04 Aug Even professional chefs sneak off to the fair for some treats
For the Tribune
Donut Bros owner Joe Ferda serving mini donuts at the fair
Everyone has one— that once-a- year-I-probably-shouldn’t treat they look forward to every summer when fair time rolls around.
For many, it’s the Viking, the Sons of Norway seasoned, battered and fried meatball on a stick.
Even professional chefs who spend most of their time creating gourmet food enjoy the occasional Viking.
Ed Smith, the executive chef at Dante’s, remembers sneaking over to the fair to enjoy a Viking.
“You can’t get them anywhere else any other time of the year,” he said.
Nick Mehmke, executive chef at The Grand Union Hotel’s Union Grille in Fort Benton, said
he, too, usually has a Viking at the fair and has since he was a kid.
“The mini doughnuts are always a great option,” he added, mentioning that in the last few years he’s also been enjoying the barbecue at Sean Knox’s Big Mouth BBQ booth.
For others, it’s the unusual deep fat-fried items that attract them to the midway. Brian Kapphan, owner of Brian’s Top Notch Cafe, added bacon, avocados, macaroni and cheese and raspberry cake to the list of items he’s battering and frying for the fair this year.
He gets his new ideas from food magazines and TV shows, but the most popular concessions are still the deep-fried pickles, pork chop sandwiches and the blooming onions, he said.
Another popular stop on the midway is Guttbusters, a familyowned and operated business run by Brian and Terri Halverson and Mark and Cristi Fought that serves specialty hamburgers called “cowpies.”
“You ain’t been to the fair if you haven’t tried a cowpie,” owner Brian Halverson said.
Their slogan, painted on the front of their Guttbusters trailer, prompts about 20 people a day to stop by for pictures with the quote and picture of Guttbusters’ mascot Gus the bulldog.
“It’s all tongue-in-cheek,” Halverson said.
Business partner Mark Fought’s original idea was to sell fireworks from a trailer, Halverson said, but they soon abandoned that idea to sell concessions. Soon after, they bought the trailer from the owners of the former Burger Master restaurant and launched their Guttbusters specialty burger business.
The seed for their idea was the Burger Master Flying Pizza Burger, Halverson said, who with Fought, created the the Flyin’ Hawaiian, flavored with pizza sauce, Canadian Bacon, pineapple and mozzarella in 2004.
Since then, they’ve added the All-American, the Buckin’ Bronco with smoky barbecue sauce, bacon and sharp cheddar, the Ranchero with pepper jack cheese, special ranch sauce and mild chilies. For the fairgoer who wants a little zip, there’s the El Diablo, a Cajun-style burger with jalapenos.
“Maybe it’s the Keebler elves,” Halverson said, referring to wife Terri Halverson and business partner Mark Fought and his wife Cristi Fought when asked what makes the cowpies so great.
“Flash-frying the burgers makes them crispy and heats up the insides, allowing it all to melt together,” Halverson said, adding that “it’s more than a hamburger.”
While Halverson hesitates to divulge how many burgers fly out of their trailer on a good day at the fair, he said it’s a whole bunch.
“Our big barbecue goes through more Angus beef than most families will in three lifetimes.”
Donut Bros. Joe Ferda and his brother Scot have been selling mini doughnuts at the fair since 1997.
“We got into the business by pure chance,” Joe Ferda said.
His father and brother own Great Falls Ice and had been supplying ice to State Fair vendors for years when Joe’s nephew, Tucker Ferda, struck up a friendship with the original mini doughnut vendor. The Minnesota man had been selling mini doughnuts since the late 1970s and was growing tired of making the trip to the fair each year when Tucker met him in 1996.
“He liked my nephew Tucker who was 11 at the time,” Joe Ferda said.
The gentleman had an old trailer and decided it was just time.
“He simply asked if we’d be interested, and it was a done deal,” Joe Ferda said.
By the end of fair week they had purchased everything he had — his old trailer, three doughnut machines and an ice shaver.
“It was a great business that was already established at the fair, and it’s all in the family,” Ferda said, adding that they have fun and it helps pay college tuition for the kids.
At the fair they can produce about 3,600 mini donuts an hour or about 257 bags. In addition, Ferda has three more machines at home that enable them to make up to 8,400 mini doughnuts an hour or 600 bags. This ability to produce fast and essentially never run out is an advantage they have over other vendors, he said.
“Another benefit is that our lines move really fast compared to most vendors. We can get an average of four to five bags a minute out the window consistently all day long.”
This year Donut Bros added a new concept by offering doughnut buckets. Buckets contain about 3½ bags of mini doughnuts.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but sold out in just two days at the fair,” Joe said. “We have more on order, and should have them available in a few days.”
Healthier choices at the fair
While it’s great fun to enjoy that once-a-year indulgence at the fair, many food vendors offer alternatives to fried and sugar-laden treats.
Here are a few healthier choices: Pickle on a stick at A & R Concessions, booth No. 1451 Corn on the cob at Brian’s Top Notch Cafe, booth No. 160 Barbecue shrimp on a stick at Chadwick’s Concessions, booth No. 113 Snow cones, apple slices with caramel and smoothies at Chadwick’s Concessions, booth No. 118 Caramel apples and popcorn at Chadwick’s Concessions, booth No. 132 Buffalo burgers and berry kabobs at Chadwick’s Concessions, booth Nos. 111 and 112
Hawaiian ice at Donut Brothers, booth No. 138 Freshly squeezed lemonade at Salbe’s Lemonade in the Mercantile Building Baked potatoes (if you don’t overdo the toppings) at Salbe’s, booth No. 148 Fruit kabobs drizzled with chocolate at Taco Jack’s in Central Park
To find vendors
For a complete list of concessionaires and products, visit www.montanastatefair.com and follow links to “midway” and then “food” and then “printable vendor list and menu list.” The map will locate the food booths.