TheArizona Renaissance Festival
may be more famous for jousting knights and busty babes in barmaid costumes, but there's a wealth of cheap eats to be found here. We traveled back in time -- and way out to Apache Junction -- in search of a decent meal for under a ten-spot.
Remember that fried scorpion on a stick you had at last year's State Fair? How about the greasy $10 fried rice plate you managed to stomach at the Tempe Arts Festival? Fairs aren't exactly known for high-quality, healthy, normal food. But if you can manage to avoid stopping at the first cinnamon-roasted nut booth and pub you see, you can squeak out with a three-course meal for less than the price of a sale CD.
What the Renaissance Festival does well:
Food on sticks
Despite what you've heard (or seen at the Medieval Times
travesty restaurant), silverware existed in the Renaissance. But there's something primal about digging into a piece of meat with your teeth.
For $5-6.50, you can score all manner of things on a skewer: steaks on stakes, very phallic-looking sausages on sticks, turkey legs (with natural sticks) -- even chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick.
We sampled the Chicken on Stick for a mere $5, combined with a $2 roasted corn-on-the-cob that was nicely buttered and charred. The chicken was tender and still slightly juicy, though the bland seasoning mix didn't rock our world.
At earlier medieval feasts, crusty bread was served in lieu of silverware. Guests would use the bread to mop up the meat and gravy. In modern times, this translates to soup or stew in an edible bread bowl (or bread bowle, as they do love those extraneous "e's" in Middle English). Several friends opted for these bowls, called "trenchers" by die-hard renfaire geeks.
Beef stew was a hearty mix of decent quality meat chunks and potatoes in a thick red gravy. Satisfying and delicious, even on a warm day. Broccoli cheese soup was watery but savory, with large broccoli florets peppered throughout.
You really can't go wrong with any of the sweets offered at the Arizona Renaissance Festival. They've got everything from nut rolls and candy apples to fresh crepes and "Italian Icees" served in a hollowed out orange half. We bellied up to the Chocolate Maker and
sampled an orgasmic chocolate cup with raspberry gelee inside and a fresh raspberry on top for $2.50, making our total bill for chicken, corn and dessert $9.50. Good thing fountain water is free.
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What the Renaissance Festival Doesn't Do Well:
Two of our dining companions headed for the Middle Eastern and Asian food booths, and all we heard were complaints.
The falafel was flavorful, but dry. The potstickers were just gross. Unless you're planning to wash your grub down with a frozen daiquiri or a mug of beer, stick to the food that looks remotely medieval -- especially if it's served on a stick.