My round-up of new foods at the Puyallup Fair doesn't include the Deep Fried PBJ or Deep Fried Salsa Fritters advertised as new additions to the Totally Fried booth. That's because neither item was available when I tried to order them this weekend.
Premier Services' Ben Hilberg, who runs the stand with his three daughters and son-in-law, says shortages are an inevitable result of his commitment to scratch-made snacks and fluctuating fairgoer demand. Since Hilberg can't concoct a deep-fried salsa fritter on the spot, he has to anticipate how many customers might order them. And sometimes, he admits, he miscalculates.
"It's rare when we'll have everything," he says. "The process is we have to make the item and then freeze it, and we get into the weeds with it. It's not an excuse, it's an explanation."
This year, the Hilberg clan prepared 200 peanut butter sandwiches. They sold out their stock in the fair's first week.
"Peanut butter and jelly is very easy to make, very easy to freeze, but do you make 300 or 1000?," Hilberg asks. "It's a learning curve. We work really hard to please our customers, and I feel bad that occasionally we do run out of things."
Totally Fried's menu is also vulnerable to supply chain issues. Fried bubblegum, touted as a new item for 2011, made its debut this year because gallons of a required extract didn't show up until a week after last year's fair ended. "For whatever reason, honestly, I didn't even follow up on it," Hilberg says. "Every now and then we get caught."
The stand often runs low on Rocky Mountain oysters because Hilberg says he's reluctant to order too much of the delicacy, lest he get stuck with them. "I don't have a lot of use for cow testicles," says Hilberg, whose company also handles food services for schools, government offices and four fairgrounds.
"So if you go to a gun show and a guy sells you a hot dog," that's a Premier Services product, Hilberg explains. Hot dogs are apparently more popular than Rocky Mountain oysters with the year-round crowd, but the snack's doing surprisingly well in Puyallup.
Deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers are always big sellers, but the stand's also had success this fair season with deep-fried artichoke hearts and bacon-wrapped jalapenos.
"There's some stuff that's actually kind of good," Hilberg says of the current menu. "The bacon jalapeno is something you'd see in a restaurant, as are the deep-fried pickles."
One of 2011's introductions, deep-fried butter, didn't make it back for a second fair season. Hilberg says he pulled the item last year after a week of near-debacles.
"It looked really good when we tested it, but you have to eat it fresh," he says. "If it sits in that boat while people are walking around and talking or whatnot...I saw it running down their chins, running down their arms. It was going to run down their tummies behind their shirts, and I didn't want to buy everyone new shirts. I guess I could have bought bibs, but I didn't think of that."