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  • Photos by Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette Bruce DeLaurelle fries up mini doughnuts at his Petey's Mini Donuts stand at the Emporium of the Three Rivers Festival.

  • Petey’s Mini Donuts at the Three Rivers Festival.

  • Elote en Vaso on the Emporium side of the Three Rivers Festival.

  • Jane Harris will top root beer funnel cakes with cream cheese icing, too, if you ask at The Best Around booth.

  • An ice-cold mocha frappe from the Java Hut in Junk Food Alley.

  • Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette A bucket of Totchos – cheese, bacon, sour cream and chive covered tater tots – from the Pence’s booth at Junk Food Alley.

  • A root beer funnel cake with root beer and cream cheese icing at The Best Around booth in Junk Food Alley.

  • Nadia Tworek shows off the Totchos bucket from the Pence's booth at Junk Food Alley.

  • Cake Rolls from the Audrey's booth in the Emporium at the Three Rivers Festival.

  • A Mexican Street Corn booth at the Emporium of the Three Rivers Festival.

  • Junk Food Alley.

  • Beryl Broomfield makes a frappe at the Java Hut in Junk Food Alley.

  • Jane Harris tops her root beer funnel cake with root beer icing at The Best Around booth of Junk Food Alley.

  • Photos by Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette Steve “Slim” Smith of North Carolina dusts corn on cob with queso fresco to make elotes at the A&M Concessions booth at the Emporium of the Three Rivers Festival.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 1:00 am

Old favorites, new eats

Great festival food found in and near Junk Food Alley

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

The crowd parted, and I swear I could hear angels singing.

It was my all-time favorite festival food, an item I have had countless times dating back to my first festival outings as a lad. But it was an item I had never seen at the Three Rivers Festival.

Petey's Mini Donuts was not along Junk Food Alley, however. You had to venture across South Clinton Street to the often-overlooked Emporium area of the festival to find them. And they were just as good as they always have been.

I had my first freshly fried mini doughnuts in the 1980s at the Covered Bridge Festival in Parke County, a festival I still attend yearly. I look forward to getting them in the fall. But now I can get them in the summer.

Bruce and Darlene DeLaurelle of Mineral Bluff, Georgia, who lived in Mishawaka for 52 years before heading south, are frying up the little cinnamon and sugar-, sprinkle- or powdered sugar-dusted doughnuts for the first time at the Three Rivers Festival but have been on the circuit for a while now. They named their booth after their dog in case you wondered.

The golf ball-sized doughnuts are made in a Lil' Orbits machine – all the ones I have ever had are. The machines are made in Minneapolis and they make the doughnuts nearly as much fun to watch as they are to eat. The batter sits in a funnel at one end of a hot oil trench that is angled a bit so when the batter is dropped into it, the circles float their way down the oily river. Halfway through a little arm raises up from underneath and flips them so they get golden brown on both sides. At the end, another arm flips them out of the oil and into a pan.

A bag of these beauties is only $5 and they are, of course, best eaten hot. I think they are better than any elephant ear or funnel cake out there and they hold a very special place in my heart.

More hidden gems

Another great find across the street was from another first-time TRF vendor.

A&M Concessions out of Florida has a Fresh Fruit Slushes trailer, but it was the little wooden stand next to it selling elote – Mexican street corn – that I loved. It offered traditional mayonnaise and fresh cheese covered corn on a stick, but I liked the Elote en Vaso – in a cup – better.

A piping-hot, foam cup of sweet, buttery corn was topped with a layer of mayo then dusted with the powder-like white queso fresco and crowned with a lime wedge. It was great as-is, but even better when dusted with some chili-lime salt. At $5 – $4 for a stick – it was a decent bargain, too, as this hot cup was quite filling.

My final find in the Emporium took me back again to my Covered Bridge roots. There was an Audrey's Pumpkin & Gourmet Cake Rolls booth. The rolls come from Bridgeton in the heart of Parke County and are always worth having. And there is a new variety this year – apple-cinnamon.

The queen returns

Though I like the mini doughnuts better than funnel cakes, there is no one I like catching up with or whose new treats I love to sample more than “Mama” Jane Harris at The Best Around booth.

Harris is a festival superstar. She will be appearing Sunday on Cooking Channel's “Carnival Eats” for the fifth time. And her treats will have been featured on TV for the 11th time in all after this upcoming season of the show – its sixth – is completed as her boss, Kevin McGrath, and his niece will be showing off a couple more of her recipes. The show only allows vendors to appear one time each season.

This year, Mama Jane is debuting her root beer funnel cake at the TRF. It has a root beer-infused batter, is topped with a sweet, sticky root beer icing and crowned with an old-fashioned root beer barrel hard candy.

It was, well, different, but I could not knock it. I had mine with a little cream cheese icing, too – Harris said she is still tinkering with the recipe and might add it permanently – so it would have a creamy element to emulate a float. It was very tasty and I think might be even better if I would have ventured across the alley to the Sundae Factory trailer to get some vanilla soft serve to throw on top to make a real float funnel.

A pick-me-up

I love lemon shake-ups and have years' worth of refillable cups from the festival clogging up my cabinet. But I am also a coffee lover and I am so happy that for the second straight year, someone is offering it along Junk Food Alley.

The Java Hut is from Bryan, Ohio, but actually comes from a place known more for its tea – England.

The Hut is owned and run by Brits Andrew Broomfield and his mother, Beryl, and offers all sorts of festival-friendly cold coffee beverages as well as hot. And, yes, you can get tea, too.

Beryl made my mocha frappe with iced coffee and a little chocolate powder and added a shot of espresso to give it more kick. The frappes are $5 or $8 and a shot costs an extra $1.

Coffee can be a hard sell at festivals, but it really shouldn't be given how popular cold coffee drinks have become.

“When it is hot, who wants a coffee?” Beryl explains. “And at night people won't get it because they say it keeps them up.”

I say poppycock. My frappe was very tasty, refreshing and I will be returning yearly to help me stay awake as I devour all the junk food on these hot festival days and nights.

Bucket of goodies

The final item I tried was the most daunting, but I would take the challenge again.

Another Bryan, Ohio, festival staple – Pence's – is serving up Totchos ... by the bucket.

These perfectly light and crispy tater tots were slathered with nacho cheese, good meaty bacon bits, sour cream and chives. You can get a single serving for $7, but a bucket is only $12 and is refillable. You can get it refilled with Totchos for $7 or with the booth's french fries or nachos for $6.

And, like those old lemon shake-up cups I have, you can keep those buckets and have them refilled at future festivals. Leslie Pence, her mother, Etta, or her niece, Nadia Tworek, who were working the booth might chuckle at you when you bring your old bucket by in a few years as they did at my 4-year-old shake-up cup, but they will still gladly fill them up.

And you don't have to feel guilty about it because these days you can just say you are being environmentally conscious with the plastic instead of just being a cheapskate.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette. net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.