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More than ever before at the Topsfield Fair food scene, anything goes. By Alexandra Hall

It used to be all about the fried dough-dusted with a cloud of cinnamon and powdered sugar, perhaps, to break up the monotony of each bite. If you were lucky, you happened upon a particularly good sausage stand, that grilled up kielbasa was as tasty as it was greasy. Such were the standbys at your local fair’s food stands.

All that’s about to change, if this year’s Topsfield Fair has anything to do with it. This year, its theme is “It’s all about the food.” Vendors are lining up with rosters of goodies far more inventive than ever-in ways that are by turns creative, enticing, and sometimes unabashedly outrageous. “The first thing anyone ever asks me when we start talking about the fair is, ‘”What are you going to be serving this year?”‘ says the Fair’s general manager, Jim O’Brien.

To that end, O’Brien is pulling out all the stops. Think authentic Italian dishes. Homemade ice cream in flavors that range from classics like black raspberry to funkier flavors like Meyer lemon zest. Homemade clam chowder. Oh, and stands dedicated entirely to whoopie pies in a range of flavors. “Things have changed so much,” explains O’Brien, who credits the popularity trend of food trucks across the country with the evolution of fair food. “Now it’s more like having a collection of individual real restaurants. The quality is much better, and a lot of vendors just concentrate on doing only one thing and doing it really well.” Moreover, the sheer diversity of cuisines has exploded. “You can get just about any food you want-ethnic, classic American, you name it.”

In the breadth and quality of its food, Topsfield Fair is a singular case-primarily because it’s the country’s last major fair every year. That means that the vendors selling their food there have had all season long to research ideas for the food they want to serve (usually by gathering ideas and feedback from customers at other fairs). That means that by the time they roll into Topsfield, they’re ready to cook up the most interesting and delectable offerings they possibly can.

But lest anyone think that means just high-falutin’ upscale dishes, fear not: Fried creations galore will still be served-from the tried-and-true (fried dough) and signature novelties (like last year’s hit, fried Oreos) to the downright weird (fried Kool-Aid). “We could never get rid of all the deep-fried things,” chuckles O’Brien. “People love them too much. My doctor’s sure not crazy about it, but people just go nuts.”