Gazing and grazing at food-centric ‘Agfest’

May. 26, 2014 @ 02:08 PM

Let me tell you, Romeo and Heathcliff have nothing on Petey in the romance department.  Friday he took me on a dream date.  We went out of town, and had lunch at a local landmark.

The dishes were numerous and varied.  I had Southern cuisine like fresh barbecue, hush puppies, grits and pickled okra.  Then there was trendier fare like meatless tuna salad, faux beef tacos and elderberry jam with Greek yogurt.  A smorgasbord of deserts awaited, such as cookies, ice cream, fudge, butter mints and gluten-free, dairy-free pound cake (which was actually really good).

And the best part (especially for Petey, a very frugal fellow): It was only $2 apiece. 

OK, I’ll ‘fess up.  It wasn’t some miraculous, secret restaurant; it was the 2014 Got To Be NC Festival, or as I’ve always called it, the Agfest.

Every year The Kid and I attend, but this time my little chef had to be at work, so Petey kindly offered to accompany me.  I look forward to it like a child looks forward to the last day of school. 

It’s basically a mini-state-fair in the springtime.  There are rides, games and fair food.  But the parking and admission is free, and there are no shoulder-to-shoulder crowds.

My favorite things at the state fair are the food, and the booths inside the buildings, with the free samples.  At the Agfest, the emphasis is the food, and inside the exhibition center it’s nothing but food and drink, and all the samples are edible.  There is a $2 entry fee, but the ticket comes with a sheet of coupons for the participating vendors worth well over 20 bucks.

Once inside this temple of tastes, I always make a beeline to the D’Vines’ booth.  They make lots of jams and preserves (including my favorite, Sassafras), but at the fest they sell a grape juice slushy that I love.  It tastes like Welch’s that’s been left in the freezer.

Another company that we visit is Anne’s Old Fashioned Food Products.  Last year I picked up a bottle of The One Dressing.  We’ve been using it on our chicken strips; it is the tastiest, most luxurious honey mustard ever.  But this year I discovered that it makes a pretty darn good dressing for coleslaw, too.

Old Salem has a presence each year, selling cheese straws, soaps, Moravian stars and their thin and crispy cookies.  I always ask about a discontinued cookie, butterscotch, hoping against hope that they've brought it back.  Alas, I was disappointed once again.

Mama Dip’s granddaughters show up each year, with their own products.  Neecy makes cake mixes, and Tonya sells packs of crispy pecan cookies, which come in both a praline flavor and chocolate.  I always ask after Miss Mildred, and was happy to hear she’s doing great, and still cooking at her famous Chapel Hill eatery, Mama Dip’s.  If you want to introduce a visitor to Southern food, there’s no better place.  It’s like eating at your grandma’s table -- if your grandma was an amazing Southern cook.

Once we left the exhibition building we bought some of our favorite fair food.  Of course we started at Al’s for fries.  Then Petey snagged a giant bag of cotton candy, and we scored our new fave, shark kabobs, which are cooked on the grill with a delicious lemon marinade.

Just like every year, I had a great time.  But this year I didn’t have to buy as much, because I discovered many of the vendors’ products are carried at IGA stores, like Carly C’s and King’s.  It’s nice to know I don’t have to ration my Bezzie’s barbecue sauce to last an entire year anymore.

Update: Last week I bemoaned the absence of Hydrox cookies from my life.  After the column ran, I received a note from the CEO of Leaf Brands, Ellia Kazan.  They are the makers of products like Astro Pops and Wacky Wafers.  He informed me they are bringing Hydrox back.  They should be on grocery-store shelves sometime this fall.  You can get more info from their Facebook page.

And I’ve got just one thing to say—WooHoo!

Thanks for your time.