Spring Carnival: a time when Carnegie Mellon students come out from their dorm rooms, cubicles, and computer clusters to temporarily halt their work and enjoy such festivities as munching the multitudes of gastronomical delights offered at the vendors and on-campus dining establishments. In between checking everything out on Midway, a stop at the Alpha Phi Omega concession stand always yields classic fair food choices such as hot dogs, pizza, nachos, cotton candy, pretzels, popcorn, coffee, hot chocolate, and soda. Those ready to mix up their junk food intake and can make the break from their reliance on the ‘O’ by swinging by APhiO.
APhiO, the national co-ed service fraternity, has been providing those staple foods for 50 years, but their highlighted menu item is undoubtedly their steaming-hot funnel cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar. The perfectly crisp, sweet, golden-brown finger food is worth every cent of its $5 cost. Each tasty snack is created by four people and an ever-going industrial mixer. Even with the production line going constantly, keeping funnel cakes stocked for Carnival consumers is difficult. This year’s totals are yet uncalculated, but last year APhiO sold 1200 funnel cakes in all.
In keeping the supply where the demand is, APhiO’s menu offerings vary slightly from year to year and depend on the week’s weather forecast. “We don’t want to serve what people don’t want to eat,” said Divya Jesuraj, a 2004 Carnegie Mellon alum. The statement proves true with the creation of their two latest additions. Last year, they retired the minimally accepted chili cheese dogs for the new delicacy of spicy sausages.
Occasionally, the brothers hanging out behind the concession stand Friday afternoon held up a cardboard sign that had on it scribbled the words “We want Oreos.” Among the notable inventions that have come out of Carnegie Mellon, the fried Oreo could be ranked near the top of the list. Added last year to the list of foodstuffs Alpha Phi Omega supplies at Carnival is this curiously delicious new wave of fried sweets. A group of us dubiously decided to try the $3 order of four. I did not quite know what to expect at first, but quickly came around after my initial bite. The warm, gooey, chocolatey, creamy wonder is enough to spur even the most staunchly conservative food critics into amazement. We decided that they may have the potential of usurping the position of the lil’ orbit (the now-outdated mini-doughnut) as one of the must-haves of fair food.
Stephen Mandzak — who was the previous concessions chair of APhiO and graduated last year — talked about how the unexpected food of obesity-creating enchantment came about. Mandzak said that it had been through watching one of his idols, Alton Brown of the show Good Eats on the Food Network, fry a Snickers bar. After some semi-successful attempts at trying that endeavor, the epiphany occurred one night when the fryer was on and a fellow brother walked into the room while eating Oreos. Mandzak immediately battered the cookie and plunged it into the hot grease and thence the magic was born. Since then, the Oreos have been growing in popularity.
The entire production is set up like a well-oiled business, and the APhiO brothers are proud of their work. With up to 20 people helping at a time, the sanitation is outstanding, the efficiency well thought-out, and the manpower is present to keep it all afloat. Marybeth Griffin, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1996 and now works for the University, let me take a peek into the concession stand. The alums at the booth explained that what they do is not only a tradition for them, but also an opportunity for them to learn camraderie, budget coordination, stress-management techniques, and other business-related skills.
Alpha Phi Omega is a non-profit organization, and this is the one time each year in which they are able to make the money needed to fund their other projects throughout the year, which include Girl Scout SCIP day, the Magic Bus at spring break and Thanksgiving, and running concessions at sports games.
For those who missed out on the delicious dishes after Midway closed for the night, there of course was the old, reliable ‘O’ food. Last Friday, a late-night cheese dog and bag-o’-fries was a reasonable and satiable substitute for Carnival food, until even the run on their own food supplies caused significant shortages and the ‘O’ was forced to close an hour early — much to the chagrin of many who were then left only with the option of order-in pizza. Next year they will know not to be stuck at the ‘O’ when APhiO is serving their legendary Oreos.