The Big E is now 101 years old, but its legendary culinary creativity continues to thrive.
After marking its centennial last year, New England's largest fair, which returns Sept. 15 through Oct. 1 at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, is back with a new crop of sweet, savory, carb-loaded, cheese-drizzled, candy-coated, whipped cream-topped and deep-fried indulgences. Several vendors shared their 2017 items at a media preview Aug. 25, offering a sneak peek at what's to come when the fair opens in a few weeks.
DEEP-FRIED HOLY CANNOLI: The Coffee Break, which in the past has successfully cooked s'mores, red velvet Oreos and strawberry shortcake in hot oil, has found a way to fry the classic Italian dessert. Instead of the standard crisp shell, the traditional ricotta filling is encased in a dough that's a cross between pastry and pizza styles, says vendor Anthony Martone, and frozen before it's fried. The portion will be served with chocolate chip ice cream, hot fudge, caramel, cinnamon, sugar and whipped cream.
FLATLINER BURGER: The West Springfield Lions Club vendor stand promises a "messy, multiple napkins" kind of burger this year: two patties topped with chili, French fries, cheese sauce and bacon.
GOURMET TATER TOTS: At the new Tots-a-Lot stand on New England Avenue near Gate 9A, find tots with toppings like bacon, cheese, sour cream and chives; "chicken tot pie" with chicken gravy, diced chicken, peas and carrots; nacho-style "totchos"; and others with buffalo sauce, pulled pork and shepherd's pie ingredients. There may be a "tot of the day" offering, says vendor Heidi Hiner, depending on customer demand.
WAFFLE CHICKEN BITES: The Deep South Company, which brought Southern-fried flavor to the fairgrounds in 2016 with po'boys, fried green tomatoes and muffalettas, will offer waffle-battered fried chicken bits in a waffle cone, drizzled with a maple mustard sauce.
CHOCOLATE-COVERED STRAWBERRY WAFFLE BOMBS: The Fried Fruit vendor on East Road across from the Food Court dips three jumbo strawberries on a stick in chocolate, then Belgian waffle batter, before deep frying the whole thing.
BELGIAN WAFFLE SANDWICH: At Amy's Sweet Treats, on Commonwealth Avenue across from the Wurst Haus, thin waffles serve as "bread," with Neapolitan-flavored hard ice cream in the middle.
BBQ BRISKET SUNDAE: The savory meat-based creation at Porky's Concessions is topped with coleslaw, barbecue sauce and a tomato serving as a "cherry."
BURGER BOMB: Hofbrau Joe's Oktoberfest Biergarten is serving a five-ounce burger patty topped with cheese, bacon, onions and sauerkraut that's then wrapped in pastry dough, deep fried and served in a pool of goulash.
BUD & BURGER PUB: The pub at Gate 7 features a two-floor Budweiser Macro Bar with draft beers and various steakhouse burgers with Budweiser Rub. A new Big Tast-E Burger, winner of a recent Bud & Burger Pub contest, features Italian-influenced flavors with basil, garlic, oregano, American cheese and pepperoni and will be served every day of the fair's run. The recipe comes courtesy of winners Amanda and Darren Volpe of Sunderland, Mass.
STORROWTON SOUP SHACK: Should you end up at the fair on a chillier fall evening, Storrowton Soup Shack, on the Avenue of States near Storrowton Tavern's patio, has you covered with soups like cheeseburger chowder, clam chowder, zucchini tomato, cream of mushroom and beef barley. Bread bowls are available for an extra level of comfort.
Returning Favorites, New And Old
BLUEBERRY PIEROGI SUNDAE: The "Polish sundae" returns to Moolicious for a second year, with a blueberry-filled dumpling nestled into a waffle cone topped with vanilla ice cream, blueberry sauce, cinnamon sugar, whipped cream and wild blueberries.
ULTIMATE COWBOY NACHOS: The Ultimate BBQ's nachos with pulled pork or chicken won "Best New Food" among the fair's Big Eats Awards in 2016.
V-ONE VODKA'S DEEP-FRIED MARTINI: In 2015, the Big E did the inevitable, finding a way to successfully fry a cocktail. The alcoholic fritters return for 2017 with a new flavor: pineapple.
POUTINE: Southington-based Poutine Gourmet is back, serving fresh-cut French fries topped with a vegetarian-friendly gravy and cheese curds.
DEEP-FRIED SHEPHERD'S PIE: The nationally famous dish at EB's Restaurant in the Food Court, once featured on the Cooking Channel, returns for an encore alongside last year's star food, deep-fried bacon macaroni and cheese balls.
1-POUND MEATBALL: Frigo's has a new location, in the Food Court next to Coffee Break, where you'll once again find the gigantic Italian delicacy. Bring friends.
THE BOOT: Get your kicks at Wurst Haus, the German-themed food stand operated by the Student Prince restaurant, where you'll once again find the specialty footwear-shaped souvenir glass that holds 28 ounces of beer.
SPENCER TRAPPIST BEER EXPERIENCE: Each day during the fair, the monks from St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass., will offer a guided beer tasting in the Young Building while sharing the story of the brewery and brewing process. This year, they've launched a new Spencer Monks' Reserve Ale, a Trappist Quadrupel at 10.2 percent ABV.
CRAZ-E BURGER: At this point, it wouldn't be the Big E without the now-iconic bacon cheeseburger on a glazed doughnut, which debuted in 2009.
CREAM PUFFS AND ECLAIRS: It's been 15 years since the fair introduced its signature dessert with sweet, smooth cream filling and airy pastry, and the Cream Puff Bakery within the New England Center sells about 50,000 of the treats throughout the 17-day period. In 2003, the fair introduced the Big "E"clair, another staple of the bakery.