There are two truths when it comes to food at summer fairs:
- Eating junk food at fairs is fun.
- Eating junky junk food at fairs is not.
As summer fairs go, the one put on by the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society every August isn't huge, but it's great and has everything you'd want: skillet tosses, the watergun game, overgrown vegetables that win ribbons, and, of course, booth after booth of junk food.
I love funnel cake as much as the next kid, but I also like to preface the fried dough with things like protein and vegetables. That probably means I'm getting older. But it's also a testament to the handful of really stellar purveyors that take their food seriously.
A couple of guys smoking locally raised meat in a vessel they built in Brooklyn. They specialize in pig, but chicken, fish, and even lamb are also available by request if you hire them to cater an event. (Not a brick-and-mortar op; more of a pop-up smoker.) The oak-smoked meat is pulled apart into fine clumps and piled onto a soft-but-substantial bun. They also make some mean sides, particularly their carrot-cabbage-broccoli slaw (available as a sandwich condiment as well as a side) and the tangy, no-mayo potato salad.
The Red Cat
Years ago, this was a restaurant in West Tisbury, and the food was terrific. I did a double-take when I saw their sign at the fair. They don't actually have a restaurant anymore; they just popped up at the fair and got excited when I read the menu: chef Ben DeForest's "Fresca" was a brothy, full-flavored fresh tomato-corn chowder that would have been ideal had it not been a hot soup on a hot day. Instead, I ordered the grilled swordfish skewer—thick chunks of beautifully charred (albeit slightly underdone in the middle) meat with red onion, zucchini, squash, and eggplant—and fresh-squeezed lemonade sweetened fresh sliced strawberries and topped off with fizzy club soda.
Terry Huff hauls his cavernous kettle from Eighty Four, Pennsylvania (yes, you read that right) to various fairs around the country. In it, he pops the corn in hot soybean oil, then adds an equal amount of granulated sugar and stirs the kernels with a wooden paddle as big as a boat oar. When it's finished, he pushes the popped corn—now glossy with sugar—over a grate to discard the unpopped kernels, then salts it and bags it up. Even a small bag ($5) looks like a lot until you're mindlessly inhaling the perfectly salty-sweet snack and realize that's it's suddenly all gone.
Eighty Four, PA (map); 724-355-0996