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Fair's charm is in the food

It's not the rides that draw me to the county fair each year, though they're fun in an oh-my-God-I-think-I-might-actually-fall-out-of-this kind of way.

It's not the livestock shows, either, even though I do love watching the tiniest contestants wrangle sheep and goats the size of themselves around the exhibition hall. And it's certainly not the pageants.

It's the fried food.

A few friends and I hit the fair last Saturday in search of the newest innovations in fried fare. We were slightly disappointed not to find fried Coke, a delicacy we've been reading about.

Fried Coke was introduced at the Texas state fair, and it has made its way to North Carolina and Arizona but not yet Gwinnett. Maybe next year we'll get to try the artery-clogging dessert, made by adding Coca-Cola syrup to funnel cake batter, which is dripped into hot oil. When the bits of dough are golden brown, they're poured into a cup, drizzled with Coke syrup and topped with powdered sugar. Yum.

Luckily, there were other fried delights to be enjoyed.

We started out by getting the obvious choice, a funnel cake, out of the way first. It's nearly impossible to walk around the fair without succumbing to the aroma of fried dough, and it's hard to eat sub-par fried foods without thinking, "Man, I wish I had gotten a funnel cake."

Several hours later, after the funnel cake had finally digested as much as dough and oil will, we scouted the food vendors in search of more gourmet offerings.

I still sort of regret skipping one of this year's new choices, fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I saw one being made, though, and it's exactly what you might imagine - two slices of bread slathered with thick layers of peanut butter and jelly, coated in dough and dropped into a vat of boiling oil. It looked delicious, but also really filling - and there were too many other fried foods to try.

We split orders of fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which were excellent, and fried Twinkies. The cool thing about frying Twinkies is it causes all the creamy filling to be absorbed into the sponge cake, creating a super-moist treat.

The highlight of the day, though, was another delicacy making its Gwinnett County Fair debut. Fried banana pudding. For several hours, I pondered how exactly you'd go about frying banana pudding.

In the end, it was simpler - and tastier - than you might imagine. An entire banana is sliced, battered and fried. A serving dish is layered with vanilla wafers, banana-flavored pudding, the fried banana slices and whipped cream.

The final product was a gorgeous heap of deliciousness. And because the dish isn't completely fried, it just incorporates fried elements, it's less coma-inducing than some of the other choices.

Overall, our fried-fare quest was a success. Sure, I had to eat salads for the next week, but it was worth it.

E-mail Shelley Mann at shelley.mann@gwinnettdailypost.com.