Dining Out

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  • New look for stellar 'Garden'
    It was almost like visiting a new restaurant. And given all that Sandra D's Italian Garden in Auburn has gone through this year, the restaurant is sort of in its grand-opening period once again.
  • Familiar Mexican flavors feted in Huntington
    It was a place my wife always wondered about along U.S. 24 in Huntington.
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If you go
•Junk Food Alley runs 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Saturday next to Headwaters Park.
Photos by Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette
The Best Around booth is offering a bacon-maple funnel cake that is topped with maple buttercream icing, crumbled bacon and powdered sugar for $7 at Junk Food Alley.

Junk Food Tally: New treats at 3RF

Bacon-filled bites, fried Bun bars among 3RF treats

Ariona O’Dor, 7, mixes up a masterpiece at the U-Do-It Slush Factory.
Jane Harris, the head cook for The Best Around, drizzles maple buttercream icing over a bacon-maple funnel cake. She developed the recipe.
A Fort Wayne staple, the Bun bar, is offered up battered and deep-fried at The Best Around.
Ben’s Soft Pretzels has chewy offerings with just a bit of salt.

Finally. Someone brought breakfast to Junk Food Alley.

And, yes, this version was deep-fried and so bad for you, but oh so good.

At this year’s Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival, the new food item that is all the rage is the bacon-maple funnel cake. You heard me right, bacon … maple … funnel … cake.

For $7, you can get one of these treats at The Best Around booth, the same booth that in years past brought you decadent items such as red velvet and German chocolate funnel cakes, deep-fried butter and the doughnut burger.

Head cook Jane Harris is the brainchild behind it. Harris put chopped cooked bacon in the cake batter and topped the deep-fried cake with her maple buttercream icing, a little powdered sugar and more chopped bacon. It tastes like a plate of pancakes and bacon that you doused in butter and maple syrup, only crispier.

I am a big fan of Harris’ dastardly concoctions and have been for years, but this may be the capper. I shared this cake with my wife and three kids and gave bites to six other people who came my way and still couldn’t finish it off. It was beyond rich. Anything coming out of that booth is pretty good, and Harris is finally getting her due for being the queen of the alley.

In the past year, The Best Around has been profiled on two Travel Channel shows – “Deep Fried Paradise 3” and “State Fair Foods” – and has been taped for Food Network’s upcoming “Midway Munchies.” She also did another food-related program, but could not share with me which one because of a confidentiality clause.

Taste of home

Harris and The Best Around folks are also offering a maple-flavored treat that has Fort Wayne roots. After hearing a plea from festival director Jack Hammer, a deep-fried Bun bar was added to the menu. Only the maple Bun bars are used, as the vanilla and caramel ones were too hard to obtain, Harris said.

It was good – how could gooey, melted chocolate nougat and peanuts inside fried batter not be? – but I was not wowed by it. I guess you have to be old enough, or have lived in Fort Wayne long enough, to have been here when they were made here, but I would just as well have a deep-fried Snickers. Heck, even one of The Best Around’s workers, Fort Wayne native and professed Bun-lover Stefan Davis, hadn’t tried one yet the day I visited.

“We always had them around when I was a kid,” Davis said, admitting he was just hesitating digging into his own wallet to try one.

Other newbies

The new-to-the-festival Ben’s Soft Pretzels booth also has a bit of an area connection, as it is an offshoot of the store of the same name in Yoder’s Red Barn Shoppes in Shipshewana.

Andy and Angie Churney of Middlebury are running the franchise at the festival with the help of some of their – count ’em – 11 children.

And these pretzels are fantastic. My kids had to go back for seconds.

They are big, plump and had a really strong yeast flavor that really separated them from mass-produced hot pretzels. You can also add cheddar or nacho cheese or a unique sweet mustard, which Angie is most proud of, for dipping.

But I just liked mine as-is; soft and chewy with just a little salt.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was the new U-Do-It Slush Factory, which is not at all homemade but was a hit with the kids when I attended.

It serves the same DayGlo-colored slushes you can get at any minimart, but its trailer has 12 flavors to choose from.

I got a kick out of watching 7-year-old Ariona O’Dor meticulously fill up her 24-ounce, light-up mug, courtesy of grandfather Shawn Altick, with a variety of flavors. First came the bright green lemon-lime, followed by red cherry, and what better to top those fruity flavors off than a little root beer – ack!

Hey, what happens at the Slush Factory stays at the Slush Factory.

Another new find, in case you don’t get enough bacon from the funnel cake, was the bacon caramel corn from Pence’s cotton candy booth.

Leslie Pence, who oversees her family’s many booths, said the Three Rivers Festival is just the second in which the bagged corn has been offered. She also said they are tweaking the recipe to give it even more bacon flavor.

The chewy, gooey corn is pretty straightforward; it just has diced bits of cooked bacon in it. It would have been great fresh – Pence said there is just not enough space or resources to make it fresh on-site yet – but was pretty good in the bag.

I shared mine with some friends, and we all thought the same thing – anything is better with bacon.

Buddy system

Speaking of sharing with friends, that is the one thing I really learned when perusing Junk Food Alley this year – the more the merrier.

Diane Stephenson and Susie Haft agreed with that idea. The two friends were working on what Susie called “just the first course” – a big plate of nacho cheese-covered french fries – when I happened by their table.

They got a hunk of my funnel cake, offered me some fries and were plotting out their next move.

By making friends, I was not only helping rid myself of the monstrous bacon-maple funnel cake, I was also able to sample a lot more.

In addition to the funnel cake, the Bun bar, the caramel corn and the must-haves I get every year – a hand-dipped Pence’s corn dog and a couple of lemon shake-ups – I was able to taste even more.

A steak tip here, a hunk of a pulled pork sandwich there and, voilá, it was like having my very own festival tasting plate.

Now, if only one of those friends would have been packing some Tums.

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