For nearly two decades, eating fleischkuechle was an unpronounceable fair tradition, even if it never was an official part of the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.
Fair goers could find the Fleischkuechle trailer operating amid a row of vendors along Fairview Drive, outside the faigrounds. They weren’t vendors hired by the fair, but nevertheless offered generically named scones and discounted onion burgers to throngs exiting the fair.
The Fleischkuechle trailer first operated at a spot with a view of the roller coaster, then moved over near Cattin’s after that lot was sold to the fair.
A fleischkuechle offered a taste of something unlike the typical fair burgers, fries and corndogs. Lines sometimes grew long to get the flaky beef turnovers with German-Russian roots served out of the side of a converted trailer. They’re pronounced fleisch-koosh-lay, but the owners have heard them called everything (their favorite mispronunciation is “fahrvergnügen”).
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This year, after a trial run at the spring fair that was successful, Fleischkuechle has joined the legitimate ranks of the Krusty Pups, the Earthquake Burgers and the Fisher Fair Scones.
Fleischkuechle owner Ben Vrieze, who operates the business with his mom Ginny, described moving inside the fairgrounds as something like winning the culinary lottery, but he joked that because they’re such a small business in contrast to the big food vendors, he feared Fleischkuechle would be squished behind the horse barns. He didn't worry long. Fair officials assigned the trailer a plum position near the Fountain Stage.
The Vriezes carry on the tradition of fleischkuechle proudly. They were close family friends with the original owners - sisters-in-law Pat Tuthill and Pat Jorgensen, who started selling their regionally famous portable hand pies outside the Puyallup Fair in the early 1990s, nearly 30 years after their family started Miller’s Fleischkuechle in Puyallup. The business is now renamed Vrieze’s Fleischkuechle, but the recipes of the original pies are exactly as the Miller family always made them - from scratch, and by hand, using the same ingredients that have been used to make the pies for about 50 years.
Until this year, Tuthill and Jorgensen worked in the pie trailer. This year, they won’t staff the trailer, but the two Pats will be around the fairgrounds - one as a visitor, one as a ticket taker.
Traditional fleischkuechle is a seasoned beef patty that’s flattened into a yeasty dough pocket and fried until crispy brown. It comes in fruit versions, too. Since the Vriezes have taken over, Ben Vrieze has modernized the menu some. A crowd favorite is the new turnover called The BTT - the “bacon tasty turnover” - and a version that comes stuffed with macaroni and cheese. It was supposed to be a turnover for kids, but Vrieze said he sells more of those to adults.
New menu additions aren’t the only change, the prices also have risen. Pies now sell for about $6.50. It is the state fair, after all.
Find more information on the Washington State Fair, which opens today in Puyallup, here.