October 21, 2019
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The First Full Week in October

One food fanatic's attempt to uncover the truth about the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival

It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with pronto pups and cotton candy... and I confess to have eaten more than my fair share of “extreme foods” – brain sandwiches, chocolate-covered crickets and deep-fried candy bars – in my years of traveling the circuit of food booths at the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival. Evansvillians know that eating our way down West Franklin Street during the first full week of October is an iconic experience that marks the end of summer much more so than Labor Day ever does.

But increasingly in this era of health-conscious eating, I’ve felt the need to stand in defense of the so-called cholesterol-drenched festival more than ever before. My theory is that the Fall Festival is a victim of “bad press,” which through the years has failed to place proper priority on items with more substance and soul than shock value. I say that because I find myself too often engaged with people who sneer at the festival, calling it a “grease fest.” While I’ve gorged myself on Texas tenderloins, fried corn fritters, funnel cakes and fudge – all washed down with a cold, refreshing Ski – the truth is that there is more to the Fall Festival dining experience than a menu of items fried in fat, covered in chocolate, and then dipped in gravy. To swear off the Fall Festival simply because you think – mistakenly – that it’s a precursor for a heart attack is to deprive yourself of not only all the fun food finds, but also an essential Evansville experience.

The latter point should not be underestimated. Now in its 86th year, the Fall Festival is about so much more than just the food. Over the course of six days, some 200,000 people descend on West Franklin Street to enjoy the carnival rides and an array of events, from the crowning of the festival king and queen to the amateur-hour talent contest. Parking can be a chore and the crowds can induce claustrophobia, but the sheer parade of people from all walks of life is part of the entertainment – an aspect of the festival that should be embraced, not shunned. Another nice benefit: All the food booths are manned by local non-profit organizations – churches, neighborhood associations, social service agencies, youth organizations, and such – that use the profits made at the Fall Festival to support the good work they do.

Still, it is about the food, which brings me back to my original point: Given that there are more than 125 food booths at the Fall Festival, there is a feast of options, a bountiful buffet from which to choose beyond the standard festival fare. It takes planning, patience, and a willing palette to discover the best of it, but here’s a guide – based on my many years of Fall Festival foraging – to get you started.

German Potato Salad
St. Peter’s United Church of Christ • Booth #100
I am starting off with one of my favorite and possibly one of the most underrated of all of the under-the-radar edibles at the Fall Festival. This is an addicting sweet-and-sour combination of vinegar, sugar, onions, and potatoes lovingly prepared from a traditional recipe by the ladies of St. Peter’s UCC. It comes in a large and small size depending on whether you consider it a main course or appetizer and since the weather is very unpredictable in early October, it can be ordered hot or cold. Although it can be a bit more refreshing served cold if the weather is warm, it has much more depth of flavor if they warm it up for you. Don’t miss out on this delicacy.

African Peanut Chicken
Unitarian Universalist Church • Booth #13
If you need proof that food can be an aphrodisiac, then make sure to buy a plate of the African Peanut Chicken from the good folks at the Unitarian Universalist Church booth. The recipe was concocted by a church member eager to impress a woman he long adored. One taste of this crock-pot delicacy and you’ll see why. The chicken is slow cooked in a smooth, creamy, and delicious African-style peanut-based sauce with a hint of heat. Once the chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender, it’s removed, shredded and mixed with the sauce, then served over a heaping portion of white rice. The dish is topped with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts for a nice crunchy contrast to the sauce. Those who have had the heavenly combination of peanut and chicken know how good it is, but if you are unsure, ask for a taste, but go ahead and have your money out because you’ll definitely want more.

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