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State Fair Sporkie, Drinkie finalists ranked entirely by appearance

Wisconsin State Fair

The Wisconsin State Fair on Wednesday revealed a couple of food-competition news items. The first is that its annual “Sporkies” now have a companion category for non-alcoholic beverages, logically named “The Drinkies.”

The second piece of news was the competitors themselves in both divisions. I could just list them alphabetically or something boring like that, but with almost two months before we actually get to expose our taste buds to these things, it seemed like more fun to just go ahead and rank them using the supplied images, descriptions and my own entirely unbiased evaluation skills.

I should emphasize very strongly right off the top that all of these things might be pretty delicious or refreshing, and that the individuals involved in creating them no doubt worked quite hard to come up with the finished product. But I can only go on what I have to work with currently.

The judges — including Marquette’s Steve Novak, and chefs Adam Pawlak and Ashley Turner — will, of course, have taste to go on. They and we will get the chance to try them for real at the Wisconsin State Fair, which runs Aug. 3-13. For now, here they are with the provided materials, followed by the expert analysis.

The Sporkies

8. Dill Pickle Donut (Fluffy’s Hand Cut Donuts)

What started as an April Fool’s Day joke has taken off… welcome the Dill Pickle Donut! Get ready to bite into this hand cut yeast-raised donut “frosted” with a dill pickle juice whipped cream cheese and topped with thick cut dill pickles and a dill sprinkle!

Nope. Just … no.

7. Coastal Corn Nuggets (Tropics)

Starting off with corn nuggets, these freshly deep-fried dough balls with sweet corn kernels in the center and a crispy shell exterior are the sweet and savory base. The Coastal Corn Nuggets are then smothered with a creamy white queso and topped with a homemade tropical slaw and a tangy pineapple-mango salsa. This hearty treat is finished by adding a dusting of cotija cheese!

“Nuggets” is an awful word that instantly merits a slight deduction, which becomes a more substantial deduction when you put the word “corn” in front of it. Also, I didn’t quite get what makes these coastal. So I suppose this ranking is entirely lexical because the dish itself doesn’t look too bad in the photo.

6. Wisconsin Quesadilla (Mexican Grill)

The Wisconsin Quesadilla is truly filled with the best of Wisconsin! Stuffed full of cheese curds, chunks of brats, grilled onions and peppers, and shredded cheese, this quesadilla is cooked to golden brown perfection and served with sour cream and salsa on the side.

The only thing I’m more tired of than Northwoods-themed anything is “Wisconsin” versions of food that invariably take cheese curds, brats and more cheese, and then wrap them in something. This is another case where the item itself actually sounds tasty and my objections are largely philosophical. Ranking is a cruel business.

5. Sweet and Savory Funnel Cake “Fries” (Bud Pavilion)

This dish pays homage to beloved Wisconsin State Fair staples in one decadent dish. Crispy and golden funnel cake “fries” are topped with savory cheese curds and crispy bacon pieces, then drizzled with rich chocolate sauce and a sweet cream cheese frosting glaze. The Sweet and Savory Funnel Cake Fries are sure to satisfy any craving for something sweet, salty, and indulgent.

I’m more confused by this than anything else. So it starts with something sweet, adds a fairly substantial dose of savory and salty, then tops it off with sweet again. Feels like my taste buds will just continually get in each other’s way like the Three Stooges attempting basic home repair.

4. Irish Dipper (Slim McGinn’s Irish Pub)

In an effort to give fans what they’ve been asking for, the Irish Dipper was born! This delicious new Irish Onion Dip is made with cream cheese, Guinness beer, caramelized onions, and Irish cheddar, and then layered with classic Irish beef in Guinness gravy on a French roll to create a flavor bomb sandwich that will make everyone happy! Served with a souffle cup of Guinness gravy for dipping.

Alright, now we’re talking. Everyone’s rowing in the same direction on this one. We have a clear cultural culinary approach with ingredients that all work in concert to create a cohesive food item. Also, bonus points for the description using the word “Guinness” three times.

3. The Porkie (Camp Bar)

This sundae is just the treat for you to enjoy while at the pig races! Featuring vanilla custard layered with cheesecake bites and hot fudge, The Porkie is topped with graham cracker crust, more hot fudge, warm caramel, a graham cracker cookie, and cherry. But it wouldn’t be complete without a piece of Rupena’s candied bacon dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles!

The Wisconsin State Fair is, invariably, inhumanly hot. Taking that into consideration while reading this description moved it way up the list, plus there are cheesecake bites involved. In addition, ice cream is the best, so the two remaining items must’ve really done something right to knock this down to number three.

2. Beer Cheese Wisconsin Lava Cake (WürstBar)

A savory take on a sweet classic, the Beer Cheese Wisconsin Lava Cake sums up Wisconsin in one bite! These salted Milwaukee Pretzel Company slider buns are filled with famous beer cheese soup, topped with butter and pretzel salt, and drizzled with house-made hot honey and red pepper flakes.

Am I being a tad inconsistent, given my previous statement about “Wisconsin” items? Perhaps. I would argue that while this item uses our state’s name in the title, it’s more for show than anything. This could just as easily be “Beer Cheese Lava Cake,” and the consumer would still have a pretty good idea what they’re getting. Another case where the total package seems well-thought-out and just makes a lot of sense together.

1. Deep-Fried Apple Pie (Saz’s BBQ)

The Deep-Fried Apple Pie takes homemade apple pie filling and sandwiches it between two slices of white bread dipped in sweet French toast batter. Next, deep-fry it to perfection and top with caramel drizzle and cinnamon sugar. This “fair-ified” take on the classic campfire treat, a pudgy pie, brings you the flavors of a slice of apple pie in a fun new way!

My early favorite in the competition earned it with a description that made me immediately skeptical before giving way to curiosity. I would argue that’s the hallmark of any promising Sporkies candidate. You have to wonder if this is really a good idea and, by the end, really want to try it.

The Drinkies

4. Brown Sugar Sweet Potato Iced Latte (Mashed Potatoes On-a-Stick)

Cool off with an iced latte flavored with brown sugar, sweet potato purée, a dash of cinnamon, and brown sugar boba pearls! Garnished with a toasted marshmallow AND a deep-fried sweet potato funnel cake nugget, the Brown Sugar Sweet Potato Iced Latte is sure to revive you on any day of the State Fair. Made with non-dairy creamer.

This candidate recalled some of the issues I had with a few of its food counterparts. First, you’ve got the word “nugget” in there. Then there’s the general busy-ness of the whole thing. It all sounds like a bit much.

3. Cotton Candy Lemonade (Saz’s Miller High Life Pavilion)

The Cotton Candy Lemonade is a delicious blend of cool lemonade with a sweet taste of blue cotton candy. Not only do you get a refreshing drink, but you also get a big cloud of cotton candy on top – truly every State Fair kid’s dream!

I am the father of an 8-year-old. And, like all parents of children in and around that age, I’m acutely aware that cotton candy is pure evil and should be banished forever from everything. That aside, I’m usually a fan of combining sweet and tart (SweeTarts, for example), and would’ve been willing to give this the benefit of the doubt except for that large dollop of evil right on top.

2. The Ferris Mule (Old Fashioned Sipper Club)

The Ferris Mule is a non-alcoholic mule crafted with fresh blackberries, ginger beer, freshly squeezed lime juice, and agave nectar – all of which is hand shaken and poured over ice. Garnished with fresh blackberries, a rosemary sprig, and lime wheel, The Ferris Mule takes a summer classic drink and elevates it with a fresh Fair time twist!

I think this is supposed to be a “ferris wheel” play on words, but it really doesn’t come off, so minor deduction there. The drink itself sounds quite refreshing, though, with a promising ingredient combination that sounds like it’ll go very nicely together (ginger beer needs to be in more things).

1. Mango Tango Tajín (Caribbean Smoothees)

The Mango Tango Tajín drink blends juicy mangoes with tangy pineapple to create the bottom layer. It’s then topped with a creamy strawberry smoothie layer! Finish it off with a sweet and spicy Chamoy sauce drizzled over top and sprinkled with a kick of Tajín seasoning for a perfect sweet and spicy combination.

Double points for working a rhyme and an alliteration into a three-word product name. Even more points for presentation, particularly the separation of colors that makes the whole thing pop. Final points for making the sweet and spicy portions of the package sound well-balanced.

For more information on Sporkies, Drinkies and all things State Fair, visit the website.