Drew Clark used to think food on a stick meant fair food, like corn dogs and Popsicles. But after living in Manhattan, N.Y., the St. Joseph native discovered that food on a stick has evolved.
“There is everything here from Korean barbecue to casual fine dining presented on a stick,” he says.
Mr. Clark moved to Manhattan three years go to attend the French Culinary Institute. He surmises one reason for this surge in stick creativity may be New Yorkers’ love of food from carts.
“I would say at least 50 percent eat their meals during the workday from a cart,” he says. “Served on a stick makes it easy and cost effective for the food cart and easy for the public to eat.”
As with any trend on the coasts, this one has spread everywhere, but it’s particularly noticeable at state and county fairs, where impaled meats and treats are becoming as competitive as they are fun.
“If you can put it on a stick, it sells,” says Johnna Perry, an award-winning balloon artist and owner of Up, Up and Away! in Liberty, Mo. “At the Iowa State Fair we saw a caricature artist making ‘kid on a stick.’ He was drawing caricature and putting them on sticks.”
Ms. Perry and her husband, John, have been regulars at fairs all over the country for 17 years because of their balloon business. And her passion for food and cooking inspired Johnna to write a blog called 52 foods on a stick, which has become the No. 1 ranked website on the topic.
“It seems like in the last five years the trend has really exploded,” Ms. Perry says. “If it can be put on a stick, the food purveyors are doing it.”
What’s popular really depends on the region you are in, she says, but the traditional corn dogs are still number one.That’s because some of the more unique ideas don’t hold together as well as the corn dog and can be tricky to eat.
“Like the chocolate-dipped bacon on a stick,” she says. “You have to eat it pretty fast or you are going to have messy, chocolatey hands the rest of the day.”
On Ms. Perry’s blog you’ll find a wide range of foods she and others discovered, from gourmet bacon-wrapped scallops on a stick to a popcornsicle, which is a popcorn ball on a stick dipped in liquid nitrogen to make it freeze quickly. There are regional favorites, too, like alligator on a stick and key lime pie dipped in chocolate on a stick. Then there are creative combinations such as Zucchini Weenie found at the Big Fresno Fair. It’s a hollowed out zucchini stuffed with a hot dog then dipped in corn dog batter and fried.
An unexpected find for Ms. Perry was at Marczyk Fine Foods, a gourmet food store in Denver. They sell Choc-o-Lait and Choco-o-Lait Cointreau, which are large chocolate squares on a stick that you dip into hot milk or coffee.
“It was the last place I expected to find food on a stick,” she says. “But I found two or three different things. Food on a stick is definitely not just fair food anymore.”
That’s why when Mr. Clark opens his new deli in St. Joseph next month (at the former Downtown Salsa Dog location), he plans to have a few New York favorites on the menu, including macaroni and cheese on a stick. It’s hard to conceive, so he made up a batch to show us. Making macaroni and cheese from scratch is the key.
“I wouldn’t use the Kraft out of the box,” he explains. “It’s too moist and would just drop. This you can manipulate easy. The real cheese helps it bind together.”
Once the mac and cheese is rolled into balls, he dredges them in beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Then he dips the balls into hot oil for about 30 seconds or until “golden brown and delicious.” You could eat them plain off the stick, or, what he prefers, is to dip them in a roasted onion aioli sauce (homemade, of course) with a little arugula for presentation.
Mr. Clark and Ms. Perry agree that the only thing you have to watch out for when eating most food on a stick is how much you eat. Moderation is the key and that’s because the food is usually fried.
“Another fair performer said to me the healthiest part of food on a stick is the stick,” Ms. Perry laughs.
Healthier alternatives are possible, however, if you plan to make them yourself. Consider fresh fruit kabobs or marinated grilled meat and vegetables on skewers. And with all trends, more ideas are being created every day. A contributor to allrecipes.com took the popular caprese salad made with fresh basil, mozarella balls and cherry tomatoes and put it on toothpicks to create a fun appetizer. Ms. Perry is busy working on creating some healthy stick options, too, which are expected to debut on her blog in September. Look for them at http://52foodsonastick.blogspot.com. She also suggests getting the cookbook by Matt Armendariz aptly titled “On a stick.”