Fair season is here. And starting off the season nationwide is the San Diego County Fair — also known as the Del Mar Fair to us long-time natives.
This year’s theme is Out of This World. I was expecting to see astronauts. No such luck. Greeting us at the door for this year’s media preview party was a green furry alien, followed by a pair of “aliens” parading around a go-cart decorated with planet stickers. Oh, and some Star Wars coplayers. It seemed like a stretch and many costumes relating to the theme looked to have been put together half-heartedly with no real imagination. (I suggest the organizers go to comic-con to steal themes for next year’s event.) Previous themes have included Race to the Fair, a homage to race cars last year, and Taste the Fun, a culinary take on the fair scene.
The most obvious thing about this fair is the abundance of food and how each vendor tries to outdo themselves from the previous year. A prime example is Chicken Charlie’s that made headlines last year with their deep-fried Kool-Aid. For those who may have missed it, the cherry-flavored mound of oil-soaked batter is available again this year, along with their new additions: deep-fried cereal and deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The cereal, either Trix or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, was available for the media party this year. A handful of what appears to be Fruity Pebbles is battered, tossed into the fryer and topped with a bit of syrup and cereal garnish. While it one was step away from being a cereal sandwich, it really didn’t leave as much as impression as last year’s items.
Another debut to Chicken Charlie’s line-up this year is naked shrimp — lightly seasoned and grilled shrimp served with steamed rice with pineapple chunks, served in a pineapple half with a side of sweet chili sauce. Grilled chicken or beef can be substituted for the shrimp. While a bit bland, it’s a nice alternative to the fried stuff they usually offer. It’s pretty impressive to carry around half a chunk of pineapple, though it does seem like a bit of a waste.
The bacon frenzy hasn’t gone away — yet. The renamed Heart Attack Cafe is now Bacon A-Fair. Get it? While I didn’t spot any deep-fried butter, almost everything on their menu incorporates that infamous pork product: bacon.
Bacon A-Fair touted their Caveman BLT, a 2-3 lb. bacon-wrapped turkey leg. While I didn’t try that, I really enjoyed their bacon-wrapped mushrooms filled with cheese. If that’s a wee bit too healthy for your tastes and you’re looking for that heart-stopping meal, fear not— they have a Coronary Combo: deep-fried chocolate covered bacon.
Word soon got out about freshly steamed lobster and lines formed. While the samples were small, it was refreshing to see something simply prepared at the fair. I didn’t catch the name of this vendor but they will also be selling lobster rolls and other lobster-based dishes when the fair officially opens.
No fair is complete without funnel cakes. Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel cakes serves the usual powered sugar-topped variety. They also offer a red velvet with cream cheese frosting version, a peanut butter and banana cream funnel cake and a hot fudge sundae funnel cake. Carrying a plate of red velvet illicted some stares from the crowd of hungry journalists, but it was lackluster without a true red velvet taste, even with a cream cheese topping. Stick to the peanut butter and banana cream and you won’t go wrong.
What’s a fair without going into diabetic shock? A trip to the The Gingerbread Shop is in order. Along with last year’s Eaton Mess and ginger bread cakes, they serve butterbeer from Harry Potter fame and cookie dough pops with a choice of either nuts or sprinkles. The small fry may will get an immediate kick from the intoxicating sweet butter beer but sensible adults will stop at one sip. (I watched several people take one sip with the same reaction as mine.) Why they decided to add whipped cream topped with syrup is beyond me. Unfortunately, the cookie dough pop did not impress.
This is only a sampling of what to expect from this year’s San Diego County Fair. I’m hoping a vendor takes initiative and sells astronaut food to tie in with the theme.
The event officially opens up to the public June 8 and runs until July 4.