Dining Out

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      Restaurant critic Ryan DuVall joined local radio host Pat White on his new talk show on WLYV AM 1450.
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    I wasn't looking for a bargain as I made my way down the stone steps into the dark basement that is home to Bourbon Street Hideaway.
  • 3RF volunteers pick best of the fest
    As I strolled around Junk Food Alley preparing to sample and critique all that the Three Rivers Festival's top draw had to offer, I kind of found myself stumped.
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Photos by Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette
Valarie Gambrel holds up the smoothie that was served inside a carved coconut at Junk Food Alley, which is part of the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival.

Rarities rule at 3RF Junk Food Alley

The Best Around booth is offering a German chocolate funnel cake, which includes coconut custard, pecans and grated coconut.
The Pence’s booth has hand-dipped corn dogs, which feature a sweet, crunchy coating.
Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette
A staple of Junk Food Alley at the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival is the Sati Babi, which is marinated pork butt grilled on a skewer.

It was the first thing my kids saw and the last thing I wanted to buy them at Junk Food Alley at the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival.

These coconut heads from the Coco Bongos booth were pretty cool looking, but I had to shoo my young’uns away because the plastic, alien-shaped smoothie cups they suckered me into a year ago are still sitting under the sink.

It was time they learned from a master.

Coconut head? Nope.

Bucket of nachos? Like the sound of it but no, son.

Ice cream from the Baskin-Robbins trailer? Not a chance.

A successful trip down the alley isn’t about what is flashy and cool-looking; it’s about pigging out and having stuff you just can’t have every day.

Better beverage

The first thing we got were lemon shake-ups from Pence’s.

And as soon as they took a swig from their blue raspberry lemonade, the coconut heads were forgotten about. Pence’s has strawberry flavored, too, but I always stick with the original. And, in a bit of irony, I chose the $5 plastic cups, which are refillable for $3. The cups have now found their way under the sink next to last year’s aliens.

I did find a youngster enjoying a red – red is absolutely a flavor according to kids – smoothie out of one of those coconuts. Valarie Gambrel was sipping away from her panda bear version with her father, Josh, and grandmother, Tammy Bennett.

Valarie said the drink was great, and Tammy told me that in spite of its rather hefty $12 price tag, the folks at Coco Bongos will refill it once. Tammy also said she plans to make a Halloween decoration out of that coconut when Valarie forgets about it.

But before my kids could demand one, I had Valarie pull the little plastic cup out of the head and saw it was only about a 10-ounce serving. So no cup for my kids, sorry.

Latest and greatest

I did, however, succumb to the temptation of one of the newest additions to Junk Food Alley – the German chocolate funnel cake.

The Best Around booth, which brought you such past greats as the doughnut burger and fried butter – may they rest in junk food peace – unveiled the new funnel cake at this year’s 3RF.

Chocolate cake batter is fried into a funnel cake and topped with coconut custard, chopped pecans and grated coconut. According to Jane Harris, the head cook if there is one at The Best Around, the custard was used instead of caramel because custard is more authentic whereas the caramel is used in Americanized versions of the dessert.

I didn’t argue with her, but the reason many recipes call the topping custard is simply because the frosting is made with milk and eggs, but it is scalded into a caramel. So I still think caramel would be better than The Best Around’s pudding-like topping.

Kevin McGrath, whose family has owned The Best Around for 35 years, said he wants feedback on his new item and even admitted to tweaking the recipe during the festival after getting some feedback on a video of the new treat that was posted on the 3RF website.

I also thought the cake batter needed more chocolate, and Harris said she was working on perfecting it, also.

The fantastic red velvet funnel cake is also still available at The Best Around, and Harris said she is working on/has created other variations such as carrot cake with cream cheese icing, strawberry cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream and a yet-to-be-tried version that she swore me to secrecy on. I will just tell you it is a dessert often served “flipped” with a certain rough-skinned, yellow tropical fruit all over it.

Another new addition was found at the Wisconsin Fried Cheese booth – bacon and cream cheese on a stick.

I passed. For one, I am not a big fan of cream cheese. And for another, in line with teaching my kids the right way to hit the alley, I was not about to try something like that when I could have the perfection of the cheddar nuggets instead.

Now, if the folks at the cheese booth want to incorporate some bacon into those cheddar nuggets, I will be the first in line.

A taste of home

My 7-year-old son is 100 percent carnivore. And we shared a special moment this year when I got him his first Sati Babi.

Probably the most simple item at the alley – marinated pork butt grilled on wooden skewers – it is also a must-have for me.

Every time I went to a fair or festival growing up in Terre Haute as a kid, I think I had one. And I thought it was an internationally known festival treat. But what I didn’t know until recently was that Sati Babis are as Hoosier as pork tenderloins.

This Philipino delicacy was created by Tony Miranda and offered at a Terre Haute restaurant and eventually ended up just doing catering and concessions.

The recipe is a guarded secret but I would say it is similar to Korean barbecue, but maybe a bit saltier. The marinade caramelizes beautifully on the fatty pork and it is perfection. My son agreed and tore through his entire skewer within minutes.

Left on a high note

The only other things my kids – and wife, who is addicted to these – needed before leaving was a big elephant ear. And I was glad to oblige because who doesn’t need an elephant ear?

For me, the final delicacy also came from Pence’s – a hand-dipped corn dog.

If it is not hand-dipped, it’s not worth it at the festival, and these ones were well worth it. They were dark brown with a sweet, crunchy coating that didn’t need a drop of ketchup or mustard.

And with a refill of lemon shake-up to go, my afternoon was done.

My kids had been properly educated, and we were all happy.

Even if we didn’t have a panda-shaped coconut.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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