Matthew Guess, 30, of Des Moines takes a bite of the much-hyped double-bacon corn dog at the Iowa State Fair on Friday.
If the Iowa State Fair makes hogs uneasy, they have a new reason for concern: There seems to be a bacon arms race among the vendors up on Expo Hill.
Fairgoers waited at least 15 minutes for a chance to try this year's much-hyped double-bacon corn dogs, which are wrapped in bacon and then dipped in bacon-studded batter. Ashley Verschuer, 23, took a bite, chewed, considered, and then pointed a thumb to the sky.
"Oooh, it's a little greasier, but you can taste the bacon," she said. "Definitely worth the wait."
Not to be outdone, the Bird's Nest just up the hill added a last-minute option to its menu: bacon-wrapped eggs.
Vendor Drew Cownie (whose local Dunkin' Donuts stores are set to open in the Des Moines area in October) proposed the recipe several months ago, but didn't get final approval until Tuesday.
He and his team had to literally scramble to keep up with the demand on the fair's first day.
The menu reads like a poem or a threat, depending on your cholesterol level: "Mini crumbled-bacon pancake cups topped with an egg and melted cheese - all wrapped with a strip of bacon."
It's worth noting that the fine folks at the Bird's Nest also introduced the world to the Diablo Burger (with bacon, jalapenos and cheese) and last year's much-heralded Gigantor (a hamburger slathered with mac and cheese, layered between two grilled-cheese sandwiches). They aren't exactly catering to the kale crowd.
"The bacon deal's just been going crazy lately," Cownie said.
Customers who tried the bacon-wrapped eggs seemed satisfied, at least as far as they could communicate between mouthfuls of food.
But the bacon corn dogs were attracting much longer lines, even as a staff of seven skewered, wrapped, dipped, fried and served as fast as they could.
Bird's Nest staffer Malynda Rumbaugh still wasn't impressed. "Not a big hit," she said of the corn dog she ate for the sake of counterintelligence. "Maybe if it had jalapenos."
Technically, there is no limit to the amount of bacon - or butter or any of the other State Fair food groups - but there are restrictions to protect vendors from their competition. The fair staff must approve new menu items because, in Cownie's words, "they don't want you to cannibalize each other."
Before approving new menu items, State Fair concessions and exhibits director Rollie McCubbin requires vendors to prove the items can be mass-produced - and are actually appealing.
Last year's deep-fried maggots at the Colorado State Fair, for instance, weren't very successful.
"We're not interested in one-year wonders," McCubbin said.
But Iowans will always have an appetite for the classics. Drew Griffith, 8, of Ankeny usually has waffles for breakfast but skipped them Friday morning in favor of a corn dog. He was there so early, he had to wait for the vendor to fire up the fryer. "It tastes good," Drew said with just a bite remaining. "It's just like the waffles."
Later he planned to sample cotton candy and blueberry popsicles. When asked if his food list ended there, he thought for a moment and nodded.
"Yeah. That's all."