Teri Weaver and Donna Ditota set out to find healthy alternatives to all the fried, sugar-suffused items at the New York State Fair. It was no easy task.
After some real reconnaissance, though, foods that were grilled or just made from nature were located. There are plenty of Greek salads, gyros and other salad-based items that appear in various booths at the Fair. We did not try all of them, but they all looked like good alternatives to the usual artery-clogging Fair fare. Here’s what we did eat:
Garden Delight spinach wrap from Lumpy’s Sandwich Co.
Location: Inside The Eatery (formerly the International Building)
This was my favorite of all the healthy things I tried. A spinach wrap stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, mushrooms, feta and a dollop of tzatziki. Gigantic portion. There are multiple wrap flavors or a pita option. It was just delicious. Fresh ingredients. Tangy tzatziki. Yum. This is the first time Lumpy’s has been at the State Fair. The server seemed disappointed when I opted out of the “homemade” potato chips. -Donna Ditota
Falafel and hummus with pita from King Tut’s
Location: The Eatery
I had to negotiate for this item. There are a lot of big portion possibilities on the menu here and I just wanted a side of falafel and a side of hummus. After some conversation, that’s the price they settled on. The falafel was really good. Soft, moist and flavorful on the inside. Not too crunchy on the outside. And it was massive. There were several in the portion. The hummus was a nice accompaniment and the pita was soft and fresh. -Donna
Utica Greens from It’s a Utica Thing
Location: Midway, near the turnaround of the Sky Tram
So maybe Utica Greens aren’t entirely healthy. They do have cheese, breadcrumbs and ham mixed in to liven up the dish. But the main ingredient is greens. And there are hot peppers nestled in there, too. So, healthy enough for me, all things considered here at the Fair. These were good, maybe a tad heavy on the cheese and breadcrumbs, but I get these Utica Greens every year at the Fair. Big fan. The food truck has moved this year, BTW. It used to be located along State Fair Boulevard. -Donna
1/4 chicken and salt potatoes from Baker’s Chicken Coop
Location: Restaurant row, near the goat, llama and swine building
Cost: $10 (including soft drink)
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about Baker’s and its chicken. But because eating healthy is not usually the goal at the Fair, I’ve never tried it. Big mistake. It’s tender, juicy and made with a tangy, vinegary barbecue sauce. I got the 1/4 white meat option, but there are bigger portions and dark meat available. The salt potatoes were … well, they were salt potatoes. No real mystery. -Donna
Mango smoothie from Yeti Yogurt; strawberry banana smoothie from Barlow Concessions
Location: Yeti Yogurt is partnering with Baker’s Chicken Coop on Restaurant Row; Barlow Concessions is located behind the new Expo building.
Cost: Yeti – $6, Barlow – $5
I was on a mission to find fruit smoothies with little or no added sugar. Both of these places pledged that their smoothies were free of extra sugar. Other vendors, to their credit, told me they added sugary syrups to their smoothies. I love a good smoothie and both of these were tasty. The strawberry banana was bigger and decidedly less sweet – it contained yogurt. The mango was sweeter and essentially made of mango puree and ice. Yeti yogurt is at the Fair for the first time, I’m told. The shop itself is located on Westcott Street. -Donna
Burrito bowl from Fresh Mex Mexican Grill
Location: The Eatery (formerly the International Building)
This was my favorite food of everything I ate during our healthy food search. This vendor is new at the Fair this year and offers what you’d expect: burritos, tacos, churros and a tantalizing heap of nachos I saw a woman with at about 11 a.m. on opening day. I did my best to make more healthful decisions. I got the bowl (so no flour tortilla). It starts with rice and beans (pinto or black, and neither cooked with meat, I was told). Then you pick a protein if you want; I opted for a small portion of chicken. I skipped the cheese and sour cream, instead asking for generous helpings of onions, lettuce, fresh pico, the medium salsa. The preparer gave me a generous thwack of guacamole. Everything tasted fresh, especially that pico de gallo and salsa. I plan on a return trip and will order the same thing — though next time I won’t skimp so much on the chicken. — Teri Weaver
West Coast Salad at Green Goddess
Location: The Eatery
Salad can be a sneaky minefield of unhealthful options. Too many meats, cheeses and creamy dressings (which I love so much) can turn a well-intended lunch into regret that looms heavy like a hot beef sundae. I was looking for a meat-less salad that would still provide some protein and a little bit of savory goodness. The West Coast provided that: lettuce with grape tomatoes, a reasonable amount of goat cheese, avocado and nuts. The menu specifies walnuts, but I asked and found out they were candied. I asked for any nut that was unsugared and the vendor offered slivered almonds. Perfect. I got the citrus dressing (just one side cup, not two) and found that was plenty. The salad was great — fresh, light and a nice foil for other greasy fare on a hot fair day. My one caveat: I suggest getting this and splitting it with a friend for a snack or to balance out other fair foods. It’s totally worth $6 as a side salad; I’m not sure it would fill me up as a $12 entree. — Teri
Shrimp skewer from Dang’s Cafe
Location: The Eatery
Dang’s is also new to the Fair this year and has an extensive menu. (It even serves bun cha, the Vietnamese dish that former President Barack Obama at with CNN’s Anthony Bourdain.) Much to my healthy-eating disappointment, all the spring rolls were fried. But Dang’s does offer several meats grilled and skewered on a stick. So I went with shrimp — and they were tender and tasty. The flavors are cooked in, so this would be great walking-around food. The shrimp were the perfect mix of salty, tangy and just a tiny hit of heat at the very end. At $8 it was a bit of a splurge for five shrimp. But the taste didn’t let me down.
Corn on the cob
Location: There are many roasted corn vendors on the fairgrounds. I stopped at the one under the Sky Tram.
Teri: “Would anyone do corn without butter besides me?
Teri: “Yeah, I’m going to do it.”
It turns out that this friendly and helpful young man told me that people order corn on the cob without the butter or cheese or other calorie-ladened toppings ALL THE TIME. (Donna, for the record, doubts this account.) I stand by my decision. The corn was sweet, crispy and perfectly yummy. I didn’t miss the butter or the drippy mess that can come with it. This was probably the healthiest thing either of us ate all day. No regrets. — Teri
Stuffed grape leaves from King David’s
Location: Near the Poultry Building
I’m a big dolma fan. These briny grape leaves are typically stuffed with rice, pine nuts, herbs and, sometimes, meat. King David’s version was meatless, just what I was looking for. Sure, they also have a healthy dose of olive oil, and these came topped with a little feta. But those are better fats than what’s lurking in, say, an entire blooming onion. These veggie rollups made for a delicious course before the big finale. (Also, if you’re looking for falafel like Donna, King David’s offers some with tahini for $4.) — Teri
Hot turkey sausage sandwich, with peppers and onions at Gianelli
Location: I got this at the Gianelli stand near the New York State Police displays
Oh yes I did. If Donna can talk her way into some healthy Utica Greens, which I completely endorse, then I’m eating a turkey sausage sandwich. It has vegetables. It’s has protein that’s leaner that some other proteins. And it’s the New York State Fair — where the arc of healthy-to-indulgent foods bends toward a sausage sandwich. I’d put off meat (except for that burrito bowl) throughout entire the day. It was time to pick my favorite treat and I’m so glad I did. I ate the entire thing. — Teri
Other healthy tips
We couldn’t try everything but did see some other healthful choices along the way:
*The potato bar in the Horticulture Building needs almost no publicity. The white or sweet potatoes are $1 and there was a line before noon on opening day. Pick one topping, rather than three.
*Daniella’s at the Empire Room has steamed clams and peel-your-own shrimp. Both good choices, which could balance out the cocktail you have with them.
*Don’t be afraid to ask a smoothie seller to sell you some fruit. One kind vendor offered us a couple of bananas for $1.
*The average adult burns about 100 calories for every 2,000 steps taken. Use a fitness app on your phone to count your steps. I usually walk five to six miles every time I hit the fairgrounds. — Teri Weaver
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