WEST ALLIS – Ask the two smiling workers at the Wisconsin State Fair information booth where to find the M&W Concessions stand, and they look puzzled while scrambling through two thick red binders.
But mention the company’s product – deep-fried Oreo cookies on a stick – and they close their binders and quickly describe the food’s location along the fair’s Grandstand.
At the State Fair, where gluttony is as subtle as the carnival lights, foods on a stick stand out. Nearly 40 items are served on a stick, ranging from deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to macaroni and cheese. Conventional stick foods also are on the menu, including corn dogs. Of course, fair patrons may purchase the “giant corn dog,” which practically resembles a baseball bat in size.
The 158-year-old fair features an unlikely star: chocolate-covered bacon on a stick.
Pre-fair hype reached late-night TV last Tuesday as host Conan O’Brien cracked that chocolate-covered bacon on a stick is being served because the fair “wanted to offer a lighter option for Wisconsin residents.”
Conan 1, Wisconsin State Fair 0.
But the publicity generated such interest in the snack that the Pewaukee-based Machine Shed restaurant needed to form an express line at its roomy fair spot to accommodate customers.
“They’re flying out of here,” said Nate Morrissey, Machine Shed manager.
The treat, costing $3 for two sticks, is created by skewering bacon then covering it in chocolate and sea salt before freezing it. Morrissey said Machine Shed hopes to sell 200,000 pairs – or 400,000 sticks of chocolate-covered bacon at the fair. Reactions were mixed.
“Trying it once is enough,” said Pam Barney of Franklin. “It has a lot of chocolate and salt, but you can taste the bacon. It’s a fun novelty.”
Morrissey said the chocolate-covered bacon idea developed from fair vendors in Florida and Minnesota. Wisconsin, he added, is the first to put it on a stick.
Last year’s phenomenon returned. That’s macaroni and cheese on a stick at Catfish Johnny’s booth. The mac and cheese is covered in a light breading to form triangles then fried on sticks. Catfish Johnny’s owner John Kalashian said his crew hurried to make more after nearly 1,000 of the $5 item sold out in the fair’s first three days last year.
This summer, John’s wife, Jamie, pushed another new food on a stick: crab cakes.
Across the crowded fair street from Catfish Johnny’s is Sidewalk Sundaes, home of cheesecake on a stick. Sidewalk Sundaes manager John Bray said he’s sold on-a-stick cheesecake for 20 years. “It’s convenient for people to carry like an ice cream cone,” he said, “or a corn dog.”
On-a-stick items were good sellers all over the vast fairgrounds. James Bennett of Greenville said his $4 fried Snickers on a stick was delicious. Covered in warm batter, the food tasted “like a chocolate pancake,” Bennett said.
Not all foods work on a stick. Fair spokeswoman Patrice Harris said plans for kettle corn on a stick were dashed Wednesday when the popcorn vendor couldn’t create the same consistency on a stick during pre-fair prep that he did while testing.
And testing matters. Morrissey said it took up to 15 phases to get the chocolate-covered bacon on a stick to work. He is unsure if the item will become an annual fair hit.
“But that’s the point of the fair: Try something new. You can’t do the same thing year after year,” he said with a laugh, “except the cream puffs.”
CHOCOLATE-COVERED BACON ON A STICK
Price: Two for $3
Taste: Share with someone. Salty chocolate dominates before reaching bacon.
FRIED PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH ON A STICK
Taste: Too doughy and greasy. Fine when you reach the jelly.
2 1/2 STICKS
MACARONI AND CHEESE ON A STICK
Taste: Lightly breaded but the six triangles held up.
3 1/2 STICKS
CHEESECAKE ON A STICK
Taste: Cheesecake was hard and lost the creamy delight of the dessert. No crust, either.
1 1/2 STICKS
FRIED SNICKERS ON A STICK
Taste: Covered in hot batter, the cold Snickers melts quickly.