Photographs by COURTESY PHOTO
Layers of beans, potatoes, sauce and meat make the Mason jar barbecue “sundaes” an easy-to-carry meal during Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ Festival.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Silver Dollar City serves up an amazing 250,000 pounds of chicken, 150,000 pounds of skillet dinners and 90,000 pounds of candy each year. But this year, the heavy hitting news for food lovers is an expanded variety within the Branson, Mo., theme park. Over the course of 2017, Silver Dollar City's "Year of Food and Craft," more than 200 new items will be introduced.
Sam Hedrick, director of foods at Silver Dollar City, says a lot of research went into this extensively planned culinary celebration.
Silver Dollar City
WHEN — The 1880s theme park is open March through December
WHERE — Branson, Mo.
COST — $51 per day to $97 for a season pass
INFO — 800-831-4386
"We took it as a challenge of what can we do to make this year unique and different for our guests," Hedrick shares. "We really wanted to change the way our guests eat. So we started thinking about how are we going to look at the food product: Do we change everything? We couldn't get rid of our signature items like skillets, fried potatoes, ham and succotash -- but we could layer on a combination of new items that would run throughout the season, add new seasonal items and feature foods we could celebrate."
The process took more than 18 months. Choosing what to celebrate took a lot of development and a lot of questions for repeat guests of the park.
"All our recipes were researched and developed by our front-line staff," Hedrick continues. "They do a tremendous job. We involved them directly in the creation, development and testing of the new products."
One popular item that's found in five different varieties and locations around the park -- succotash -- was created by a front-line cook at the park more than 20 years ago. Varieties of the dish include Calico Potatoes at Hatfield's Potato Patch to chicken, sausage and peppers at Lumberjack Skillet and chicken, corn and squash in the Family Feud succotash at Buckshot Annie's. These hot and shareable cast iron skillet dinners have long been popular among Silver Dollar City guests, who can follow their noses directly to their skillets of choice and watch as the ingredients are prepared, combined and served.
"We try to do what we do best, open our kitchens up as much as we can to our guests," Hedrick expands, "so our customers can see what we're doing. People eat with their eyes -- and being able to see that dish cooked out in the open -- that's what people really look for."
Many of the operations on-site, such as kettle cooking corn, frying pork rinds and cooking and cooling peanut brittle, have long been attractions in themselves around the park. This year, new food adventures await those who enjoy watching the foods they'll eat as they're prepared.
"We had a short season item, pork belly fries -- these are smoked pieces of pork belly cut into strips and fried, served with bacon aioli sauce," Hedrick describes. "As we started sharing it out to sample, customers let us know they really enjoyed them, and we added them to the menu."
Pork belly fries aren't the only crazy creation. Other new full season menu items include steak and bacon fry bread, chocolate chip funnel cakes and a bean and pepper salad. And there's a new restaurant on-park to try out.
"Our new concept is Percy's Southwest Grill, a build-your-own burrito restaurant where you pick your meat, pick your choice of burrito, taco or nachos, then pick your toppings. There are a lot of tremendous fresh toppings, and chips and salsa come with every order."
The park's yearly festivals have their own unique fare. For instance, during the Bluegrass & BBQ Festival going on right now, you can enjoy a Mason jar "sundae" consisting of barbecue beans, potatoes, sauce and your choice of beef, chicken or pork. Different stuffed smoked sausages -- including a taco bratwurst -- are available, and you can enjoy fresh hot corn on the cob plain or doctored up with cheesy pork rinds or bacon and jalapenos. The Star Spangled Summer celebration offers kids the chance to sample extravagant pretzels in such flavors as Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Nerds Candy.
Food lovers can plan out their on-park culinary experiences at Silver Dollar City before they go. A new dining section on the park's website shares menu items for each of the restaurants, stands and concessions.
For those who want a more immersive food experience, classes are available daily at the Midwest Living Culinary & Craft School located on-site. Chef Debbie Dance Uhrig heads a slate of culinarians who offer one-hour classes on everything from barbecued sausages and German potato salad to Louisiana-style gumbo and bread pudding, nearby Springfield's cashew nut chicken and even side dishes and pies. The classes are $15 each.
Kat Robinson is an Arkansas food historian and travel writer based in Little Rock. Follow her adventures at TieDyeTravels.com and watch What's Up! for more Branson stories this summer.
NAN What's Up on 05/19/2017
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