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Eye On Illinois: Focus on food as State Fair opens today

Starting today, all culinary roads lead to Springfield.

We haven’t talked much this summer about must-eat food stops throughout Illinois (although I’m always open to hearing and sharing reader suggestions) but that changes now with the opening of the State Fair, running in Springfield through Aug. 21.

The state fair website lists more than 150 food vendors. Many are participating in Feeding Frenzy, with daily discounts from 2 to 5 p.m. The site also breaks down 52 new items – a handy resource for regular fairgoers who think they’ve seen it all – which in addition to food highlights exhibitors and attractions, such as Vertical Amusements, selling tickets to “walk on water for 6 meters,” and the Bass Mobile, a 40-foot recreational vehicle built to look like a largemouth, energizing and evangelizing for angling.

Scott T. Holland

With all due respect to the people making a buck on items and experiences, here we’re food focused. Let’s start with some items that jump off the screen as worth exploring for anyone venturing to the fair.

Culling first from the list of new items, the rainbow grilled cheese from 1DK on the Avenue of Flags jumps out immediately as a must-get for anyone who wants to wow their social media audience with a unique image.

Along those lines, Kirschemann Mobile Food Service has built a maze in the Exposition Building using 500 types of candy. That’s both photogenic and a sure win with any junior fairgoers in your party.

Also in the Exposition Building is Nectar of the Vine, which has wine frappes, described as “pre-packaged gourmet wine slush mixes in 16 flavors.” That’s not dramatically different from the various purveyors of frozen margaritas, but distinct enough to catch my eye.

At the Reisch Pavilion on Illinois Avenue is Steve’s Meat Shop Mega Grill. The menu includes plenty of conventional fair fare, but I suspect curious eaters will be unable to resist the gator corn dog, available also in a bacon-wrapped version.

Old vendors also have new tricks, such as Miabella’s Wood Fired Pizza, featuring a “Dilly Dilly” pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, dill pickles and ranch seasoning.

If you’re looking for the Ethnic Village, this year it’s branded Village of Cultures. On the cuisine side that includes African, Cajun, Cuban, Filipino, German, Greek, Jamaican, Lithuanian, Mediterranean, Mexican and regional American options.

Perusing the full list, one seemingly out of place is Hot Wisconsin Cheese (Illinois dairies make cheese, too), but they’re selling Chicago dogs in West Allis this week, so chalk it up to a tradeoff.

Apologies to vendors I didn’t list. There are more options than anyone could ingest over the fair’s 11 full days. If you’re visiting the fairgrounds, what’s on your personal menu?

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at