The arrival of summer means different things to different people. For me, summer marks the start of a whole new season of fun food-backyard barbecues, fruity cocktails and, for at least one warm summer night, a gluttonous, no-limit plunge deep into the varying degrees of indulgent and irresistible foods found at the San Diego County Fair.
Fairs are synonymous with fried food; the leftover fryer oil from a single week alone could probably fuel a fleet of bio-diesel cars. Though I'm no virtuous eater, I do normally try to limit my intake of fry-o-lated foods. This regimen quickly got kicked to the curb on a recent tasting tour of the fair that I went on with a friend and some of the CityBeat crew. Money, time and stomach-space can prohibit arbitrary fair-food consumption, so here are my takes on the treats, fried and otherwise, to help you narrow the eating field.
Wading through the heady aromas wafting from the fair's food stands and choosing where to stop first proves dizzying and daunting. There are standards like corn dogs and cotton candy, but we bypass those and head to the Tasti Chip stand to sample their freshly fried homemade potato chips, hot and crispy and draped with jalapeno cheese sauce. They are the perfect snack to munch on our way to the next food stop and much tastier than the heavily battered and fried potatoes offered a few stands away. The sweet smell of fresh waffle cones lures me over to the soft-serve ice cream truck. Both this dessert and the chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick are much more eat-as-you-walk- friendly than the cream puff stand's crumbly, dry pastry shell with its blob of bland whipped cream. Seeking a bit of protein amid this sea of carbs, we chow down on Italian and Polish sausages and moist, savory meatballs.
Another food stand, Chicken Charlie's, was lit up like a Christmas tree and mobbed by a crowd, so we beat a path to check it out and found attendants serving up some newcomers to the fair-food family. The deep-fried cola featured wormlike strands of cola-flavored batter piled into a soda cup and garnished with whipped cream and a day-glo colored cherry. My friend swore she could still discern the carbonation of the cola but all I could taste was grease. Frying may enhance some foods, but I think I'd rather drink than chew my soda. Proving that two wrongs don't make a right, the unholy Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich held a pressed patty made of chicken parts between two glazed donuts. I tasted it for the sake of research but could only manage a few bites. Some friends, who were possibly high on fryer fumes, liked the combination of salty and sweet.
Expectedly, Chicken Charlie's also offers fried chicken as well as fried zucchini, mushrooms and other veggies that you should probably forego in order to save room for the fried food that won the blue ribbon in my taste test, the fried Oreo. Combining a shell of crispy dough with a warm, soft chocolate sandwich cookie and a liberal dousing of powdered sugar and chocolate syrup, the fried Oreo is an inspired food invention. A friend joked that we should pair it with red wine for the ultimate tacky but delicious dessert, and I think I know what I'm serving as the last course at my next dinner party.
By this time I'm well on my way to a major food coma-my eyes have glazed over and all I can see or hear are the neon lights and clanging bells of the carnival games. I reluctantly concede defeat by fair food; tonight I can eat no more, but I'll be back for foods yet to be tasted. With such a long laundry list of things to test on my next tasting trip, I might choose to return on June 26 or July 3 for a Tuesday Taste of the Fair, when smaller tasting portions of the food will be $2. I'm looking forward to trying Rattlesnake Ranch's rattlesnake chili, the Indian Fry Bread topped with apple butter and yes, oh yes, many more varieties of deep-fried sweets.
The San Diego County Fair runs through Wednesday, July 4 but will be closed June 11, 12, 18, 19 and 25.
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