Traditional summer festival eats — corn dogs, funnel cakes, giant turkey legs and other portable foods — have been scarce this year, as have the festivals themselves. But the Colorado State Fair is still happening, in a way, and festival food is part of the plan.
While most of the State Fair events have either moved online (with photography, music and vegetable-growing competitions all virtual) or are limited to small groups of participants with no spectators, fair food will still be served, perfuming the hot Pueblo air with the smell of deep fryers and outdoor grills. Only you won't be able to wander around the fairgrounds with your ice cream cone melting onto your fist or your jumbo dog dripping grease onto the pavement. Instead, you'll have to grab food through your car window, drive-thru style.
The first ever (and hopefully only) Drive Thru Fair Food event takes place from August 28 through 31 on the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo, and the organizers promise fry bread, chili cheese fries by the bucket, fried pickles, fresh-squeezed lemonade and, most important, Pueblo's famous Pass Key sandwiches.
The Pass Key Restaurant is a true Pueblo original, combining elements of red-sauce Italian, diner comfort food and, of course, green chile made with locally grown and roasted peppers. The Pass Key started out as a drive-in eatery with carhop service before converting to full service in 1969. Then in 1996, the Pagano family, who have operated the restaurant for its entire existence, launched Pass Key on the Go, a food trailer that has become an annual fixture at the state fair.
First-timers will want to order the Super Pass Key Special, a sandwich built with a housemade Italian sausage patty, cheese, lettuce, mustard and mild green chiles on a "mini-loaf." Fries or onion rings should be added to complete your order.
Visitors to Drive Thru Fair Food will order and pay at the entry and then drive into the fairgrounds to pick up food at each vendor. In addition to Pass Key on the Go, you'll find Toler Brothers, Sugar's Concessions, Matt Bribiesca Concessions and Vista del Sangres serving food (though the list could grow or change). There won't be any seating or parking areas, so all food must be taken off the fairgrounds, and the organizers ask that guests remain in their cars and wear masks while ordering and picking up food (motorcycles, bicycles and other open-air vehicles are off-limits).
The experience won't be the same as in years past, but during this pandemic, we could all use a little comfort — in the form of our favorite childhood fair foods.
The Colorado State Fair's drive-thru food event will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, August 28, through Sunday, August 30, and from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, August 31. For more details, see the fair's website, which will be updated before August 28 with more information.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.