, I can't be sure it was food poisoning. But it doesn't matter. I don't trust the tuna from this unnamed establishment anymore. And that's where the good food really went bad. I can no longer eat a meal I like because of a bad experience.

Let that be a lesson to you. When your tuna tastes fishy, throw it back. If you don't you could be up the creek without a paddle.