Valley serves up array of tempting treats

By Natalie Lariccia

The sausage sandwich concession business was integral to the success of the Youngstown-based DiRusso’s Sausage Inc.

The smell of peppers and onions wafts through the air. Paper cups are brimming with ketchup-covered, salty shoestring fries. A handful of crunchy-sweet cotton candy sounds heavenly, and a pleasantly puffy, powdered-sugared elephant ear beckons you for a bite.

With a variety of summer church festivals, community events, street fairs and the Canfield Fair, the Mahoning Valley serves up an extensive array of events featuring festive fair foods.

Area caterers and food vendors who sell items at local events agree that nothing beats a warm summer evening tasting tempting treats such as fried cheese, popcorn, caramel apples and the classic sausage sandwich.

Originally referred to as the “Italian hot dog,” the sausage sandwich concession business was integral to the success of the Youngstown-based DiRusso’s Sausage Inc.

Specializing in creating old-world style sausage, DiRusso’s has been in business for more than 50 years, and the popularity of the concessions spawned the company’s retail sales at area grocery stores, said Amanda Sciola, DiRusso’s director of sales and marketing.

Perfect bite

The medium-flavored Italian sausage link, which has a little “bite” but features the “perfect blend” of spices is the company’s top seller and is sold at all concession trailers, Sciola said. The recipe was created by the grandmother of Robert DiRusso, DiRusso’s CEO.

DiRusso’s sells its famed sandwiches at more than 50 area fairs and festivals annually and features nine trailers at the Canfield Fair.

Speaking of Italian foods, the 11th annual Our Lady of Mount Carmel Italian Festival July 23-26 at the Youngstown parish at 343 Via Mount Carmel St., offers a sampling of some authentic Italian specialties.

Lou Fusillo, owner of Fusillo Catering, the company that caters the festival food, said old-fashioned, traditional Italian favorites such as polenta with sausage, bruschetta and fried greens are a big hit.

Polenta is a thick cornmeal mush that is commonly served with Italian red sauce. Bruschetta, meanwhile, is often served as an appetizer and consists of grilled Italian bread that is topped with chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil and cheese.

“It [bruschetta] used to be poor people’s food. They would take the hard bread that they had left over, and they would serve the diced tomatoes on top to soften up the bread. Now it’s a delicacy,” Fusillo said.

The Mount Carmel festival also serves a traditional Italian treat known as the “fraone.” The fraone features an oven-baked dough crust filled with potatoes, onions and dill seasoning. Fraones filled with fried greens and hot peppers also are available, he said.

Sweets, too

Guests with a sweet tooth will also appreciate Mount Carmel’s extensive array of Italian specialty cookies, such as biscotti and pizzelles.

For festivalgoers who want a break from the traditional fair steak sandwich and fries, Nick Socoski, owner of Nick’s Kitchen, offers an alternative.

Based in Frenchville, Pa., his concession business features a unique offering of foods, including Maryland crab cakes, chocolate-covered strawberries, panini and grilled portobello mushroom sandwiches. Socoski also serves Cuban sandwiches, a savory creation consisting of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, spicy brown mustard and a pickle.

Socoski tries to focus his business at culture-based events, such as art and music festivals. His business made a local appearance July 11 and 12 at Youngstown State University’s Summer Festival of the Arts. It was his fourth year at the YSU festival.

Canfield Fair

No area festival or fair, however, can seem to top the concentration of concessions at the Canfield Fair. The 2009 fair, from September 2-7, offers guests a seemingly endless supply of salty, saucy and sugary treats.

Although numbers are not concrete, this year’s fair will feature about 470 food vendors, serving out of more than 1000 trailers, said Bev Fisher, fair manager.

Kevin Koski, owner of the Sturgis, Mich.-based Hollman Specialty Company, will have two trailers at the fair.

In addition to corn dogs, elephant ears and funnel cakes, Koski’s features deep-fried desserts, including deep fried cheesecake, deep fried candy bars and deep fried S’mores.

Deep fried chocolate chip cookie dough, which consists of chocolate chip cookie dough encrusted in a waffle batter, served with powered sugar and topped with caramel or chocolate syrup, is also a popular item — especially among the younger crowd, Koski said.

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