In a year that brought a deep-fried cannoli sundae, chocolate-covered strawberry "waffle bombs" and tater tots loaded with chicken pot pie filling, how do you choose 2017's top Big E fair foods? We gave it a shot.
The Big E's Big Eats awards returned this year, honoring the best concessions of New England's largest fair in West Springfield, Mass.
Fair organizers recruited food writer Leeanne Griffin of The Courant and CTNOW, along with three other judges: Nick O'Malley from MassLive.com; Joe Perreira, the fair's 'E' Stage manager; and Julie Harrison, host of the Big E's Facebook Live, to taste through more than a dozen sweet and savory entries and choose winners in three categories: Most Creative New Food, Best Tasting Food and Best New Food.
A fourth winner will be chosen in the Fairgoer Favorite category, through an online poll on the Big E's website. Visitors can vote for their top pick through Sept. 30, and the winning concession will be presented with the Big Eats trophy on Oct. 1.
The judges' choices:
Most Creative Food: V-One Vodka's Fried Piña Colada
The judges remarked on the execution of the boozy treat, a chunk of fresh pineapple soaked in V-One's coconut-flavored vodka (with a hint of blueberry flavor) which is battered, rolled in coconut shreds, deep-fried and served in a plastic martini glass with a drizzle of coconut cream and fresh blueberries.
Find the 21+ confection at the V-One Craft Cocktail Bar in the Young Building.
Best New Food: Flatliner Burger, West Springfield Lions Club
The Lions Club members promised a "messy, multiple napkins" kind of burger, and they delivered, crowning two patties with chili, cheese sauce, bacon and French fries. Judges liked its construction, despite its less-than-tidy toppings. Says O'Malley: "It's a big, ridiculous burger, but it's actually got some thought put into it. And it actually stays together as a burger."
Best Tasting Food: Frozen Cheesecake, Veggie Patch
Big E vendors are masterful at putting foods on a stick, but the Veggie Patch took the prize in this category for superior flavor, starting with a piece of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake that's frozen and then dipped and topped with customer's choice of enhancement. Judges enjoyed a chocolate and peanut-butter dipped version with chopped peanuts, along with a white chocolate Oreo option. Says O'Malley: "It's a goofy on-a-stick food that's versatile and caters to different tastes."
Other noteworthy entrants: "patriotic" tater tots from Tracy's Idaho Taqueria, featuring strawberries, blueberries, white cheddar sauce and pieces of lobster; corn on the cob crusted with Flamin' Hot Cheeto crumbs at Meester Mike; a barbecue "sundae" from The Pork Palace with layers of cornbread, BBQ beans, mashed potatoes, brisket, cole slaw and a cherry tomato. Dippin' Dots ice cream treats by NE State Sundaes had themed flavors for each New England state, with crumbled snickerdoodle cookies representing Connecticut, blueberries for Maine and coffee syrup for Rhode Island.