According to my children, I’m not much fun at the Alaska State Fair. My single-minded pursuit of all things porky, all things eaten on a stick, all things battered and fried and served in wax paper makes me a bit of a drag.
Oh, so you want to pet a llama? Not until I get a snickerdoodle. Your favorite band is at the Sluicebox? I’ll be across the way slurping oysters. You want to see the award-winning quilts? I’m far too buttery to be allowed anywhere near them. You want to ride the rides? After what I’ve eaten today? You must be mad.
Bad news for my family is good news for my readers. I’ve eaten it all so you don’t have to. I’m philanthropic that way. You’re welcome.
With a sprawl of food vendors all competing for your dollar, why eat an inferior burger, a lackluster taco or a soggy elephant ear? Those are the misses. Here are the hits.
Pristine Products Oysters: This list is in no particular order except for the unassuming little oyster shack (the sign just reads “Fresh Oysters”), which is always my first stop of the day and my last. First, so I can taste the clean, briny perfection of fresh Prince William Sound oysters before my palate gets overloaded. Last, so that a perfect oyster (or six) is my last experience of the day.
This spot serves up cooked oysters in a variety of preparations, but I only have eyes for their raw oysters on the half shell. It’s standing-room only, but if you jostle for a little room at the makeshift bar, you can watch them shuck your order. The barest drizzle of mignonette makes your plate complete (but I always leave one or two naked).
Bonus: Pristine Products is right across from the Sluicebox, in case you need a beer to wash these beauties down.
Reuben Haus: This Palmer favorite serves up fat, juicy Reuben sandwiches and they are perfect. Meaty, salty, acidic and cheesy, this alchemical combo of corned beef, beer-braised sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and house-made Russian dressing between slices of grilled marbled rye satisfies a lot of my state fair cravings in one messy bite. For those of you with gluten restrictions or high metabolisms, you can order this combo as a bowl — that is, served over zesty fries. Since its state fair debut in 2014, the operation has expanded to include a seasonal food truck, so you can enjoy the sandwiches, fries and beer-battered mushrooms outside the confines of the fair, but we all know that everything tastes better when you’re wearing face paint.
Rocky’s Killer Shrimp: This decadent, messy bowl of Alaska side stripe shrimp swimming in a sinful amount of buttery broth won my dish-of-the-day award during last year’s fair. Cajun seasoning, a stack of soft, absorbent garlic bread, and enough garlic to repel even the most dedicated vampire make this dish something I think about during the long nights of winter. Bring a breath mint.
Porky’s: How do I describe Porky’s pork chop on a stick? There. I just did it. It’s a pork chop. On a stick. Happily, it is a properly cooked, well-seasoned, juicy and tender pork chop. And it’s on a stick. Added points for relative affordability and ultimate portability.
In between these heartier dishes of sandwiches, seafood and meat on a stick, you’re going to need snacks. The state fair is not for the weak. You need to keep your strength up. Here are my snacking go-tos:
Cajun Cookin’s fried pickles have a perfectly seasoned, perfectly crispy cornmeal crust that tempers the salt from the pickles. Served up with a side of ranch, these bites are addictive and shareable (if you’re nicer than I am). Friar Tuck’s corn on the cob is a state fair classic, and for good reason. The ears are always hot, sweet and slathered in butter, and the fixings bar is creative and exhaustive. I’m partial to Old Bay seasoning or just a sprinkle of Parmesan. Yukon Jack’s pork rinds are light and airy and served in a variety of flavors. These are fun to munch while you stroll and I recommend buying an extra bag to take home. The Boardwalk peach pie is a Severin family must-visit and we often hit it up at the end of the day to bring home a whole frozen pie (while supplies last). To me, these pies taste like summer. Red Bird Kitchen’s boiled peanuts are salty and have a texture a bit like edamame so I have convinced myself that they are a health food. And of course, no trip to the fair is complete without Hoop ‘n’ Hula cookies. Classic cookies, served warm and gooey, these cookies are best washed down with a cup of cold milk, so they are also a health food. Because, milk.
There are a few newcomers to the fair this year, so they’ll be on my radar. Keep your eyes open for Russian Eats, which will be serving homemade piroshki and Russian borscht. Lucky Wishbone is in its second year at the fair and if you don’t have year-round access to this old-school fried chicken, I suggest you get your fix. Main Event Catering will be at the fair offering something called “The Loaded Bar” — comfort food with a twist. I’m a big fan of their burgers and sandwiches, so color me intrigued. Lastly, Aloha Whip will be offering fresh fruit and Dole Whip. Do I know what this is? No. Will I be trying it? Also, yes.
As always, I want to know what Alaska is eating. And while this year’s fair-food dance card is already pretty full, there’s always room for more. So if I’ve omitted your favorite or you have a hot tip, please let me know at email@example.com. Or maybe you’ll see me at the fair. I’ll be the one holding a bag of pork rinds, an entire peach pie and a pork chop on a stick. Don’t worry. I won’t be anywhere near the award-winning quilts.
Alaska State Fair
Aug. 22-Sept. 2
12-10 p.m. Monday-Friday
10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 2