While you’re riding your state fair’s tilt o’ whirl, eating doughboys and getting screwed by carnies, remember that The Eastern States Exposition has them all beat. This fall, over 1.3 million people walked through The Big E’s turnstiles pampered by the best of New England. For 99 years this mecca of trade show grandeur has left many marking their calendars for its next convergence.
I gladly turned in my 15 bucks to walk the hallowed grounds of my teenage days. Now don’t think for a second I give a crap about livestock, carnival rides older than you or I and butter sculptures.
To me The Big E pretty much stands for “The Big Epic Eating Extravaganza”. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and even New Hampshire know how to do food. Well, maybe not quite New Hampshire but I’ll get to that later.
After you navigate your way through the animals, crafts, and fried EVERYTHING you get to 6 towering brick houses. Each represents a state of New England showcasing the best they have to offer from trades, and novelties to food!
I haven’t been to The Big E in 12 years so this fall I was on a mission from God. I wanted to reclaim the tastes of my youth, (I was a chubby kid) including the most mesmerizing attraction the fair has to offer; the Maine Baked Potato.
It’s more than a meal. It’s a divine offering. Complex. Lavish. Decadent. The Maine Baked Potato is everything you could possibly want after icy cold beers on a crisp autumn day. It’s what a cloud in Heaven tastes like. And I would have my deliverance.
But not to hold prejudice I decided to bite the bullet and bike about 1000 miles over the next week in order to give you all a guide to eating at The Big E; scarfing down my favorite delicacies one state house at a time. First stop, my home state of Rhode Island.
I may be biased but we have the best shellfish in the country. If you think quahog is only the name of a fictional cartoon town, I’m sorry. Quahogs are actually a giant clam. They’re the reason why the only place to get good New England Clam Chowder is in New England. You can get both in this building but the best things to go with are clam cakes.
Most places don’t make them bite sized like these and I don’t know why. They’re irresistible. Not too greasy and clams are in every bite. If you’re a popcorn chicken fan I dare you not to finish the whole bag like I did. Dip them in a bowl of chowda for best results.
Sticking with the seafood theme I headed over to the Massachusetts building.
I can’t tell you why there are statues of a lion and unicorn on top of the building. Massachusetts is not known to have either. But they do have lobster rolls!
After my seafood binge the next building was where my higher calling beckoned.
Then I saw the line…
Listen, the potato’s great and all, but I had 3 other stops on my food conquest. Come 5:00 that line disappears for the parade anyway so I moved on to Vermont.
Cheese, warm blueberry pie, chocolate covered bacon (that’s a thing); I’ve had it all here. But you’ll never forget the satisfying taste of fresh Vermont apple slush with a pillowy apple donut.
Think about the best, ripest apple you’ve ever tasted in your life. Then multiply that by 1000 and you’ll understand this slush. The donut is warm, fresh, and light. I don’t know how they do it but if Ben & Jerry’s created that apple sensation in their ice cream I’d weigh 300 pounds!
At this point I was overwhelmed. I was full. (Like I said, I was a chubby kid). I had three offerings to go including my beloved potato. There’s only one solution I could think of to continue my righteous journey of gluttony.
I find if you drink enough at a certain point your stomach gives up and just says I’ll deal with you tomorrow. On to New Hampshire!
I don’t know what’s up with this state but basically they just copy what the others eat. I guess the slogan “Live Free Or Die” didn’t involve the freedom to explore alternate cuisine. So I got their grilled corn on the cob to eat one vegetable that day.
Now the health factor gets ruined once the vendor dips the whole thing in a vat of melted butter. But I will say I never understood why they called it sweet corn until I ate theirs.
Okay, with an expanding waistline I headed over to Connecticut where pizza was on the menu. Sure, New York and Chicago have their claims to fame. But the pizzeria in the Connecticut building stands alone. You know that stereotype where pregnant women have weird food cravings? That’s this pizzeria’s specialty. I settled on the less crazy white clam pizza.
Imagine the taste of linguini with white clam sauce at a 5 star Italian restaurant on a New York style pizza crust with loads of mozzarella cheese. Got it? Good that’s what was in my mouth. My sister had the crazier peanut butter, bacon pizza.
I was skeptical too, but bacon makes everything better. Savory, salty and sweet, it’s a deadly combination.
So it’s 5:00. I’m full but so help me I was getting my precious. The Maine Baked Potato. I’d come this far. I had to finish the sextet.
I backtracked and the line was way shorter. It only took a few minutes before I got to the cashier and… I bought my token. Let me explain…
There’s a reason why a zigzag line snakes around the Maine building all day, everyday at the Big E. It’s that big of a deal. So much so, once you pay in advance you get a token to wait in an extra line. There, another worker, I like to call them “The Potato Usher”, let’s you know when a “Potato Maker” (I’m serious) is available to prepare one for you.
When you’re allowed to step up, you don’t feel worthy. I recommend kindly telling the Potato Maker to load your spud up as much as they’re allowed to with…
When they hand you nectar of the gods, you stare in awe, valuing the $5 you just spent as a ticket passed the Pearly Gates. The first bite is only outdone by each following bite while serenity spreads over your heartfelt smile. You feel special. Because now you know what a loaded anything is supposed to taste like. I was a kid again; savoring a culinary gift before I knew what one was. No longer ignorant. I was grateful. And stuffed.
So there you have it. Eating at The Big “E” is a glorious yet intimidating battle between man and food. But if you have the gut and fortitude to answer the dinner bell, I’ll see you sometime between next September 16th and October 2nd when The Big E unleashes it’s centennial celebration.