Some people come to the Strawberry Festival for the rides, some come for the agriculture shows or the headline entertainment or the timeless traditions shared with family and friends. But me? I’m not going to lie to you, my number one focus when I walk through those gates is the food.
Sure, it’s fun to take in the breathtaking view of Plant City from the top of a ferris wheel, cheering on the little porkers at Robinson’s Racing Pigs, busting out a hearty laugh seeing the lambs all dolled for a costume contest and finishing your day at a concert where the headline entertainer blares the song that’s been stuck in your head since its first radio play two months ago.
Sure, sure. That’s cool. But have you ever eaten funnel bacon on a stick, washed down with a strawberry lemonade? You heard me right, funnel bacon on a stick. That’s bacon on a stick, dipped in funnel cake batter, fried to a golden brown and topped with powdered sugar and a maple butter glaze.
So many things make the Florida Strawberry Festival a unique and endlessly memorable experience, but the food is truly one-of-a-kind. Most of us try to regularly balance our diets to avoid excess amounts of sugar and fried goodies, but this is the festival, where the rules are made up and the calories don’t matter. Here’s a look back on some of our all-time delectable favorites.
To start, it’s hard to beat a classic smoked turkey leg. They’re big, they’re filling and you don’t even have to stop and sit down to eat it. That smokey tang that you can almost exclusively experience at festivals and fairs will bring on all of those memories as you peel back the warm foil and take another bite.
Then comes the Fiske Fries. Sure, fries aren’t anything limited to the festival, but Fiske Fries have made their way to events around the country for over 80 years now, and for good reason. The fresh-peeled, fresh-cut and fresh-cooked fries all start with a good potato before being fried to a golden brown and seasoned to perfection. It’s true that fries aren’t typically anything special as you can find them at nearly every fast food joint in the world, but Fiske Fries are the gold(en brown) standard.
Next we have to get some cheese, and there are few — if any — places that I like better than the Hot Wisconsin Cheese booths. Despite the fact that I will likely typically spend nearly every day at the Festival as a reporter for the Plant City Observer, I understand that I will have to show some form of impulse control and not allow myself to eat every meal for the better part of two weeks straight out of a fryer and passed through a sliding-glass window. But one thing I will not allow myself to miss is Hot Wisconsin Cheese. While most mozzarella sticks come frozen, pre-prepared and coated with a thick, doughy breading, that couldn’t be further from the truth for Hot Wisconsin Cheese. Step up, place your order and watch as they grab sticks of mozzarella, coat it in their batter and immediately lower it into the frier before your very eyes. The result is so much more than your run-of-the-mill cheese stick, but a steaming, stretchy bite through the light and crispy shell that makes their product so darn good. Some of Hot Wisconsin Cheese’s other favorites include Cheddar Bites, or Jalapeño Cheddar Bites if you need that extra kick.
If you’re craving something sweet, there are limitless places to get your fix. For me, I love Peachey’s amish donuts. They’re warm, they’re light, they’re fluffy and just so darn good. You know how everyone talks about the butterflies in their stomach when they see the “Hot Now” sign light up at Krispy Kreme? You’ll get that same feeling from Peachey’s, and don’t forget about their pretzels. I had one of each for the first time this year at the Florida State Fair and my mouth is already watering at the thought of trying them again here in Plant City.
For a more traditional dish that still offers a flavorful twist, Pickle Barrel’s sirloin tips are a great all-in-one option with a bed of mashed potatoes, smothered with steak and sautéed onions, mushrooms and peppers.
And last, but certainly not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the strawberry shortcakes. The classic dish can be found from several different vendors all across the festival grounds, with sugary, sweet strawberries and whipped cream layered over homemade shortcake — or sometimes even biscuits.