The blueberry pierogi sundae, one of the Big E's new foods for 2016, started as an unlikely casual snack and became a partnership between two longtime vendors. The owners of Chicopee, Mass.- based Millie's Pierogi would put their blueberry-filled Polish dumplings in a cup and head over to Joe Deedy's Moolicious to top the pierogi with vanilla soft serve.
That buttery and fruity-sweet combination was a hit, but needed to be portable for guests walking the fairgrounds, Deedy said. Now the "Polish sundae" is served with a pierogi nestled into a waffle cone, topped with vanilla ice cream, blueberry sauce, cinnamon sugar, whipped cream and wild blueberries.
This year marks the centennial year for The Big E, New England's largest fair, returning Sept. 16 through Oct. 2 at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. At the century mark, the event shows no signs of slowing as it continues to churn out the region's craziest, biggest, deep-fried, cheese-filled, chocolate-covered and bacon-topped fair foods.
Several vendors shared their 2016 items at a media preview Tuesday, Aug. 23, offering a sneak peek at what's to come when the fair opens in three weeks.
Two new on-site restaurants will present full-themed menus with drinks to match. The Wurst Haus, operated by the Student Prince, will serve a taste of Germany: an 18-inch sauerkraut-topped bratwurst, enormous Bavarian pretzels, fried Camembert cheese and a "Munich corn dog" – a Spaten-battered knockwurst on a stick with beer cheese. Wurst Haus adds to the festivities with The Boot, a footwear-shaped souvenir glass that holds 28 ounces of beer.
The Student Prince has been a downtown Springfield landmark for more than 80 years, reopening in late 2014 under new ownership. This is the restaurant's first time as a Big E vendor, said assistant general manager John Perry. "We're excited, we have a lot of energy going forward. We had this opportunity and wanted to capitalize on it."
The Italian Pavilion restaurant will transform into the Deep South Food Company for 2016, offering an array of Southern favorites: fried green tomatoes, gumbo, po'boy sandwiches, muffalettas and fried chicken with maple bacon waffles.
"You can have Italian food any day of the week," said vendor Anthony Martone, explaining the format change. He said he's particularly excited about the eatery's Clay County shrimp, with fried shellfish coated in hush puppy batter. Deep South's "distinctly Southern cocktail bar" will feature an Alabama rum punch, spicy Bloody Mary and "Swamp Water," with tequila, blue curacao, Midori and a gummy alligator.
E.B.'s Restaurant, a fixture in Agawam, earned national exposure on Cooking Channel's "Carnival Eats" for its deep-fried country shepherd's pie. Owner Ed Borgatti follows up this year with deep-fried bacon macaroni and cheese, rolling macaroni balls in panko crumbs and topping the fried spheres with gooey American cheese sauce and bacon bits. The shepherd's pie also returns, he said.
E.B.'s is in its 12th year as a fair vendor.
"I always try to change it up every year. I've evolved with the fair, and the changing taste of the fairgoers," Borgatti said. You go with what works…and we actually do better every year. It just grows. You get 17 days, it's a one-shot deal and you want to do the best you can, to maximize your exposure and give the best product you can."
A French-Canadian delicacy comes courtesy of a Connecticut company, Southington-based Poutine Gourmet. Owner Kris Barletta is new to the Big E and says he's thrilled to be a part of the fair, serving fresh-cut French fries topped with a vegetarian-friendly gravy and cheese curds.
The mobile Poutine Gourmet, which sells the decadent snack at festivals and events around the state, started five years ago, Barletta said. "I did a couple of items as a lunch truck and noticed people were only coming to me for my poutine. [Now] I put all our focus into making the best poutine…we do one thing and do it well."
Fried foods continue to be the Big E's top draw, with new deep-fried pumpkin pie bites (pumpkin puree bundled in crispy wonton wrappers) by the Coffee Break, chocolate and bacon-covered French fries by KB Foods, funnel cake fries by F&W Caterers and a "Navajo taco" by Anna's Fried Dough.
Last year's wildest battered creation, the V-One Vodka deep-fried martini, also returns to the company's craft cocktail bar in the Young Building. The Big E's classics, including the signature cream puffs and its Craz-E bacon cheeseburger on a grilled glazed doughnut, have also cemented their place in history and return again for 2016.