The fare at the Dixie Classic Fair certainly isn’t fine dining. It’s fun dining.
There’s nothing like traipsing through the midway holding onto a cardboard boat lined with foil, filled to the brim with something crispy and deep-fried, brined with pickles, sprinkled in sugar, smothered in chocolate, covered in Hot Cheetos as gusts of wind from a living, breathing, blinking, neon-lit ride swoops over your head to blow your eyelashes back and send chills down your spine. The faint scent of gasoline in the air from the demolition derby in the grandstand gives way to the sweet bouquet of cooked sugar and roasted meats. This is your life now. Eat it.
One of the most exciting parts of the fair besides eating the food is getting to know the vendors and people behind the food, which lends itself to some fascinating stories.
Pat Boodthijak and her husband are first-time vendors from Huntersville. They operate Sticky Rice, the fair’s first Thai vendor in 137 years. With two stadium tents set up next to the education building, they lacked signage and sales the first weekend, but began the week with a new colorful sign written with neon markers, hoping to attract more customers. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of lights at a large venue like this. Serving up pad Thai, chicken wings, curry with pineapple, crispy pork belly and, of course, sticky rice, the couple has high hopes for their debut this week.
“We tried to get in last year, but our application was denied,” Boodthijak said, describing the process to become a fair vendor. In order to sell food, you have to sell a unique product. They initially wanted to sell fruit smoothies, but there was already a vendor providing that item.
No one was offering Thai food, so their 2019 application was swiftly put in the yes pile.
Mike Neal of Hickory Tree BBQ in Greensboro specializes in smoked turkey legs, but there was already a turkey leg vendor. Neal and his team created a behemoth of a menu idea: stuffed turkey leg. Stuffed with their signature dish, crack n cheese, the leg is as large as human forearm. Sliced open and layered with macaroni and cheese, Eastern style turkey barbecue and garnished with crispy, crunchy bits of turkey cracklin’ skin and a housemade barbecue sauce, it’s a star.
Look out for the Rosy Bib: a burger with jalapeño brown-sugar bacon jam, sweet-potato chips, jalapeño spice rub, havarti cheese and a marshmallow lemon-cream sauce or the Fairwheel burger: grilled glazed doughnut bun, sriracha maple-bacon jam, cheddar and sriracha-maple sauce, both at Food Freaks, a popular local food truck owned by Brandon and Marie Cassidy.
The menu that Cassidy and his team put out seems like it’s special just for the spectacle of the fair, but this is the type of creativity and freaky food the truck is known for.
“It’s good advertisement. People come by and say, ‘I’ve seen your truck but I’ve never come by,’ or, ‘I saw your truck at the fair and I knew I had to come find you.’ It’s good for business,” says Mike.
Some vendors employ gimmicky and novel food tactics in order to get you to come and try their food. One year, it was deep-fried bubble gum. Another year it was deep-fried butter. This year, it’s pickled lemonade. Vince Willis and his wife Anne run Rocco’s Roasted Corn, named after their teenaged son. A refreshing combination of chilled pickle juice and sweet lemonade served over ice, to this drink customers can add flavors such as strawberry, blueberry, lavender and cherry. The dill pickle brine adds a contrasting salty element to the fresh lemonade in the same way sprinkling salt on watermelon does. Garnished with pickle spears and sliced lemon halves, it piques just enough curiosity of those who seek out the mind-bending creations that the fair seems to bring out of local vendors.