July 28-31, 2010
Written by Tyler and Drew
Every time the last weekend of July rolls around, numerous tractor trailers come rolling into the village of Hilton. For four crazy nights, the Hilton Firemen’s Carnival takes center stage and puts a little livelihood in to an otherwise-quiet village.
Drew lives within a mile of the fairgrounds, and for those few nights, it is very difficult to do anything due to the screaming kids, uncharacteristically busy streets, and loud music blasting from the carnival. Some of the behavior of many carnival goers, particularly teenagers, is less than exemplary, but you can’t beat some of the food available at the carnival.
Thursday after work, the two of us walked down to grab a bite just as the carnival was opening around 6 p.m. We ordered all of our food, then went back to Drew’s house to enjoy our meal.
After ordering his sandwich from one of the many Hilton Fire Department (HFD) concession stands, Drew walked over to the Walker Fire Department’s clam stand and ordered a side of salt potatoes. For $1.50, he received five larger-than-golf-ball-sized salt potatoes. The potatoes were perfectly cooked through and were pretty decent considering how cheap they were. They were also served with a small cup of what looked like melted butter, but it looked strange and he ended up just throwing it out.
Tyler always has to order at least one bag of popcorn every year.
“It is the best popcorn,” he said. “(It) wasn't obnoxiously buttery like movie popcorn. It melts in your mouth… (it’s) just perfect”.
For $1.50 ($2 for a large) he got an overflowing sandwich bag of fresh-from-the-popper Pickett’s Popcorn, a Hilton carnival staple. It was not overly buttery, salty, or oily, Tyler explained, but a perfect balance of all the components that make up good popcorn. He even went by himself to the carnival Wednesday to get a bag of popcorn as his main course for dinner that night.
We also tried some sugar waffles from the HFD. Drew was first introduced to these very tasty treats at last year’s carnival and said he could only wish he knew about these saucer-sized waffles, dipped into and fully covered with powder sugar, a long time ago. There is no easy or clean way to eat these things.
“Personally, I just pick at it and couldn’t care less about how much powder ends up in my shirt, mainly because the taste is that good,” Drew said.
These waffles cost 75 cents each and usually two or three of them is more than enough for a while. They are fried up and then stuck in to a heat box, so in a single order can provide a wide variation of doneness of waffles. In our first order of four, there were two perfectly golden ones, one undercooked and one overcooked waffle. Undercooked ones are rather chewy and hard to eat, overcooked ones are fine, just a little more crisp, and the perfectly done ones are outstanding and melt in your mouth. The powdered-sugar coating doesn’t come in obnoxious amounts either; rather it sticks to the waffles and created a pleasant glaze of sorts.
On his return visits Friday and Saturday, Drew tried a slice of pizza. The HFD’s pizza is made fresh in its own oven, but the pizza definitely doesn’t stand out over any of the pizzerias in town. The crust is very crunchy and everything else is very mediocre. For $2 a slice, or $11 for a whole pizza, you will definitely get a meal that will fill you up, but the pizza is average.
Tyler was fortunate enough to sample some HFD fried dough. He had to settle for lukewarm dough, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, which had been sitting in the microwave overnight. He said it still tasted good – soft and sweet, yet not too greasy – much to his surprise. He said he could only imagine how great it would taste fresh out of the fryer.
Word on the street is the hamburgers, which we didn’t have the pleasure of trying this year, were outstanding at the HFD burger stand. Apparently they sold out and had to wait several hours on Saturday for more burgers to come in because they were selling like crazy.
Another interesting note about the hamburgers; the HFD has never sold cheeseburgers at the carnival, dating back to 1983. The aprons the HFD workers wear even say, "We still don’t do cheese."
The HFD has a relatively low number of choices, also including hot dogs, Italian sausage and French fries, notably. The menu pretty much never changes from year to year, though the prices occasionally creep up. Tyler was disappointed by the lack of chicken selections, but has become used to it over the years of annually attending the carnival multiple nights. For him, the popcorn suffices.
For being carnival food being made by people associated with the HFD, rather than trained chefs, this is as good as it gets. The food is tasty, filling and reasonably priced, and was by far the highlight of our carnival experience this year.
Are we looking forward to next year’s carnival? For the food, yes; for the commotion that comes with it, not so much.