All photos Laura Hayes
All photos Laura Hayes

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The Maryland Renaissance Festival is in full swing about 45 minutes away from D.C. In between throwing axes, buying dragon wings, and getting your picture taken with a snake, you’re going to feast. But with so many options and only one measly human stomach, you can’t try everything in one trip. The following dishes did battle, so that you lords and ladies know what to order and what to skip this season. Each dish or drink is less than $10 and the festival runs every weekend through Oct. 21.

Turkey Leg vs. Steak on a Stake

You came counting on a turkey leg to set the mood, but you can do better. To get to the meat that’s smoked and stringy, you have to first nosh through a shield of inch-thick turkey skin. Turkey is tough, just like the conversations you’ll have this Thanksgiving. Opt instead for steak on a stake—a thin, eight-bite carnal pleasure that carries smokiness from the grill. To counteract the fact that it’s cooked well-done, visit the condiments bar and douse the steak in A1 for added flavor and moisture.

Hushpuppies vs. Funnel Cake Fries

This battle pits savory batter against sweet batter. There’s no wrong order here, it’s a draw. The funnel cake fries make the festival standard bearer easier to eat because you don’t have to tear apart a disk of squiggly dough while navigating crowds. The powdered sugar stays on the plate, instead of finding its way onto your dark clothing. The hushpuppies are textbook. A few whole kernels of corn are visible, there’s a hint of onion, and the fry is golden brown but not greasy. 

Mead vs. Raspberry Wine

Leave your friend who only drinks oaky Chardonnay or wet-rock Sauvignon Blanc at home. There’s nothing for them to sip here. Both the mead and raspberry wine from Maryland’s own Linganore Winecellars are sappy sweet. The mead, or honey wine, is the more traditional Renaissance beverage, but the boozy bee nectar lacks complexity. The raspberry wine is the better bet because it has subtle tartness to balance the jammy fruit for an overall taste that’s similar to cranberry juice.

Canterbury Pork Pocket vs. Meatball Wrap

The Canterbury pork pocket has less to do with anything in England and more to do with American barbecue. It features a thin pita stuffed with chunks of chopped smoked pork drizzled with barbecue sauce and topped with creamy coleslaw. It’s far superior to the meatball wrap, which can be found in the area of the festival catering to the Trader Joe’s set with offerings of Thai green beans in a curry peanut coconut sauce and a buffalo chicken calzone with cheese. Meatballs that are mostly made of some kind of filler are enveloped in a sad calzone, of sorts, and squirted with marinara sauce for a mushy meal that belongs on a budget airline.

Apple Dumpling with Ice Cream vs. Fried Ice Cream

Rule number one of festival food is to seek out as many fried things as possible, but here the apple dumpling wins out. It tastes like someone took a wrecking ball through an oversized, hot slice of apple pie and topped the deconstructed pile with ice cream. The warm baking spices foreshadow fall, and the hot-meets-cold contrast is pleasurable. The same contrast is not as well executed with the fried ice cream, which doesn’t taste enough like the signature dessert at a Japanese hibachi restaurant. Order one and a costumed festival worker will fish out a small ball of ice cream coated in what looks like cereal from the freezer and then drop it in the fryer for three seconds. It’s cold and flavorless save for the chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and cherry toppings.