The original veggie-burger: A classic falafel sandwich provides a welcome State Fair respite from sausage and peppers.
Well, maybe not. There’s Beef Day and
Dairy Day and maybe, someday, Pork Day, but Tofu Day? Nope, there won’t
ever be a day set aside for the soy-based meat substitute staple of
vegetarian fare, but there is a growing trend on the grounds to make
non-meat dishes available to those who visit the expo.
And why not? For any adult, it’s all
about the food. Deny it if you want, but the great musical acts, flower
shows, arts competitions, cow barn and educational exhibits take a back
seat to the sensory overload triggered by stand after stand cooking up
that fabulous once-a-year treat that has you salivating the moment you
step out of your car. For most Fair guests that means sausage buried
under a medley of peppers and onions, smoky and sweet ribs, or chicken
basted with a vinegary marinade. But diners who are dedicated to a
non-meat diet don't have to miss out on the fun.
Furthermore, the vegetarian food at the
Fair often exceeds the ordinary, as it should. This being our big
annual bash, it's no time to fill up on a few leaves of lettuce, some
crunchy human kibble or warmed-over plain pizza. The food will have to
meet stringent Fair standards—a special, occasional splurge that really
satisfies; good nutrition is a subordinate consideration.
Of course, there are certainly some
traditional favorites that contain no meat, like buttery roasted corn,
golden fried onion blooms and the famous buck-a-spud baked potatoes.
But there's much more if you search it out. A thorough review of vendor
menus at the 2007 Fair turned up plenty of contenders for vegetarians.
Prices noted may have changed since last year’s visit.
Purveyors of various ethnic cuisines are a good bet as
few people are as heavily carnivorous as Americans. King David's, home
of authentic Greek and Middle Eastern dishes, is one top choice. “We
get more and more people looking for vegetarian dishes,” confirmed
Nadir Hatem, proprietor of King David’s, whose off-fair locations are
Marshall Street and Towne Center in Fayetteville. “There's the dolma
and the falafel sandwich. Sometimes people ask me to create their own
sandwich—feta, olives and other vegetables with the yogurt dressing.
There aren't a lot of choices out here for vegetarians, so we get quite
a few of those requests.”
If you're hungry for something
deep-fried and crispy, the International Pavilion’s Secret Garden has
tempura vegetables. Green beans, onions and carrots are battered and
fried into light-as-air bites fine for dipping into soy or duck sauce.
As much as the crunchy batter fits in at the Fair, many pieces don’t
have a lot of filling. Still, at $3.50, it could be considered an
appetizer or snack.
The International Building is also home
to one of the Fair’s long-established vegetarian treats: tasty discs of
eggplant Parmesan at Emmi’s Little Italy. The purple veggie is sliced
thin, sautéed and coated with tangy cheese and a tasty tomato sauce.
Served on a quality sub roll, the sandwich costs $6. Heartier appetites
can opt for the dinner, which includes pasta, at $9.75.
A novel twist on the same concept is the
tomato Parmesan sandwich from Daniella’s, located between the Dairy and
International buildings. Although the relative newcomer has established
a reputation for classy and sumptuous entrees like lobster rolls and
crab-stuffed artichokes, the hot and cheesy tomato sauté is remarkably
delicious, considering how simple it is, not to mention a good deal at
One of the expo’s most unique dishes is
served steaming hot in the Horticulture Building at Mai Lan Vietnamese
restaurant. Rice noodles with vegetables and tofu fill a large plate
with satiny pasta, toasted soy cubes and a crisp medley of veggies
featuring carrots, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. The “small” ($6)
order was a huge mound that made for a hearty meal. A larger size,
priced at $8, was also available.
One new meatless sandwich had a strong
debut last year when newcomer Wheland’s concocted creative wraps
featuring Portobello mushrooms. “It’s doing awesome,” boasted chef
Kearney, the creator of the new entry. “Our wraps are going great. I
thought there would be some vegetarians. That’s why we put it on the
The beefy mushrooms are grilled and
rolled into a garlic-herb wrap with roasted peppers, lettuce, onions
and black olives dressed in a honey-mustard sauce. Cheese is optional.
Teamed with a side salad, the meal costs $6.50. The same stand also
serves up a nice vegetarian pasta with roasted peppers, chickpeas,
olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and homemade red wine vinaigrette, priced
A newer arrival, fresh fried veggies by
Dr. Vegetable, compromised the healthfulness of the greens by dropping
them into hot oil, but deep-frying everything is a Fair tradition.
Vegetables ranging from green tomatoes and broccoli to zucchini and
pickles sold for $5 to $6.
Veggie wraps are available near
Chevrolet Court at Wrap It Up, but with a catch. You would pay the same
$6.50 other customers would be charged for a meat wrap. For a quick
snack or light lunch, there’s several vendors selling fresh fruit and
mixed salads. One of them, Speach's Family A-Fair, across from the sea
lion show, last year displayed baskets loaded with ripe nectarines,
peaches, apples and three generous salads, each priced at $7.50.
There were plenty of other vegetarian
options on the grounds from greens and beans to sweet potato wedges,
but surprisingly there were no veggie burgers or meatless hot dogs in
sight, although they may well turn up this year. If all else fails, the
Grange stand, famous for its ox roast, had the American classic peanut
butter and jelly sandwich on the menu for $2.