Thursday, August 7, 2014

Inspired by Columbus: The Ohio State Fair Taste of Ohio Cafe

The Ohio State Fair
717 E. 17th Ave.
Columbus, Ohio
open end of July - beginning of August

I love the Ohio State Fair.  After years of faithful attendance I remain convinced there is more to do here that I could possibly handle in one day. But I pack as much livestock, handcraft, rides, and of course food as I can.  

Though I often stop at one of the many places selling fried sweets, corn dogs, or turkey legs, I find some of the most delicious, budget-friendly and interesting food is in the Taste of Ohio Cafe right in the middle of the fairgrounds.  The large, thankfully air-conditioned space is like a food court that is devoted to local meat and dairy.  The center is filled with tables large and small while on the perimeter about a half-dozen lines form divided by protein type: poultry, beef, pork, lamb, and dairy.

You really can't go wrong in any line, but this year I decided to get some delicious Ohio pork.  Though pig wings and the pork parfait are both whimsical and delicious, I saw that this year they also had something not featured on the main menu, the three little pigs.

This slider trio takes two of their menu items, the pork loin and pulled pork sandwiches and adds a mini-BLT to create this delicious study in pork.  The BLT was by far the best, but the experience of trying each type of pork was enjoyable just for the novelty.

And speaking of novelty, I would be remiss if I didn't mention this gem just a little outside of the Taste of Ohio Cafe.  Along with the pork parfait (layers of pulled pork and mashed potatoes), these ice cream inspired entrees I thought typified the kind of whimsy one expects at the fair.

To be successful at the fair you can be one of three kinds of food.  Fair staples are things like corn dogs, pizza, and smoked turkey legs.  These are things that you expect to see at any state or county fair and you just can't help but be tempted by them.  The second category is well-established local food.  Schmidt's Sausage Haus and Der Dutchman fit in this category as do many others. Finally, there are foods that try and do something new and usually over the top hoping that the sheer novelty will draw people in.  Chocolate covered bacon, in addition to the meat sundaes mentioned above fall here. This category is my favorite and is what inspired me in my own cooking.  

How I was Inspired 
I decided to take the idea of a trio of flavors I encountered with my "three little pigs" and the concept of the meat sundae and put them together to play on a banana split.  This is a playful and over-the-top way to make something interesting with your leftovers at the end of the week and you could substitute nearly anything for what I did.

I roasted a turkey breast and made some stuffing and gravy.

I made a pot roast with a red wine reduction and served it with some classic mashed potatoes that Lyndsay made.

And finally, I went to Ray Ray's Hog Pit and picked up some pulled pork (I guess I was too tired to smoke my own after the turkey and pot roast).  To go along with it Lyndsay made some mashed sweet potatoes with thyme and I made a South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce.  The reason for this is because I've learned mustard barbecue sauce goes amazingly well with sweet potatoes.

So after enjoying turkey, pot roast, and pulled pork all week I had a bunch of leftovers to work with.  I sliced some yellow squash and sauteed it over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.  Now it was time to assemble this Frankenstein monster of awesomeness.

I tossed the pot roast with the red wine reduction, the turkey with it's gravy, and the pulled pork with the mustard barbecue sauce and then used an ice cream scoop to mound them in the center of a shallow bowl.

Next I topped each with its respective starch: mashed potatoes, stuffing, and sweet potatoes.

Finally, I added two slices of yellow squash and a garnishes to each: a grape tomato, cranberry sauce, and fresh herbs. Now this looks like something that would draw people in.  As I mentioned before you could substitute almost anything: risotto and chicken, couscous and lamb, etc. In fact, my brother recommended substituting a split sausage for the squash, but I thought that might be meat overkill.  You also don't have to all the different flavors, you could just make a sundae with one kind of meat and starch.

Here are the recipes I used when I make each of these components.  Beyond that it is literally just a matter of sauteing the squash in a little oil over medium heat until golden brown and assembling and then adding the garnishes. 

Three Meat Sundae
What are some of your favorite fair foods.  Now that the fair is over, where should I dine next.  Let me know in the comments.

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