What is the tastiest fried treat in a theme park?

June 22, 2019, 2:15 PM · While trying to decide which specialty funnel cake to order at Disneyland yesterday, I eventually came around to realize what fried dough treat I really wanted.

An elephant ear.

Growing up going to state fairs, I always allied with Team Elephant Ear, not Team Funnel Cake. Sure, they're both made from batter dumped into scalding fry oil, but the preparation and the toppings made all the difference to me.

Now when I talk about "elephant ears," I am not talking about the French "palmier" pastry that sometime carries that name. I am talking about those wide, flat, fried-dough treats that look, well, like an elephant's ear — but golden brown, slathered in melted butter and dusted with cinnamon sugar.

Unfortunately, I can't remember an "elephant ear" being sold in a major theme park. (If you know of one, please tell us in the comments!) However, several parks — including Epcot, once upon a time — have sold a smaller, more-oblong-shaped version of the same concept under the trademarked name BeaverTails.

While I love BeaverTails, I miss tearing into a fresh-from-the-fryer elephant ear, which always seemed to be big enough to satisfy my entire family. The flat, round(ish) pastry was just right for sharing — and sharing is the perfect way to scarf down a big hunk of fried dough, which becomes, uh, less than ideal when not steaming hot.

That's my biggest issue with many of the fried dough treats sold at theme parks these days, actually. When you load a funnel cake or BeaverTail with whipped cream, fruit toppings, candy, or especially ice cream, you cool the fried dough below its ideal temperature way before you possibly could finish eating it, even with help from your crew.

A big ole elephant ear can't stand up to all those crazy, Instagram-worthy toppings, which is why, I suspect, elephant ears lost out to funnel cakes on theme parks' snack and dessert menus. But even if a park did sell a loaded elephant ear, I would go for the classic version anyway. I love the flavor of cinnamon and don't really want a bunch of competing flavors in my treat.

That's also why I prefer a simple dusting of powdered sugar on my funnel cake. Done right, that dusting melts swiftly into a hot glaze, but a blizzard of sugar just kills the funnel cake's crispiness. If I want enough sugar to suffocate a normal-sized person, I will get an order of beignets, instead.

On the same note, I enjoy flavored churros and doughnuts when the flavor comes from the dough itself, but slathering a basic doughnut or churros with a bunch of competing flavor toppings just doesn't do anything for me anymore. Give me the great flavor that comes from flawless execution of a simple concept over the excess of abundance, please. I want my snacks to be food, not just photo ops.

Consider that thought the opening of the Great Fried Dough Debate. Have your say in the comments... but first, let's vote.

Replies (11)

June 22, 2019 at 11:44 PM

Been a beignet fan forever, especially the authentic New Orleans ones- though I will happily scarf down theme park versions when not in the Big Easy:)

June 22, 2019 at 9:28 PM

Except for Churros (not a fan), I've never eaten any of these.

Does it have to be sweet, though? Because fries are always a classic.

June 22, 2019 at 10:29 PM

Savory fried stuff can be a whole 'nother vote someday!

June 23, 2019 at 5:33 AM

Not at any theme park that I know, but Indian Fry Bread with honey is the best.

Also, the Apple Fries at Legoland are tasty.

June 23, 2019 at 10:59 AM

I’ll add to the discussion of mysterious behaviors around funnel cakes. Back in the early 2000’s when I was a Ride and Show Manager at USF the only place to get a funnel cake at USF was in Amity. Around closing, Managers from each department would gather near the park exit to say goodnight to the exiting guests. I was always amazed by how many guests would walk past carrying as of yet unconsumed funnel cakes often times covered in fruit and ice cream. Remember - they had already walked all the way from Amity by this time and I have no idea where their destination was. I simply could not understand why people would buy a funnel cake to go. They are best fresh and lose appeal rapidly.

June 23, 2019 at 11:43 AM

Do churros really count as fried in theme parks? I've worked at both Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, and at both places the churros are pre-made and then heated in an oven (not sure if they're fried at the Tio Pepe plant before being frozen and sent to the parks, though).

I did have more than one person, new to the concept of a churro, try it and say "It tastes like an elephant ear." Would you compare the two, Robert, or would you call them -- as Shaker used to sing in the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown -- two different worlds?

June 23, 2019 at 12:58 PM

Elephant Ears are the best. So sad no major theme park serves them, but plenty of state and county fairs specialize in them.

June 24, 2019 at 5:41 AM

This is a tough one as I love doughnuts and can't get beignets often enough to say that I love them more. Can i just get a beignet served on top of a doughnut? then I don't have to choose

June 24, 2019 at 7:15 AM

Absolutely beignets for me, but most theme parks would struggle getting anywhere close to the best ones on the planet served at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

June 25, 2019 at 1:44 AM

Even when Cafe du Monde ran beignet venues at theme parks, casino resorts and other venues, though the product was good, it was never quite the same as in New Orleans original location.

June 28, 2019 at 7:37 PM

What, no love for zeppoles? That's the perfect fresh deep-fried food at any Northeastern street fair, state fair, or food festival.

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