GROB: Let’s do lunch — on a stick

Last week, they announced the finalists for best new food items available at the Iowa State Fair.

I believe the trend toward creative food innovation has come to a standstill in our great nation, and the new Iowa State Fair food is evidence. It seems to me many of these foods were initially created by college students who had the munchies and were too stoned to drive to the nearest restaurant.

James Grob
James Grob

The Iowa State Fair is most famous for giving us foods on a stick. That makes sense. You’re at the fair, you’re hungry, it’s hot and crowded and there’s no place to sit down and eat. It’s high time for mobile dining. Put your lunch on a stick, brother.

There have been hundreds of food-on-a-stick creations throughout the fair’s culinary history, and some of the most notable have included chocolate-covered deep-fried cheesecake on a stick, a deep-fried Twinkie on a stick, fried fruit kabobs on a stick and a golden-fried peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on a stick.

My favorite has always been deep-fried butter on a stick. It’s just a stick of butter, on a stick, battered and deep fried. It is, all at once, equally infantile and ingenious.

This year, the top three best new food finalists for 2018 are the Brown Sugar Pork Belly on a Stick ($7), the All-Iowa Belly-Up Burger ($10) and the Apple Eggrolls ($5).

The Brown Sugar Pork Belly is described as a quarter-pound strip of honey-cured pork belly “rubbed with brown sugar and cooked to crispy perfection.”

Folks, it’s a slice of bacon, rolled in sugar and burned on a griddle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The All-Iowa Belly-Up Burger is described as a “half-pound patty of fresh ground pork belly seasoned with a signature rub and grilled, topped with pulled pork and a signature sauce, followed by thick-cut candied bacon and ‘Rib Shack Slaw’ and served on a brioche bun.”

So it’s pork, topped with pork, on top of more pork, then a bunch of cole slaw, squeezed into a bun. It’s a massive heart attack on bread. Better buy two.

The Apple Eggroll? “A crispy egg roll wrapped around apple filling and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with caramel sauce for dipping.”

My guess is this insane dessert was added to the list in the interest of cultural diversity. I’m in favor of that.

I’m actually in favor of any new food creation. My first instinct is to take a photo and put it on Facebook, and tell all my Facebook friends that they should like and share this picture, because if they don’t, it means they hate America, the flag and our troops.

As a society, we take a lot more pictures than we used to, and a lot of them end up on Facebook, because it’s so easy. There was a time, in my younger years, when it seemed like a lot of work to take a photo, so you only took photos of very important occasions — such as weddings,  graduations, family reunions — or if someone caught a really big fish.

These days, people take pictures of lunch. And dinner. And dessert. And they put them up on Facebook. And Instagram. And Twitter.

I was born the same year as the Big Mac. At the time, there were no photos of either me or the Big Mac shared on Facebook. McDonald’s, obviously, has been the most successful innovator of fast food in my lifetime. These days, the menu has a variety of salads and ice cream desserts, gourmet burgers, a full breakfast menu and several chicken options, among other things. When I was a kid, it was just burgers, fries, Big Macs, a Filet-O-Fish and shakes. Chicken McNuggets didn’t arrive until the early 1980s.

I do recall a few other products they had then that they do not have now. For a while, they had a thing called Onion Nuggets, basically the same as the chicken nuggets, only it was an onion on the inside instead of chicken. Also, back in those days, McDonald’s fried their hot apple and cherry pies. I feel sorry for the current generation, which has never experienced a fried apple pie from McDonald’s. The filling felt like molten lava as it burned the living hell out of your mouth, but the taste buds that survived the scorching were in for an amazing treat.

I can also rattle off a list of fast food items that did not exist when I was a child.

There was no such thing as popcorn chicken at KFC — which, by the way, we either called “Kentucky Fried Chicken” or “Colonel Sanders.” I had never heard of a stuffed-crust pizza at Pizza Hut, or sweet potato fries anywhere. I was 18 before I tasted my first Blizzard from Dairy Queen.

I was the same age the first time I crunched into a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Speaking of cool ranch, what is the deal with ranch dressing? When I was a kid, it was the salad dressing that no one asked for, because it was awful. Now it’s the most popular condiment in the supermarket, people put it on anything. Don’t people know it tastes like sour milk?

These days, I’m also perpetually confused about gluten. I don’t know what gluten is, so if you tell me something is gluten-free, I do not know whether to be pleased or disappointed.

Mexican restaurants? These days there are a half-dozen in every town, but there were no such things as Mexican restaurants when I was growing up, at least not in my immediate area. A couple of my good friends were of Mexican lineage, and so I experienced Mexican food as prepared by their mothers — and that was still better than any meal I’ve ever had in a Mexican restaurant.

I was 40-something before I ever heard of a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Actually, I was probably in my 40s before I ever heard of any kind of latte, or frappe, or any other kind of fancy coffee drink. I’ll probably be in my 90s before I ever try one.

Gatorade was about the only sports drink you could get when I was a kid, and there was no such thing as an “energy drink.” Gatorade came in just one flavor — I think it was actually gator flavored, but I could be wrong. Anyway, we rarely could afford it, so our sports/energy drink of choice was water. It didn’t come in a bottle, it came out of the sink, or maybe the hose in the backyard. Backyard hose water on a hot day is still the best drink of anything I have ever drank.

There was no such thing as diet soda, although Tab had just one calorie. And Pepsi-Free had a twist of lemon.

And while we’re on the subject of beverages, did you know that the only country in the world that doesn’t have any Coke or Pepsi products is North Korea?

I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons that the crazy little guy over there wants to blow everyone up.

Better not tell him about the Brown Sugar Pork Belly on a Stick. Global thermo-nuclear war would be inevitable.

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