In my humble (but correct) opinion, the quintessential carnival food is the corn dog. I know I can get a (barely passable) corn dog from a number of outlets around town, but there's nothing like savoring a hand-dipped corn dog while basking in the lurid lights of the Arizona State Fair midway.
Some State Fair food vendors give the venerable carnival snack an over-the-top twist in an attempt to get people talking about their specific product. Two different vendors have spicy variations on the corn dog. But, only one can be this year's Arizona State Fair corn dog champion.
In This Corner: Bacon Jalapeño Corn Dog, Mustards Midway Cafe
The Setting: Mustards is smack in the middle of the Arizona State Fair midway, near the freefall tower. Some of the most kinetically dazzling rides of the Fair provide an especially thrilling ambiance. Last year, Mustards introduced a bacon-batter corn dog. This year, they one-upped themselves by adding jalapeños to the bacon batter.
The Good: Adding jalapeños to the batter gives a delicious flavor boost, almost tasting more like roasted green chiles. The bacon adds texture, making the batter extra-crunchy.
The Bad: There was no heat at all to the jalapeños. It could be that these particular jalapeños were a mild batch, or maybe there just weren't enough of them in the batter. I'd expect at least a little tingle, though. Pieces of bacon in the batter aren't the most effective bacon delivery vehicle. There's a bit of crunch, but not much of a bacony flavor boost.
And in This Corner: Chile Relleno Corn Dog, Big Bri's
The Setting: Big Bri's is on the food vendor row between the coliseum and the grandstand. Depending on when people are along the tightly packed corridor, they may be serenaded by the Native Spirit Dancers on a nearby stage, or by monster trucks showing off for folks in the grandstand. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when I ordered the chile relleno corn dog. Turns out it's an ordinary corn dog, but the hot dog itself is made with jalapeño and cheese inside.
The Good: I feel like the dog-to-batter ratio was better here. A little gooey cheese inside the piping hot corn dog makes this dog a little more grin-inducing than your run of the mill corn dog. This dog also has a little bit of a spicy kick, emphasis on little. It's the more economical offering, coming in at $6 as opposed to $7.50 for the jalapeño bacon dog.
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The Bad: The name is a complete misnomer. If you call it a chile relleno dog, I want something closer to an actual chile relleno, with poblano chiles and hopefully some melted yellow cheese. The prefab jalapeño cheese dogs made this taste more like a nacho cheese dog, which I'll admit has a pretty nice ring to it.
And the Winner Is: This is a very close battle. I'd happily order either one again. That said, this battle needs a winner. The corn dog champion for 2014 is... the Chile Relleno Dog at Big Bri's. It was the more well-balanced of the two dogs; Mustards's jalapeño bacon dog had a thinner batter that wasn't as noticeable when paired up with the hot dog and the batter's enhancements.
Now if someone at Mustards figures out how to involve cheese along with everything else for next year's outlandish offering, there's a good chance that they'll take the crown hands down.