Gluten-free. Fat-free. Dairy-free. Sugar-free. Nut-free. Egg-free. Taste free?
Our search for the perfect diet – one that satisfies but does not harm – is a roller coaster of finding the ideal combination of food that keeps the weight off and fuels our body with needed nutrients and energy. While that is good and fine most days of the year, what we’re talking about is not that.
Because there is nothing better than fair food, aka ballpark food. When we’re out for a good time at the county fair or catching a Friday night baseball game, we like meat, we like fried snacks, and we like sweet treats.
Jill Winkels ’03 (liberal arts) is a concessionaire for Hansen’s Amusement Foods, an area provider of fair food serving only the finest in hamburgers, hot dogs, cheese curds and tacos – most things fried, all things delicious.
Winkels spends most summer weekends managing the enterprise, including ordering and delivering food and staffing multiple events the booths travel to throughout Minnesota. She is also frequently the head cook.
“When I first started with Doug (Hansen, the owner) 15 years ago, we had 12 stands, but now he’s nearing retirement, so we’re down to four. It’s a lot more manageable,” Winkels said.
Food fair season in Minnesota runs late April through October. Events range from county fairs and car shows to festivals and street fairs, with a two-week break in August to prepare for the biggest state celebration – the Minnesota State Fair.
“You’d think with so much focus on healthy eating that fair food sales would go down, but it hasn’t,” Winkels said. “Sales have remained pretty constant over the years.”
She says attendees at larger celebrations, like the Minnesota State Fair, are more adventurous foodies.
“We have introduced items that have been successful elsewhere. Deep-fried candy bars are huge at the state fair, so we tried them, but they didn’t go over well at all.”
They’ve also tested watermelon, deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried steak bites, none of which caught the fancy of consumers.
“At county fairs, people want cheese curds, corn dogs, fried tacos, funnel cakes and cotton candy. When it’s busy, we go through hundreds of corn dogs in an hour,” Winkels said.
They have successfully popularized a couple of items, including their highly regarded deep-fried pickles. Several chefs have contributed to their fine-tuned recipe.
“We invest a lot in deep-fried pickles. We make them ourselves, and people love them!”
- They aren’t frozen
- They have a cucumber flavor versus a dill flavor
- They are hand-breaded fresh at each event
- They use a high-blend soybean oil that has zero trans fats
But, fair food isn’t just for fairs.
Karl Hoium ’06 (broadcast journalism) is the assistant general manager of the Fargo- Moorhead RedHawks, and he introduced an expanded nacho item at Newman Outdoor Field.
“I saw it at a Twins game and other places I’ve been, where you use a souvenir helmet for the plate and deck out the nachos with lots of toppings, like chili, jalapenos, onions, pulled pork and barbeque sauce. It’s totally fancied up,” Hoium said. “We started the RedHawks nacho helmet two years ago and it’s been a big success.”
Hoium works closely with the food and beverage director and has an insider’s look at the top sellers from his 11 years of working his way up the organization, from corporate and advertising sales to community relations and now assistant GM.
“Hot dogs are definitely our number one seller,” Hoium said. “People rave about how good our hot dogs are, which we buy from Cloverdale Foods (a 102-year old company in Mandan, N.D.). We changed hot dogs for one year and boy, did we hear about it!” They’ve since returned to serving North Dakota’s favorite hot dog.
And because everyone loves bacon, they also sell a popular bacon dog – Cloverdale bacon, of course, wrapped around a Cloverdale hotdog. Pulled pork, another Cloverdale product, also ranks as one of the top sellers and is one of Hoium’s personal favorites after loaded nachos.
These delightful meat treats are in the hoppin’ hog stand, where the latest selection of Fargo Brewing Company’s beer is also on tap. “It’s kind of a two for one at the hog stand,” Hoium said.
Fans also crave sweets in the form of Dippin’ Dots ice cream, cotton candy and ice-cream novelties. Mini donuts are a favorite among young and old alike.
“A couple of years ago we started selling mini donuts by the bucket and that has definitely caught on,” Hoium said. “Part of the fun is watching them being made right in front of you. It’s a neat process to see: batter goes into hot oil, floats along in a line and a worker flips them over as each side browns. Once cooked, they are put straight in a bag with cinnamon and sugar.”
To quench one’s thirst after vigorously watching the game, fans of a certain age buy beer. Lots of it.
“It isn’t uncommon for us to go through 70 kegs or more over the course of a weekend,” Hoium said. That’s about 124 16-ounce glasses per keg! “Hot dogs, beer and baseball. They go great together!”
So, the next time you’re in Fargo to watch a baseball game, make sure to check out the hoppin’ hog stand. If you’re at a Minnesota county fair, look for one of Hansen’s Amusement Foods booths. Whether your go-to is deep-fried pickles, loaded nachos, or a foot-long corn dog (my favorite), make sure to pace yourself, know your limits, and please, don’t count the calories. Why take the fun out of fair food?
This story was first published in Moorhead Magazine, Fall 2018.
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