Gluten-free Grange attendees can now enjoy fair food

For a person dealing with a food allergy, eating out at restaurants can be anywhere from awkward to downright dangerous. And going to a county fair can be downright depressing when it comes to food options.

Take for instance those who need to eat gluten-free due to celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy. No funnel cakes. Or hot sausage sandwiches. Pizza is out. For my family, with our two gluten-free eaters, the fair menu has always been highly restricted. Our best bet was to find a stand that made only french fries using hand-cut potatoes, with no chance of cross-contamination from breaded products that contained wheat flour, barley, rye or oats (these are the product that contain gluten).

In the last few years, a few gluten-free options have popped up at Pennsylvania fairs I’ve attended, including a stand advertising gluten-free pudding and a trailer at the Grange that makes some Brazilian options without wheat.

But in 2016, a gluten-free food trailer set up at The Grange Fair that could cause someone with celiac disease to shed tears of joy. Gluten-free funnel cakes, pizza, corn dogs and the immensely popular deep-fried chocolate chip cookie are all part of the menu at Archer’s Gluten Free Café, owned by Cliff and Becky Rigby of Troy, PA. Their green trailer is slated to setup once again this year near Gate Two of the Grange Fairgrounds. Cross-contamination isn’t an issue since Archer’s is a 100% dedicated gluten-free food trailer. Cliff Rigby recently explained the inspiration for starting his business, during an interview with The Sentinel.

“I didn’t wake up one day in my forties and decide I was going to open a gluten-free concession business. But when our best friend’s son was diagnosed with celiac disease, we found out he couldn’t eat anything at fairs or festivals. So that spawned into us doing research and launching our business,” said Rigby. The gluten-free business named for that little boy is now in its third season, and even set up at Pocono Raceway this summer.

Rigby echoed a sentiment many with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities know all too well.

“People just want to feel normal. I love seeing the look on people’s face when they see a pepperoni and jalapeno cheese popper in our window display and they realize that it’s gluten-free.”

Do they have customers who aren’t gluten-free?

“All the time,” replied Rigby, explaining he sometimes needs to explain to fairgoers that gluten-free isn’t necessarily synonymous with health food. Additionally, some gluten-free food simply isn’t very good due to the challenge of substituting wheat flour in recipes.

Rigby recounted a recent incident where a woman order a funnel cake before realizing it was gluten-free.

“You should have seen her face,” Rigby remembered. He assured her that he would return her money if she didn’t enjoy the cake, and fifteen minutes later, she and her husband returned, with high praise for what they called a ‘superior product.’

“We tried some healthier options when we first opened, but gluten-free people really want the fair experience like everyone else,” said Rigby, who recently developed an assuredly not-diet food creation called “The Twisted Pig.”

While a gluten-free corn dog wrapped in bacon won’t trim inches off the waistline, it has grabbed the attention of many a fairgoer, regardless of dietary restrictions.

Another new product Archer’s developed is freshly-made doughnut holes – gluten-free of course. For those who want some veggies, there is even cauliflower, albeit in the breaded and deep-fried state. Rigby has also added a number of dairy-free options to accommodate customers who need to avoid milk products.

More information can be found at Archer’s Gluten Free Café will be at The Grange Fair August 18-26 and The Central PA Gluten-Free Expo in State College on November 5.