My fair Coopie and other delights

To go along with the stomach-churning rides at the Florida State Fair, we have . . . the food.

Published February 12, 2007


Pop quiz. The name "Hot Roast Beef Sundae" refers to:

A An all-male nude revue in Kenosha, Wis.

(B) Ruben Studdard's belly

(C) One of the new food items at this year's Florida State Fair

The answer, of course, is C.

The Hot Roast Beef Sundae is one of the guilty pleasures at this year's fair, which got rolling Thursday in Tampa. But it isn't the only new entree on the menu.

In the interest of testing man's gastrointestinal limits, we sampled some of the fair's most curious new midway snacks on opening day. Here are our findings.

HOT ROAST BEEF SUNDAE: Believe us when we say the sundae looks every bit as appetizing as it sounds

There's a scoop of potatoes, a smattering of gravy-drenched roast beef chunks, more potatoes, more gravy, a sprinkling of shredded cheese and a cherry tomato on top.

Brought to Florida by Minnesotan Kenny Plunkett, who got the idea from another vendor at the Iowa State Fair, the sundae resembles a less obnoxious version of KFC's "Bowl," an obscene mishmash of country flavors hardly suited to a drive-through window.

The Hot Roast Beef Sundae, on the other hand, is a winner.

The warm, rich mashed potatoes are swimming in flavorful gravy, and the cheese melts beneath the heat of the meat. The finishing touch, the cherry tomato, is a warm, juicy surprise at the end. And it comes with a spork. A spork!

At $6, the sundae is an investment, but no more so than a turkey leg or pork butt on a stick.

You can buy it in a tent across from - where else? - the Hollywood Racing Pigs.

Now, if only they could find a way to put it on a stick.

DEEP FRIED PEPSI-COLA: At first, one marvels at the technological zeal that propelled men of science to learn how to deep-fry a liquid. (Can deep-fried gases and plasmas be far behind?)

Then you realize that the Pepsi just replaces water in a batter that gets fried.

For $4, you get about eight pingpong-ball-sized chunks of dough that are smothered in powdered sugar, cinnamon and whipped cream.

The first thing you notice is the crispness; like all fried foods, the Pepsi has a pleasant texture. It's doughier than a funnel cake, and you almost swear you can feel the carbonation on your tongue.

The sugar, cinnamon and whipped topping sort of overwhelm the flavor; only the aftertaste offers an ever-so-slight hint of cola.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Plain old fried dough is fine by us. And the bite-sized Pepsi pieces are less messy than, say, a deep-fried Snickers.

It's really a pretty good dessert - just not for the reason advertised. Not for the joy of Pepsi.

TRIPLE CHOCOLATE AND CARAMEL COOPIE: Being described as "a big hit online" may be fine for next-big-thing rock bands like the Arctic Monkeys, but it's a bit disconcerting when you're talking about a dessert.

That, however, is the sales pitch attached to the Triple Chocolate and Caramel Coopie.

Part cookie, part pie, the Coopie is a nifty little $3 dish that tastes like cookie dough and is served in a tin the size of a mini pecan pie.

Coopies themselves aren't new, but the Triple Chocolate and Caramel Coopie is making its debut this year. It's pleasantly warm and gooey, a dollop of dark, brownielike dough nestled into a crispy crust. The chocolate - and the caramel poured on top - is dark and intense.

You also get a purple sticker that says, "I Got Coopie'd." Cute.

The only problem, if you want to call it that, is that the Coopie looks and feels premanufactured. Fair desserts are supposed to be weird and outrageous and unpredictable; they're supposed to make you giggle and shake your head in awe.

If you're going to buy a fair dessert, you may as well buy one that'll shave a year off your life, like a deep-fried pint of Haagen-Dazs (which doesn't exist, but come on, it's only a matter of time).

So drop $10 on a Hot Roast Beef Sundae and deep-fried Pepsi. Skip the Coopie this time around.

And whatever you do, do not proceed directly to the "Guess Your Weight" booth afterward.

Jay Cridlin can be reached at (727) 893-8336 or cridlin@tampabay.com.