Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Big E 100 Years: Cream Puffs, Food Stuffs, Fried Martinis and Ferris Wheels

 In advance of The Big E's Centennial Season, New England Fall Events treats you to a taste of what this classic New England festival has in store for you and your family. Each of our posts leading up to their 100th year will feature a different section of the The Big E experience but if you want the whole enchilada at once, click to read our article "New England Fall Events' Complete Guide to The Big E."

The Big E Food
After departing the Craft Common and Storrowton Village, we felt ready to explore West and East Roads which, in addition to being the main drag through the center of The Big E, have the distinction of playing host over a hundred food vendors. The food choices are abundant and the sheer amount of options creates pure sensory overload. It scratching the surface to talk about The Big E experience only in terms of the food, much of it fried, and the more outrageously conceived the better. For whatever reason The Big E earns a disproportionate amount of buzz heaped on the fried food and over the top food options, we feel, at the expense of hyping a more rounded festival experience that can truly be so varied and educational. To each his own however, and the bottom line is that when it comes to food, people really do love to try it all.

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The Big E's signature cream puff.
In 2002 the “Big E Cream Puff” was designated the official dessert of The Big E and there is a full bakery on the grounds dedicated just to baking puffs fresh and in large quantities, selling over 50,000 each fair season. Fairgoers everywhere carry platefuls, conefuls, and stickfuls of chewy, crunchy, and gooey treats. In every nook and cranny of The Big E there is an opportunity to purchase food. There are healthier food options and a handful of gluten-free choices but “healthy” is not the name of the game at a state fair so, as you would expect, the crazier, more decadent foodstuffs appear also to be the most popular.

We can’t resist noting the diversity of food selection (and if you love fair food, start drooling now). We saw pierogies, deep fried Oreos, kangaroo sausage, egg rolls, wings, kettle corn, candy apples, deep fried Snickers/Reeses, pretzels, beer brats, beer nuts, tacos, camel burgers, sno-cones, slushies, ice-cream- stuffed donuts, smoothies, fried green beans/zucchini/mozzarella/mushrooms,  pizza, cheesesteaks, tempura, fries, pork-stuffed corn cakes, beignets, chicken pitas, super dogs, fried dough,  corn dogs, turkey legs, BBQ anything, oysters, sausage, cheese curds, apple crisp, ├ęclair, any kind of fried seafood, kielbasa, lobster rolls, meatball subs, burgers, chicken fingers and much, much, (much) more. Sure, some of the food carts are repeated in different areas of the fairground but remarkably, there are more varied options than there are duplicates.

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L to R: Ice-cream stuffed donut vendor, lobster roll plate, and an exotic selection of wild game burgers.

The Big E is touted as the Home of the Craz-E Burger -- a bacon cheeseburger served between a grilled glazed donut “bun.”  According to The Big E, the Craz-E Burger earned its title through a naming contest on Facebook beating out other front runners such as “Heart Attack on a Bun” which also manages to capture the spirit of this burger creation. 

If you’ve always been eager to try a Deep Fried Martini (mini pillows of fried dough filled with a martini “mixture”, you’ll find them inside the Young Building which also houses the Guinness Pub.
The BBQ Sundae was another curiosity drawing scores of people who couldn’t wait to spoon layered bites of pulled pork, cornbread, mashed potatoes, beans, and coleslaw from a sundae cup.
Bacon figures prominently and popularly here in many of the food items and more creative concoctions. From the aforementioned Craz-E Burger to the chocolate-covered bacon in the Connecticut building, sprinkle some bacon bits on your donut and you’ll find a line 10 people deep waiting to score one.

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L to R: Pulled pork food vendor, kettle corn samples in the CT building, and a Big E cream puff bakery kiosk.

For a fair that inundates you with food, (with tens of thousands of people) you may find it surprising that there aren’t tons of picnic tables to sit and eat your snacks. The picnic tables are lumped together, some with umbrellas, and not marked anywhere on the printable map. You can find benches here and there throughout the grounds (though not necessarily central to where you are buying your food as you can find in the Connecticut Building) and some vendors had small tables set up behind their area. There is a food court, a few beer gardens, and other more “traditional” sit-down restaurants like the Storrowtown Tavern offering a menu at an elevated price.

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Pork Palace's layered BBQ "sundae" 
A lifelong Big E-going friend of ours tipped us off to the incredible dinner deal at the Lion’s Club lodge (across from the Xfinity Arena entrance) where we could rest our tired feet inside at their tables and enjoy a ¼ BBQ chicken platter for only $8.95. Even better, the Lion’s Club lodge provides some much needed calm and quiet from the go-go-go of the day. For families, this is a very nice, affordable meal option where you can all sit down together and take a break from the stimulation of the fair.

If fair food is your thing and you plan to try many options, most items from the food vendors are not too pricey but don’t expect to find a screaming deal either. In short, like anything, it will eventually do a number on your wallet throughout the day (and why the Lion’s Club meal is such a bang for your buck affordability-wise). All the food vendors we saw, including the Lion’s Club, accepted plastic as well as cash which is handy but you’ll find numerous ATMs throughout the grounds too.

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Deep fried candy vendor.
Because there are limitless food options, on the Friday we attended the lines at the individual food vendors weren’t very long at all. There are certain novelty treats that will generate longer lines and by evening (when concert goers arrived and kids were out of school) the lines—and crowds-- definitely did increase. The BBQ lines near the Xfinity arena gate seemed the longest but that may be owing to its convenient proximity the venue for the concert goers looking for a quick bite before heading in. Of course, you should certainly expect food lines to be longer on a weekend which are the most highly attended of the fair dates.

With so much humanity all in one place, you may be wondering about cleanliness. Considering how much food is being bought and eaten on-the-go throughout the fairgrounds, The Big E staff did a truly impressive job keeping the trash cans empty and the streets free of food, trash, and debris. We never worried about stepping in someone’s upended ice cream cone or saw overfull or neglected trash barrels.

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Afternoon crowds at The Big E.
As we regularly attend dozens of festivals where the only choice is a port-a-potty, it’s a huge plus is that The Big E has no shortage of “real” (indoor, stalled) bathrooms everywhere you look--a very welcome thing. It’s also appreciated that when we wanted to wash our hands from an activity or before/after eating, we could easily find a bathroom with a proper faucet. However--and we hate to look a gift horse in the mouth—we can’t help but point out The Big E’s bathrooms are merely functional and they all are in need of a face lift. Unfortunately, the attention to cleanliness and litter that the exterior fairgrounds are given are not bestowed on the bathroom upkeep.

The Big E Midway
The Midway’s amusement rides and games hold tons of appeal for many folks, especially kids and teens. With two areas—one area features faster, higher, dizzier, thrill-seeking rides and the second area, Kiddieland, is where you’ll find gentler favorites like teacups, the train, swings, and a carousel. Buying a “Midway Magic Pass” ($28, unlimited rides) is the smartest way to go if you are attending on a weekday and plan to go on many rides but the Magic Pass is only valid on Mon-Fri and for single-day use. Otherwise, ride coupons run $1.25 for 1 coupon, $25 for 22 coupons, and $60 for 55 coupons. Most activities charge 3-4 coupons per ride, some more.

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The Big E Midway features fun for fair-goers both small and tall. Ferris Wheel, swings, thrill rides and a kiddie land.

The rides at The Big E's Midway looked clean, freshly painted, and well-kept. In addition to rides, there is familiar midway game fare like bottle ring toss, squirt gun races, hoops, and others which are geared toward winning prizes such as giant stuffed animals. In the hours after school let out, the Midway become noticeably busier and there are enough rides here that you could easily spend hours of your time and plenty of money at the risk of running out of time for seeing other (free) events and activities on the fairgrounds.

       Ready for more? Read our Complete Guide to New England's The Big E!

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