Vegetarian Options at the Iowa State Fair
by Bryon Houlgrave
From hot beef sundaes to pork chops on a stick and seemingly endless options for meat in between, the only problem the majority of hungry Iowa State Fair attendees this year will face is deciding what lines they want to stand in, and for how long.
For vegetarian and vegan fairgoers, however, the choices for meatless entrees are fairly (no pun intended) limited.
But they are out there.
One place familiar to seasoned fairgoers, vegetarian or not, is an inviting banana-yellow stand on the Grand Concourse near the Varied Industries Building that has plenty of options for those with dietary restrictions. The Veggie Table, a tried and tested establishment that offers vegetarians meatless alternatives to the Fair’s much bigger brother, the corn dog, has been serving fairgoers vegetable dishes since 1982. The stand, started by Frances McCoy, was established after McCoy felt something was missing from the Fair.
Frances’s grandson, Bryan McCoy, who now runs the stand, recalls how big of a moment it was in the early 1980s when his family revolutionized the food options at the Iowa State Fair.
“I had an aunt who was a vegetarian at the time and it was something that wasn’t as common out here at the Fair then – and even still – and that’s when they came up with their idea of doing more vegetarian food,” Bryan McCoy said.
“It continued to evolve over time,” McCoy said.
In its 41 years at the Iowa State Fair, the Veggie Table has served some pretty notable vegetarians and vegans.
In 2019, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a vegan and one of several democratic presidential candidates vying for the 2020 nomination, visited the Iowa State Fair and ordered one of the stand’s novelty items: a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
According to an August 2022 story in the Des Moines Register, Booker called the treat a “culinary ecstasy.”
“I think we have a pretty good following in the vegan community in Des Moines,” Bryan McCoy said, adding that customers with dietary restrictions appreciate that they can now eat a corn dog and feel more a part of the Iowa State Fair.
“It’s great to see the enthusiasm and the joy you can give to people,” McCoy said.
West of the Ag Building, the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association will serve up fresh fruit, shishkabobs, and berry cups. Beattie’s Melon Patch to the east of the Giant Slide will offer the same healthy treat options, as will Stockman’s Inn in the Cattle Barn.
If it’s food on a stick you crave, the Salad Bowl in the Ag Building will offer caprese salad on a stick - a skewer of cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
Here is a list of vegetarian/vegan options offered at the 2023 Iowa State Fair:
The Veggie Table (Grand Concourse, near the Varied Industries Building): vegan corn dog, vegetarian corn dog, fried peanut butter and jelly, fried vegetables, pickles, ,mushrooms, jalapeno poppers, green beans, deep fried corn nuggets
The Salad Bowl (Ag Building): salad, salad on a stick, caprese salad on a stick, peanut butter and jelly on a stick, carrots, fruit on a stick
Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (near Ag Building): fresh fruit
Applishus (multiple locations): caramel apple slices, apple nachos, slushy
Parlo Pizza (near Grandfather’s Barn): margherita pizza
Big Acai Bowl (Cultural Center Courtyard): acai bowls
Cattlemen’s Beef Headquarters: salad
Campbell’s (4-H Building): salad
Patinella’s Gyros (near the Administration Building): salad
Steer and Stein (east of the Grandstand): salad
Beattie’s Melon Patch (near Giant Slide): fresh fruit
Stockman's Inn (near Cattle Barn): fresh fruit