I come to praise Chicken Charlie, not to batter him. Though, he might like that.
Chicken Charlie is the name given to Charlie Boghosian, the guy who appears at the San Diego County Fair every year offering some bizarre-sounding, usually deep-fried concoction.
Over the years, Charlie has given "carnie-vores" all sorts of taste treats they never imagined: "The deep-fried Oreo," "the deep-fried Slim-Fast bar," "the deep-fried peanut butter pickle," and in a change of pace, the "triple decker Krispy Kreme cheeseburger."
Some chefs might be happy to rest on their laurels, but not Charlie. He's like a shark that keeps swimming. This year, Charlie is offering Kool-Aid-flavored hot wings and a waffle stuffed with fried chicken strips.
They're pretty damn good, especially the waffle. Pour some syrup on it, take a bite and be surprised when you bite into crispy hidden chicken strips.
Being a fry king has been good for Charlie. His creations have been featured internationally on outlets such as ABC News, Huffington Post and Conan.
But I don't think he really gets the credit he deserves. Some places are lucky to create one iconic item. El Torito invented the taquito, Roberto's invented the California Burrito and Tijuana's Hotel Cesar invented the Caesar Salad.
Charlie invents new items every year that he debuts at the Del Mar Fair and then become popularized elsewhere.
Serious foodies (ugh!) may look at concoctions like his first big hit, the deep-fried Oreo, with disdain, but many of dishes are witty mash-ups of four essential taste sensations: sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy.
To me, Charlie is the food version of "Weird" Al Yankovic. That is a big compliment. Yankovic is a brilliant satirist who knows the structures and forms of the music he's spoofing.
Charlie also has an element of satire to his work. That's the only way to describe his deep-fried peanut butter pickle from last year.
Here is where Charlie is brilliant: Selling something with that title is practically a dare to the customer. The fun comes when the customer tastes the damn thing and discovers the brininess of the pickle meshes quite well with the umami of the peanut butter.
Chicken Charlie has branched out to a more conventional restaurant, Chicken Charlie's FRYBQ in Clairemont (5407 Balboa Ave.). It's on my list: I haven't tried it yet, but I wonder if it's like when a cult artist creates something designed for mainstream success.
I'll give it a try soon, but at heart: I'm a Chicken Charlie purist. I want the doughy, gooey, chewy mash-ups.