I Tried It: The State Fair Drive-Thru

Bring an empty stomach and patience for a long wait

“What Wisconsinites will do for their fair food, eh?”

It was an apt observation from the woman in the car idling next to mine, who was also on minute 45 of waiting in line for The Big Cheese. Those 45 minutes spurred a little self-reflection and I realized I was more in touch with my Wisconsin roots than ever before. Only someone born and raised here would ever spend nearly an hour sitting in their car for overpriced cheese curds. 

In reality, I spent those 45 minutes mumbling complaints about the wait under my breath and sighing dramatically in hopes of drawing the attention of a sympathetic employee who would let me skip to the front of the line. It didn’t work.

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My State Fair Drive Through adventure began when I entered Gate 9 on the State Fair grounds where three lines of cars were merging into two. I inched along the short distance between the Gate 9 sign and the entrance to the Milwaukee Mile racetrack, where the food stands were located. I envisioned speeding my Jeep around the racetrack and fulfilling my long-dead childhood dream of being a race car driver. 

My dreams were dashed. 

Photo by Marla Hiller

I don’t think I ever broke 10 miles per hour, let alone the hundred I had imagined. As I moved through the bumper-to-bumper traffic, my eyes flicked back and forth between the time and the hundreds of cars in front of me. 7:30. I should’ve gotten here earlier than 6:30. The website said that the drive-through closed at 8! Are they going to kick me out? All of this and no deep-fried Milky Way?! 

At 7:58 I saw an employee approaching my car which I assumed could only mean I was about to be asked to leave, without fried food no less. Instead, she handed me a menu for all the stands, and when I asked in a panic about the closing time she said, “Don’t worry sweetheart, we aren’t going to kick anyone out.” 

My first stop was 3D Corn Dog & Dippin’ Dots because of its deep-fried Snickers and Milky Ways. Deep-fried [insert anything here] is a must at the Wisconsin State Fair and the fried Milky Way was the food I wanted most. And 3D Corn Dogs delivered. The taste of the deep-fried Milky Way transcends words. I can only recommend trying it for yourself. 

My next stop was The Big Cheese. I was craving something salty after the sugar overload that was my Snickers and Milky Way and some cheese curds were the solution.

Photo by Marla Hiller

This is the part where things started to go downhill. As I approached the Big Cheese line, an employee instructed me to enter whichever of the three lines moved first. The middle line began to move and soon I found myself halfway to the stand. Oh, what luck, I thought, long gone are the days of waiting. I was gravely mistaken. 

I’m suspicious that this long wait is really a scheme for customers to buy more food. For example, I ordered a Bloomin’ Onion with my cheese curds because, well, I had waited almost an hour and I might as well. 

At this point, it was 9:30, I had burned through the entirety of Harry Styles’ Fine Line album, and I was out of patience. I skipped over the rest of the stands and headed home, frustrated, but ultimately satisfied with my purchases. 

The State Fair Drive-Thru is for those of us who have endurance and a love for fair food. My biggest qualm, more so than any wait time, was the lack of cream puffs. The Midwestern delicacy won’t make an appearance until Aug. 6 but will be available for pre-order. 

In closing, nothing will ever be able to replace the full Wisconsin State Fair experience but the State Fair Drive-Thru is a safe way to fill that void in your heart which can only be satiated by waffles on sticks and pretzel-wrapped bratwursts.

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Marla Hiller is an editorial intern at Milwaukee Magazine. She is a junior at Boston University majoring in international relations and minoring in journalism