Long before pop-up restaurants were trending, the Elkhart County 4-H Fair provided a bevy of them.

Fair food is best reason to go to the event (says the food columnist). Coming up with a new fair food is a competition among some vendors and the winner is the one who gets the most green ribbons handed over by customers throughout the nine-day event.

An exit from the fair and a return are big news for this year’s fair, which begins this Friday at 17746 C.R. 34 on the east side of Goshen. Here are the important things you need to know about this year’s fair food:

No more Eastern Star breakfasts. The local Order of the Eastern Star served eggs, biscuits and gravy in a small, air-conditioned building at the heart of Food Row. Service wasn’t speedy, but the hearty food was a favorite particularly of those who spend long hours working or showing animals at the fair.

The building won’t have a food vendor this year, but will provide air-conditioned seating for eaters, said Todd Hines, who has worked in the fair’s concessions program a number of years but is in his first year as its director. He called the Eastern Star closing a “big blow” and said there are no plans to put another food vendor there.

Bounthanh’s will be back. The popular local Chinese food vendor missed last year’s fair but will return this year with a new owner. John’s Butcher Block, the historic butcher shop in Nappanee, purchased the business that includes a new concession trailer, recipes and place where the egg rolls and fried rice are made.

Owner Marlin Miller said they took over June 17. The trailer will be in the same spot on the grounds between Food Row and the carnival rides and Miller said their focus will be on serving customers quickly and efficiently. Bounthanh’s was started by the Chiu family in the Bremen-Nappanee area in 1982. “One of the most important things to me is keeping the recipes the same and keeping the whole process the same,” he said of the overall operation.

Cubans and Reubens will debut. A sandwich vendor offering Cuban and several Reuben sandwiches will debut at the fair this year, Hines said. The booth will be near Heritage Park and be joined by Maple Indian’s food truck, which was on the grounds at a different location last year. The goal is to create an ethnic food hub there, he said.

SWEET NEW ITEMS

As usual, fair vendors have some new items on the menus. Best Around Concessions, which has invented the red velvet and apple fritter funnel cakes the last several years, will offer fried mint chocolate Oreos on a stick at its fried candy bar booth on Food Row. The provided photo shows a green, mint-flavored batter coating four Double Stuf Oreos. The vendor will also offer a lemon poppyseed elephant ear at some of its 14 booths. The 4-H Poultry Club will have a chocolate churro at its booth.

On the non-sugary front, Maple City Kiwanis will be offering fried popcorn shrimp and Psi Iota Xi, which features Rulli’s pizza, will have a pizza truck near Gate 2 making the pies onsite.

The Pretzel Wagon will have two booths at the grounds and Ben’s Soft Pretzels will be sold via the Junior Leaders booth at the grandstand, Hines said.

WATCH FOR TELEVISION CAMERAS

In addition to usual local media coverage, “Carnival Eats” from the Cooking Channel is planning a four-day shoot at this year’s fair, Hines said. That could result in multiple episodes featuring our fair.

Hines said he’ll be heading for the pork chops from the Elkhart County Pork Producers when the fair opens. I won’t be far behind him.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

IF YOU GO

This year’s Elkhart County 4-H Fair is July 19-27 at 17746 C.R. 34, Goshen. There is free admission Sunday. Gate tickets are $5 Friday and $8 in advance at local ticket outlets for other days. More than 70 different vendors will offer food at the fair, including non-profit groups and professional vendors.

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