Sunday, September 14, 2008

Come Fry With Me: Our Annual Sojourn to the LA County Fair

Every September we pack up and make the trek to the Pomona Fairplex for the LA County Fair. It's one of my favorite days of the year, a ritual marking the beginning of fall with fried food, barbeque, a curious number of hot tub vendors, farm animals and beer, lots and lots of beer. You can find my report on last year's Fair here. This year, I yet again indulged in an orgy of fried foods, sweets and meats and lived to tell about it.


It is a Fair tradition, and perhaps even a legal obligation, that every year, something new and unexpected must be plunged into the deep fat frier. Among the new offerings given the deep fried treatment this year were cupcakes, spam and pop tarts. Among the most repulsive sounding, though, was the deep fried White Castle burger, an entire White Castle slider dipped in batter and deep fried. To me, this demonstrates that the deep fried fair food phenomenon has moved from things that might actually taste good (Snickers, Oreos, artichoke hearts) to a focus on shock value, not unlike the booths asking fifty cents to see the world's smallest horse or largest steer (and hearkening back to the bearded woman and other freakshow oddities). As if sliders weren't gross enough on their own, the closest White Castle is more than 1,500 miles away from LA. So, these are frozen burgers dipped in batter and fried...double plus yuck.

I also have to say that Chicken Charlie's, the most prominent fried food stand at the Fair (pictured above), is pretty mediocre. There is good fried food if you seek it out, but I've never been particularly impressed by Charlie's. While I avoided the puke inducing sounding deep fried White Castle and spam, I did have an order of frog's legs. They were terrible. The order came with just two measly legs on a large bed of fries. The frog's legs tasted like tough, overcooked cod. Even the fries were mediocre, which for a place that touts its frying abilities, is pretty disgraceful. This is consistent with my experience last year with the monstrosity that was the Krispy Kreme fried chicken sandwich. Thankfully, they did not see fit to repeat that failed experiment.

For years, my favorite fried snack at the Fair has been the wonderful deep fried Snickers bar available at the Texas Donut Stand. The Stand lies about 100 yards to the right of the Budweiser Clydesdale display as you enter the Fairplex. Dropping the kids at the Bud stables, I headed out for my Snickers. To my shock and disappointment, Texas Donuts was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere. I mean, sure, fair stands come and go, but Texas Donuts is an institution, and the deep fried Snickers was the initiator of the new fried novelty trend. It can't be gone.

Defeated, I wandered back toward the race track. There I saw a new mini-donut and ice cream stand that advertised a deep fried Snickers. Had this stand replaced Texas Donuts? I bought the Snickers, dreaming of the gestalt of melted chocolate, caramel, peanuts and fried batter, all blending into one magnificent experience, transcendence on a stick. But it was not to be. The new Snickers wasn't melted enough, the batter was too chewy; it just wasn't the same. I was utterly defeated, my favorite fair food destroyed, how could they do this to me?

Later, as we exited the Fairplex and drove around the outer gate, we saw through the gates on one of the hidden, out-of-the-way alleys...a Texas Donut stand. One stand, hidden away where only those who happened to turn into that lonely corner to see whatever was going on there (raccoon wrestling? bottle cap collections? masonry demonstrations?) would see it. Did they still have the Snickers? Was it still just as good? I'll have to find out next year.


I'm nearly always disappointed with fair barbeque. It always smells great and then tastes just okay. But this year, upon entering the Fair, I saw the much heralded Outlaw Grill,a grill, filled with charred meats, as big as a semi.

Actually, a grill that is a semi.

Faced with this amazing contraption, I had to try a sampling, so we indulged in a pulled pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich and a turkey leg. The pulled pork was decent, though not at all exceptional. The brisket was horrible; mealy and lacking in flavor. The best of the lot was actually the turkey leg, which surprised me because I tend not to like those giant, Flintstone sized turkey legs that they sell at the Fair. The ones I have had in the past are as touch as leather with a flavor to match. This one, however, was moist and tender with a good turkey flavor. And, of course, it's big enough to feed a family of four, or one hungry child.

Turkey leg, before,

...and after.

Dr. Bob's Ice Cream

I've long been a fan of Dr. Bob, but his pints, which I usually pick up at Bay Cities or Surfas, are never as good as the fresh scooped ice cream we get at the Fair. His famous strawberry, sour cream, brown sugar ice cream is grainy and indistinct out of the pint, but at the Fair, it's a perfect blend of sweet and fruit with a wonderful creamy texture. My favorite flavor, the Works, which is a blend of Scharffen-Berger chocolate and cacao nibs, does pretty well in the pint, but is still that much more wonderful in the cup or cone. This year, the old Dr. Bob's stand may have been my single greatest joy at the Fair.

The Cycle of Life

The great thing about the Fair is that you get to observe the full cycle of life. The barnyard exhibit houses fresh litters of pigs, baby goats, and the cutest little bunnies. Next year, they will have grown into the mothers feeding their young, and the year after that, they'll be battered, fried and shoved on a stick.

Next year's pulled pork sandwich.


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