Fair food takes on political flavor

From the Lewiston Morning Tribune
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Article by David Johnson
Photos by Steve Hanks

Bernard Lind with Linds ConcessionsFair food comes fried in fat, dipped in batter, skewered on sticks, loaded on buns, cloaked with dough and sometimes wrapped in politics.

"It's very political. Fairs are very political," said Bernard Lind of Cowiche, Wash., who's called the Corn Dog Man and has been in the concession business for the better part of four decades. "I mean, you go to some fairs and you better not step on anybody's toes because you may not have a job the next day."

Lind and other food concessionaires at the Nex Perce County Fair in Lewiston said Friday full-scale food fights never break out, but supply and demand multiplied by competition always equates to politics on some scale.

"It's real competitive," said Mike Busch of Lewiston, owner of Rosie's Ribs and a regular at the fair for more than a decade. "I kept knocking on the fair door, waiting to get in with some barbecue, and it took seven years." Now he dares not take a hiatus, Busch said, for fear of losing what he fought so hard to secure.

Fair managers and members of fair boards make the decisions about which vendors will be allowed to sell what kind of food, the concessionaires said.

"There's a lot of politics involved," Busch said, "because the problem is, there are only so many spaces for food. And if you overload it with food, nobody does good. If you short the food, then people have long waits and they don't like that."

Jody Carver, owner of Dee Jay Concessions of Lewiston, addressed the issue with more than 20 years' of perspective. "Every place has their amount of politics. Every place," he said. "So you try to bribe them with free food, and stuff."

Carver's sister, Bonnie McGlothlen of Genesee, owns and operates the award-winning Wayn'es Concessions and offered perhaps the most political assessment by not being political. "there is politics, she confirmed, "but I don't play that game. I just tell them, 'I'm not going to play that game.'"

Instead, McGlothlen, who confessed to being "not a real quiet person," said she lets her menus do the talking. "Alligator on a stick, frog legs and crawdads," she said, reciting this year's additions. "We hand cut it and marinate it. It's real live alligator out of Louisiana." Once tasted, the reptile meat is a winner among most people, she said.

We just came from Salt Lake where we won an award for best food."

Frog leg sales were also hopping. "When I saw them, I came right over," said Joyce VanMeetren of Orofino. "I'm going to look at all the exhibits, but first I have to have frog legs." She sat at a nearby table, snatched up one of the legs, dipped it in McGlothlen's secret sauce, took a bite, savored a moment, and announced, "Very good. Very tender. Mmm. Wonderful flavor."

Nearby, vendors at the various kettle corn, elephant ear, cotton candy and other stands were gearing up for the rush that promised to build through the noon hour and into the late evening. "If people are going to spend money," Carver said, they're going to buy food."

Lind, who made his first corn dog at the age of 8 while working in concessions with his father, said he spends 46 weeks a year on the road. "These are my hand-dipped, foot-long corn dogs," he said of the culinary mainstay made with his dad's "secret recipe."

Gerald Bacon, 65, of Asotin, was the first customer Friday to plop down $5 for one of Lind's 12-ince dough dogs. "Never had one of them big ones," Bacon said. "So, I'll tell you how they taste in one bit." No mustard. No ketchup. No frills. Bacon simply bit and chewed. "Mmm. They're good. Of course, I'm a corn dog lover."

Busch fired up his barbecue grill shortly after daybreak and, shortly before noon, was working on his fourth load of ribs. During his four days at the fair, Busch estimated, he'll prepare nearly 400 pounds of ribs and several hundred pounds of pork and briskets.

"The fair si like a big huge party where you cook a bunch of food," he said.

McGlothen plans to top her award-winning menu next year with what some might think is a politically incorrect addition. "We're thinking about doing a red-neck chicken sandwich. It's made out of a Krispy Kreme doughnut, lemon glaze and a chicken patty."

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