'Tast-E' offerings at The Big E

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WEST SPRINGFIELD — Let's be honest, most of us go to The Big E for one thing: the food.

This year's menus are stuffed with bold eats and big drinks to be found throughout the fairgrounds, from the "Flatliner Burger" to deep fried cannoli to a beer brewed by monks. But If you're going to try and sample it all, trust me, you're going to need a bigger waistband, and maybe more than one visit.

The Big E runs from Sept. 15-Oct. 1 at the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds, and features more than 100 food and beverage vendors, along with food competitions, showcases and cooking demonstrations. The vendors include commercial brands like Budweiser, Guinness and Subway, but fair organizers also carefully curate their exhibitors to showcase the best of what the region has to offer, from chefs to culinary creations.

"I grew up in West Springfield, and you used to go to the fair for fried dough and Coca-Cola, but since the 1980s, food has taken on an entertainment value here," said Eugene J. Cassidy, the Eastern States Exposition president and CEO.

"We've both been coming here since we were little kids and we love it, " said Amanda Volpe of Sunderland. She and her husband, Darren, are the winners of the inaugural Bud & Burger Pub Big E Burger Contest, sponsored in part by Budweiser.

"We like to play around with different toppings, so when we found out about the contest, we knew we had a fit," Darren said.

Their Big "Tast-E" Burger puts an Italian spin on the bacon cheeseburger concept, their recipe adapted for fair serving volume by Mick Corduff, executive chef and co-owner of Holyoke's Log Cabin and Delaney House. Instead of bacon, the cheeseburger is topped with pepperoni slices and can be topped with a ketchup seasoned with basil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.

Mother-daughter duo, Patricia "Pat" Patterson and Heidi Hiner, are also putting some creative flair and flavor into another classic snack: the Tater Tot. At their "Tots-A-Lot" stand, they'll be topping deep fried nuggets of shredded potatoes with everything from buffalo sauce and blue cheese to dishing out "Chicken Tot-Pie," complete with a New England-inspired side of whole berry cranberry sauce.

"That's my mom's idea," said Hiner of the cranberry. "Every time we have a chicken dinner, we have to have cranberry sauce with it."

(For the record, I've tried it, and for some wonderful reason, it works, really, really well.)

Another local and savory choice this year comes straight from the Eastern States Exposition's own Storrowton Tavern. In addition to the sit-down restaurant, Storrowton's own Vinnie Calvanese will be offering a daily rotation of five homemade soups from the new Storrowton Soup Shack. You can try everything from a hearty cheeseburger soup to New England clam chowder in a cup or a bread bowl.

"We appreciate the fact that we'll be out here on the patio this year," said Calvanese, who calls cooking for people a "passion."

And if you want to go for a meal that aims right for the heart, check out the "Flatliner Burger," a double stack of chili cheeseburgers, topped with cheese sauce, bacon and French fries anchored between a bun with double toothpicks, all prepared and served by the volunteers of the West Springfield Lions Club.

John "Sully" Sullivan, who created this daring comestible, said he's going to "shoot for the stars" with a goal to sell 10,000 Flatliners at the fair. "It's all about giving back to the community," he said. So go ahead and dig into one, it's for a good cause.

Need to wash it down? There are plenty of options in this department as well, from the Spencer Trappist Beer Experience (featuring Belgian-style beers brewed by the monks from St. Joseph's Abbey) to The Big E Wine Bar. On Sept. 15, starting at 6 p.m., V-One Vodka is planning to make the "world's largest cosmopolitan martini," then selling pours from it to benefit the Cancer House of Hope in West Springfield.

If you still have room for dessert, West Springfield's own Carol's Concessions is reinventing the caramel candy apple, by rolling it in everything from colorful M&M candies to kettle corn. Coffee Break, also of West Springfield, will debut a deep-fried Holy Cannoli a la mode, topped with chocolate chip ice cream, hot fudge, caramel, cinnamon, sugar and whipped cream.

And if reading this article has made you a little dizzy with all this rich deliciousness, The Big E is mindful to offer some healthy options, like salads and smoothies, and gluten-free foods too.

Want to keep track of all the food and drinks? There's an app for that: thebige.com/p/BigEApp

Recipe: The Big "Tast-E" Burger*

By Amanda and Darren Volpe of Sunderland, Mass.

winners of the 2017 Bud & Burger Pub Big E Burger Contest

Ingredients (per burger):

A 1/3-pound beef patty

Two slices of American cheese

Several slices of pepperoni

Basil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper for seasoning

Ketchup

Hamburger bun

How to make it:

1. Season beef patty with basil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. (Option: Marinate the beef in Budweiser or your favorite beer before grilling.)

2. Grill to perfection. (They recommend 2-3 minutes per side.)

3. Toast the bun of your choice on the grill.

4. Melt two slices of American cheese on top of the burger. Top with the deal-sealing ingredient, the pepperoni.

5. Remove from grill and assemble on a toasted bun with lettuce and tomato. For bonus flavor, doctor up some ketchup with the same seasonings you used for the burger, and spread it on generously.

*If you rather have the folks at The Big E grill this for you, visit the new two-floor Bud & Burger Pub at Gate 7, which will feature The Big Tast-E, along with various other steakhouse-style burgers with a Budweiser rub, and draft beers.


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