Here's the winner of the 2022 Wisconsin State Fair Sporkies food competition
If you're hungry, you might want to grab a snack before reading any further. You've been warned.
Without further ado, the winner of the 2022 Wisconsin State Fair Sporkies food competition is ... the Peño Pretzel Popper Brat from Gertrude’s Pretzels.
The prize? The coveted Golden Spork.
"It's crazy," Lora Schaller, owner of Gertrude's Pretzels, told the Journal Sentinel. "I didn't expect it. There was a lot of good competition, so it was awesome. Very grateful."
The Peño Pretzel Popper Brat features a 10-inch jalapeño cheddar bratwurst from St Joe's Country Market in La Crosse that's wrapped in fresh pretzel dough. It's topped with coarse pretzel salt and fresh-cut jalapeños. It's baked and brushed with butter, then drizzled with white cheddar sauce. The pretzel popper brat is served with a house-made jalapeño cream cheese dip.
Out of 28 entries from State Fair vendors, eight finalists were announced at the end of June. On Tuesday, live judging, which was closed to the public, took place at the Exposition Center at the State Fair grounds in West Allis.
The panel of judges was made up of Chef Adam Pawlak, who owns Milwaukee's two Egg & Flour locations and E & F Pizzeria, and was a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen" Season 19; Chef Luke Zahm, owner of Driftless Cafe in Viroqua and TV host of "Wisconsin Foodie"; Bill Mitchell, on-air personality at Magnum Media; and Dr. Stacia Thompson, Sherman Phoenix Foundation's executive director.
There was also a Sporkies Fairgoer Judge, Milwaukeean Nic Fridenmaker, who was selected randomly through an online entry process where fairgoers submitted their dream fair food item. His entry was Nashville Hot Chicken and Waffles Poutine.
Longtime sports broadcaster Dario Melendez, WISN sports director and former Sporkies judge, emceed the event.
The finalists were judged on appearance, presentation, creativity, originality and taste.
Second place was awarded to The Sconnie Slugger from Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill. It's a play on a corn dog that combines a locally made beer brat and cheese curds. It's dipped in cruller cornmeal batter, then deep fried. It's topped with “dijonaise” and German sweet and sour cabbage.
Third place went to the Brandy Old Fashioned S’more On-a-Stick from Freese’s Candy Shoppe, which features brandy old fashioned-infused cream sandwiched between two graham crackers. It's covered in milk chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate. It's topped with the traditional old fashioned garnishes of dried orange and cherry.
More on the Peño Pretzel Popper Brat, what the judges said
“What can we do that’s just a little crazy, a little different, but can appeal to everybody?” Schaller asked when figuring out what to enter into the contest.
Gertrude’s reached out to a company they buy brats from, St. Joe’s Country Market, and asked what kinds of flavors they could do.
Schaller had already been thinking something jalapeno when the market got back to her with jalapeno cheddar. A match made in foodie heaven.
“It’s big, it’s different, it’s got a whole lot of flavor,” she said.
The Peño Pretzel Popper Brat was Pawlak's top choice, he told the Journal Sentinel after the competition.
“(It was) super well technically cooked," he said. "The pretzel was perfect — I could have ate just that. And it was very creative. Big in size, big in flavor. I really liked everything about it.”
Zahm called the creation "culinary hedonism."
"This is a dirty, dirty dish," he said. "One of the things that I loved about it the most though — and it was before I even tasted it — you knew where that sausage came from ... I think that that is awesome. People who come to your stand, people who want to eat this get a little bit of that Wisconsin identity even though it's like a a dirty little secret of our identity with all this cheese and jalapeno and wrapped in the pastry. It's delicious."
Mitchell said it was "absolutely loaded with flavor," and Fridenmaker was a fan of the spice.
Not into spicy? Gertrude’s will also have a milder version of the Sporkies’ champ on their menu.
More on the Sconnie Slugger, what the judges said
Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill's approach this year was to combine "all the things" Wisconsin and Milwaukee love, Ashley Turner, executive chef, said during the competition.
And the bar and grill made sure to keep it local. The cheese curds were handmade the day prior and "barely hit a fridge"; the bratwurst is from Klement's; and the cruller batter is made with Grebe's Bakery, Turner said. The sweet and sour cabbage is a bit of an homage to the state's German heritage, she added.
"We took a lot of time to think about having all of Wisconsin kind of hit you in the mouth all at once," she said. "It's a lot of fun."
"I think first bite had a great big old cheese curd and (it's) just phenomenal," Mitchell said. "It really is."
Fridenmaker, who opted to eat the slugger with a fork, described it as a lot but awesome.
More on the Brandy Old Fashioned S’more On-a-Stick, what the judges said
"My husband had the idea of a Brandy Old Fashioned at Eastertime," Freese's owner Wendy Matel said during the event. "And then from there, it was like 'Oh, maybe this would be a great thing for the fair, so we thought we'd try it."
The brandy old fashioned-infused cream found in the Brandy Old Fashioned S’more On-a-Stick is Freese's homemade whipped cream, which is whipped marshmallow, she noted.
"I think this is going to be a huge success," Melendez said. "If there's one thing Wisconsinites love, it's Brandy Old Fashioneds."
"You've got a lot of big flavors going on here," Zahm said. "Obviously, there's no more iconic beverage for Wisconsinites than the Old Fashioned. I love the play on it. I think it's super creative. It's festive."
Mitchell even suggested Freese's make them in an XXXL size.
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The other finalists were:
- Black Bean Burrito Balls (Lakefront Brewery Beer Garden)
- Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte (Slim McGinn’s Irish Pub)
- Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Chicken On-a-Stick (Bud Pavilion)
- Fried Pickle Cheese Curd Tacos (Richie’s Cheese Curd Tacos)
- Surf & Turf Sliders (Tropics)
"There is not one of these things that I would even question for a second buying for myself or for someone I love," Zahm said. "When people leave the State Fair, do they remember the rides they go on? Meh, maybe not. Do you remember the exhibitors you walked by? Maybe a few. But you're going to remember what you ate. And to take your creative endeavors here and put them into things that are executable, that are deliverable and delicious, that's money. And that's why the Wisconsin State Fair is the best place to eat in town while it's going on."
All of the finalists' concoctions will be available for purchase during the fair, which runs Aug. 4-14. You'll know how to find them by the 13-foot spork and poster displayed at each of their locations.
“If you have time and your stomach can handle it, I would go check out all of them,” Pawlak said. “They’re the top eight finalists for a reason. I didn’t not enjoy anything.”
For more information on the Sporkies, visit wistatefair.com/fair/sporkies.
Contact Hannah Kirby at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HannahHopeKirby.