SPRINGFIELD — Over the past decade, the Big E's food vendors have become known for concocting crazy food offerings for fair goers.
First there was the "Craz-E Burger," a bacon cheeseburger with grilled glazed doughnut halves for buns. Then came the "Turduken Sandwich," the "Flatliner" burger (a cheeseburger topped with chili, another cheeseburger and chili, french fries, melted cheese and bacon), a doughnut sundae, the "Dilly Dilly Dog" (a giant dill pickle hallowed out and stuffed with a hot dog before being deep-fried in corn dog batter) and deep-fried anything.
This year's offerings are no exception, with new additions including a "barbecue split," a deep-fried pineapple upside-down cake on a stick and a deep-fried chicken, bacon and cheese ball.
But this year, those looking for something lighter, and perhaps healthier, have a new option too. Noujaim's Mediterranean Bistro, out of Winsted, Conn., will serve up falafel wraps, spanakopita and "The Best Hummus Ever."
Owner George Noujaim, who is bringing his food to The Big E for the first time this year, said his Mediterranean offerings just make sense when it comes to the fair, which opens on Friday, Sept. 13.
"When you go to a city, you get a falafel wrap. It's street fair food. So why not have it at The Big E?" he said during the recent Media Taste Test and Food Preview at the Storrowton Carriage House Pavilion.
Noujaim is no stranger to the Berkshires. He began his food business in South Egremont in 1988.
When asked why he named his hummus spread "The Best Hummus Ever," he said the reason, was simple: "My recipe has no filler, no preservatives."
For traditionalists, the Big E Bakery will have everyone's favorites — the cream puffs and chocolate eclairs. Last year, some 60,000 cream puffs and 40,000 "Big Eclairs" found their way to hungry customers, according to E.J. Dean of Big E Bakery.
And many of those cream puff customers, he said, wanted a little something extra last year.
"A lot of customers wanted chocolate on their cream puffs. We accommodated their requests by using the eclair chocolate, but it's a bit too thick," Dean said. "So we decided to make our own homemade ganache. It's actually made for the cream puff. We dip the cover in and it makes a nice coating that molds to it."
While you wait for the Big E to open on Sept. 13, here's a preview of what's new this year:
The Barbecue Split
Porky's Barbecue (Pork Palace) | Commonwealth Avenue
What is it?: One of last year's most talked-about food items at The Big E was the "Barbecue Sundae," a sundae-inspired layering of cornbread, baked beans, mashed potatoes, brisket and coleslaw topped with a cherry tomato.
So how does Porky's Barbecue plan to top its own best effort? The answer is the "Barbecue Split."
Served up to look like a banana split, it begins with a layer of pulled pork and barbecue beef brisket. Next comes scoops of garlic mashed potatoes and creamy coleslaw, topped with cherry tomatoes and two St. Louis-style ribs, all drizzled with barbecue sauce.
Our take: Fun to look at, but be prepared to take a seat if you pick up this meat-filled treat; you'll need both hands to fully enjoy the ribs.
Big E Cream Puff
The Big E Bakery | New England Avenue, The Food Court, Gate 9A
What is it?: If you've never tried a Big E cream puff, then you've been missing out. This extra-large treat pairs a delectable cream filling with a crunchy, airy pastry. This year, you can get the traditional cream puff topped with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar or the new chocolate ganache.
Our take: They say the customer always knows best and in this case, it's true. Bravo to The Big E Bakery for taking requests for a chocolate topping seriously and developing a chocolate ganache that adds, but doesn't overpower, this fair favorite.
Storrowton Tavern | Avenue of States
What is it?: This creamy chowder offered up by Storrowton Tavern has the look and feel of a New England clam chowder, but its main ingredient doesn't come from the sea. Instead, it's made with ground beef, twice-baked potatoes, celery, onions and a special blend of spices.
Our take: This chowder is so good, I finished the whole cup. It's definitely worth standing in line for.
Chicken, Bacon & Cheese Chomper
Chompers | New England Avenue (outside Farm-A-Rama)
What is it?: These deep-fried balls may have a crunchy exterior, but the inside is filled with gooey cheese-filled goodness. This year, Chompers has added a chicken, bacon and cheese flavor combination (served with a side of buffalo ranch dipping sauce) to its line of "chompers," which include the taco chomper, the chicken parm chomper and the bacon cheeseburger chomper.
Our take: There was more cheese than chicken or bacon in my chomper, but the crispy ball had a nice crunch to it. I can't attest to the taste or spiciness of the dipping sauce, but from the reactions around me, if you like "hot" food, you're in luck.
Deep-fried Pineapple Upside-down Cake
The Coffee Break | The Food Court
What is it?: The Coffee Break is known for its deep-fried offerings: Pop-Tarts, Snickers bars, apple pie and pumpkin pie bites. This year, the newest treat is a deep-fried pineapple upside-down cake: a pineapple sphere on a stick, dipped in house batter, deep-fried and drizzled with caramel. It's finished with a dusting of brown and powdered sugars.
Our take: I'm sure that putting upside-down cake in the name of this concoction makes it more appealing than just calling it deep-fried pineapple, but there's nothing cake-like about it. Instead, I felt like I had taken a bite out of a fortune cookie that was filled with warm pineapple.
Falafel Wrap and Hummus
Noujaim's Mediterranean Food | Big E Bistro in the Young Building
What is it?: New to the Big E, Noujaim's Mediterranean Food will have a traditional falafel served in a wrap with lettuce, tomato and dressing. Also available are their signature hummus spread, "The Best Hummus Ever," with homemade pita chips.
Our take: Looking for a vegetarian option? Or a healthier snack? Both of these items fit the bill and you should seek them out. The falafel ball is crisp and has the right amount of crunch. And, as for the hummus, it's the best we've tried. But don't take our word for it, go try it and find out for yourself if it really is the best.
Flavored Frozen Hot Chocolate
Stella's Milk & Cookies | Gate 9A
What is it?: Frozen hot chocolate seems like something that shouldn't exist, but it does and it's available in a variety of flavors: classic chocolate, caramel, peanut butter, toasted marshmallow, cookie dough, peppermint and pumpkin. Add some whipped cream and a topping or two — chocolate sauce, crushed peanut butter cups, peppermint candy, caramel, mini-marshmallows, cookie crumbles or sprinkles — and you have a gourmet drink.
Our take: Frozen hot chocolate might just be my new favorite drink. It has the taste of a milkshake or frappe, without all the heaviness of the ice cream.
Storrowton Tavern | Avenue of States
What is it?: In a sea of deep-fried foods, where your options range from Oreos to Brussels sprouts, Storrowton Tavern's offering of fried oysters, served with a side of tartar or cocktail sauce, is pretty tame.
Our take: Oysters are one of those things you either like or you don't. If you like them, then you're in for a treat. These oysters are lightly breaded and fried to perfection.
Chocolate Moonshine Co. | Better Living Center
What is it?: Mojito, pina colada, pink champagne, dark cherry bourbon and Irish cream are just some of the flavors available from Chocolate Moonshine. But don't let the names fool you, these gourmet chocolates are non-alcoholic, as well as gluten-free and free of egg and wheat. The bars are coated in pure Belgian chocolate and filled with a center of cream and fresh-pressed fruits.
Our take: The chocolate bars are pretty to look at, but even better to eat. And while they might not have alcohol in them, they do taste like the beverages (or fruits/coffee/desserts) they're named after.
V-One Friesling Martini
Craft Cocktails | Young Building
What is it?: What do you get when you mix together V-One Vodka, peach puree, white cranberry juice and Riesling wine and then freeze it? The result is the Friesling martini — a slush (flavored ice) beverage for adults to enjoy.
Our take: You'll have to try it and let us know.
Jennifer Huberdeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BE_DigitalJen on Twitter and 413-496-6229.