Feels Like Nostalgia and Tastes Like Summer

Pastel pedal pushers and gingham clam diggers. Penny loafers and Aloha shirts. Sipping on a soda in the shade of a hot dog stand. Watching fireworks from the ferris wheel after dark. The aesthetic of the 1950s boardwalk summer feels fresh again every year. The coastal wooden walkways have traditionally been home to all sorts of attractions—wooden roller coasters, local artisan stalls, restaurants, bars, hot dog stands and, of course, the beach. Inspired by the classic big top, the summer air and the romance of nostalgia, we’ve rounded up our best carnival party food ideas. From New England to SoCal, here’re our vintage-inspired menus for the modern summer day.

East Coast

Coney Island

Let’s start on the Atlantic. Apart from the slew of movies filmed on the fairgrounds (Wonder Wheel, Beaches and Brooklyn are a few of our favorites), one of the first Coney Island mainstays that comes to mind is the historic Nathan’s Famous, a venerable hot dog restaurant that’s been serving hot dogs on the ocean for over a century. We think mini foods are too fun to pass up, especially for summer, so 3-inch dogs, it is! For dessert, we favor a similarly small spin on frozen custard (actually invented at Coney Island!)—mini ice cream cones complete the meal. Plus, smaller servings save room for all the butterflies in your stomach while riding the Cyclone.

Rockaway Beach

While Rockaway Beach is much more of a boardwalk than an amusement park, it’s themes complement its carnival-esque counterpart perfectly. The walkway is packed with games, shops, outdoor exercise stations and perpetual people-watching opportunities. For this party theme, we’re inspired by fresh Atlantic seafood. Now serving: classic East Coast lobster rolls and indulgent fried clam rolls, all followed up with a round of thick chocolate shakes. Vintage twists include bite-sized snacks and striped straws that remind us of an old-school diner.

Offshore/Inland—State Fair Style

Just because you’d be hard-pressed to find an oceanfront boardwalk in Iowa or Kansas, doesn’t mean our inland friends can’t participate in regional vintage themes. Offshore, we’re inspired by the settings and foods of state fairs. Just like boardwalks and beaches, these summertime staples also typically feature local favorites, a couple of carnival rides and a whole lot of fun. We love the idea of serving meats and vegetables grown on local farms—beef sliders (more mini foods, please) alongside big trays of french fries layered with special sauces. Puffy Bavarian-style pretzels served alongside a selection of spicy mustards are a creative way to acknowledge and engage the rich history of German and Polish heritage here in the Midwest, too. No day at the carnival is over without a funnel cake and a ride on the ferris wheel.

West Coast

We’ve finally made it to the Pacific! Both the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Venice Beach Boardwalk have a signature laid back Cali vibe and inspire a totally different take on a summer menu. We’re highlighting spicy, soulful, south-of-the-border bites as an homage to the Mexican history and influences of SoCal. Instead of the carnival fries of the Midwest, why not give carnival nachos a try? We decked out tortilla chips with sliced jalapenos, smooth crema and fresh herbs. Portable, easy-to-carry food is a must on the boardwalk, so walking tacos are a must. With walking tacos, the corn chip bag is the mess-free shell, and you can use a fork to snag all the interior-goodness of a traditional taco. To ramp up the carnival theme, we’re serving tacos out of hawker boxes—order AND eat on fly. Instead of a funnel cake to end the night, we’ll take two churros, please.