Two of the biggest annual outdoor events in West Central Florida both trace their origins back to 1904. One is the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which happened a week and a half ago. The other is the Florida State Fair, which begins today.
Now in its 110th year, the fair has grown into one of the largest state fairs in the country, with the nation's largest independent midway, all kinds of great entertainment (including classic light rock duo America and country star Suzy Bogguss) and the traditional agricultural exhibits.
But for a lot of people, the fair means food. There's always lots of it, and there's always a lot of food you're unlikely to find anywhere else but a state fair.
The classic fair cuisine -- corn dogs, elephant ears and friend anything-you-can-think-of -- will never be more than a few steps away no matter where you are at the fair. But this year's fair has some new innovative culinary creations:.
The Ramen Noodle Burger -- a fresh burger inside a Ramen noodle bun with Asian slaw and Oriental sauce.
The 3Bs Burger -- a burger, bacon and beef brisket on top of two pieces of garlic toast, topped with provolone, vegetables and choice of homemade horseradish, steak sauce or barbecue sauce to finish.
The Tornado Dog --- a hot dog wrapped in spiral cut potatoes and deep fried.
Bacon Maple Funnel Cake -- a deep-fried bacon-infused funnel cake topped with powdered sugar, homemade maple butter cream icing and garnished with real bacon bits.
Cotton Candy Funnel Cake -- a cotton candy-infused funnel cake topped with pink or blue cotton candy-flavored icing.
If you're stomach can handle some action after you down a couple of cotton candy funnel cakes, you might want to try one of the fair's spectacular new midway ride.
The Comet II is the largest traveling roller coaster in America, and it's making it Florida State fair debut this year.
For something a little tamer, there's the new Charlie Chopper, which holds adults and children in helicopter cars. The ride stands 50 feet tall and the cars spin around the center as the cars rise high in the air.
There's lots of entertainment every day at the fair, including the always popular Dennis Lee Band, who recently performed at the Manatee County Fair. Headliners America, who had hits in the '70s with "A Horse With No Name" and "Sister Golden Hair," are slated to play at 7 p.m. today, and the Country Gold Tour, with Suzy Bogguss, T.G. Shepherd, Bobby Bare and others is set for noon and 4 p.m. Feb. 12. Both concerts are free with admission.
Details: 10 a.m. Feb 6-17, Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301, Tampa. Tickets: Adults $11 Monday-Friday, $13 Saturday-Sunday; children 6-11 $6 Monday-Friday, $7 Saturday-Sunday; children 5 and younger free. Information: www.floridastatefair.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.