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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Junk Food Alley is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Saturday in Headwaters Park.

Fit to be fried

Red velvet funnel cake among Junk Food Alley hits

Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette
The Best Around booth offers the alley’s star: a red velvet funnel cake.
Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette
Deep-fried cookie dough with ice cream from Emma’s Cookie Kitchen
Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette
From left: Deep-fried pineapple ring, cherry Kool-Aid ball and peach slice

I can’t really blame these booths along Junk Food Alley at the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival for trying to deep-fry just about everything.

I mean, without trying, we would never have discovered how delicious a Milky Way could be when dipped in funnel cake batter. But I think we need to draw a line here, somewhere, before someone does something crazy like trying to deep-fry an icy beverage.

Oh wait, someone has.

And someone shouldn’t have.

At Pence’s Apple Blossom stand, you can try deep-fried Kool-Aid. No, the fruity drink is not in liquid form, it is simply the powdered mix – cherry is the only flavor offered – blended with batter and fried into balls. It is then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar or powered sugar or both.

The result is something that looks like a hush puppy with a neon pink center. And it tastes just like what it is: a hot, crispy batter ball with a super sugary-sweet cherry flavor. Not my cup of tea, or cup of Kool-Aid, for that matter. But, like I said, you gotta keep trying, and Pence’s has tried a couple other deep-fried goodies that are well worth the $5 – pineapple rings and peaches.

The peaches were fantastic. Etta Pence, the matriarch of this festival family, was working the booth when I stopped by. She uses canned peaches because the juice they are packed in makes the perfect syrupy filling. Topped with some cinnamon and sugar, a splash of the leftover peach juice and a little powdered sugar, it was like a little bite of homemade peach cobbler. The pineapple was a little tougher to bite through, but it, too, was tasty – think pineapple upside-down cake.

Much like last year’s deep-fried butter, another new item fell flat with me that I really thought would be good. How could deep-fried cookie dough not be good, right?

The batch I tried from Emma’s Cookie Kitchen came in tube form wrapped in pastry sheets and was topped with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar with a side of vanilla ice cream. Sounds good, right?

Well, here is the problem: Cookie dough is usually cold and thick, and this dough became soft and a little greasy in the fryer. The wraps were too chewy and hard to bite through, and it was just a gross pile of sweetness. The best way to describe the dough is to say it was like putting a tray of cookies in the oven, cooking them halfway and eating them with a spoon. Not good.

Down at The Best Around booth – where the salty, gross fried butter from last year was MIA but the sinfully delicious doughnut cheeseburger remains – batter-dipped cookie dough balls were offered. I was not about to try another batch, but if I was, I would go this route, as they looked less sloppy and sweet.

I did find the prize of Junk Food Alley at this booth, however. I never thought funnel cakes needed to be improved upon. Sweet fried dough dropped through a funnel to form a cake with nooks and crannies creating the perfect mix of soft and chewy with brown and crispy; how could that be made better?

The answer is to make that dough red velvet cake and then top it with not just butter and powdered sugar but with sticky, melted cream cheese icing, too. I can honestly say I would never go back to a regular funnel cake again after trying this $7 masterpiece. Why it took so long for someone to think of this is beyond me.

And even though experimentation can be a bad thing, I am not about ready to draw the line on trying to improve on this funnel cake. How about a spice-cake batter funnel cake with cherry or apple pie filling on top? Or maybe an angel food cake batter funnel cake with whipped icing and sprinkles? Or devil’s food funnel cakes with …

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. His regular column appears Sundays. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.