Eat my way through the OC fair

The Orange County Fair is back, which means it’s time for me to dive back into the crazy, creative culinary concoctions only found at the fair.

Nearly 100 food vendors are dotted around the fairgrounds, meaning there’s something for everyone. On a diet? Not at the OC fair. Diets go out the window when bacon-wrapped turkey thighs pop into your mouth.

You can find traditional carnival treats like cotton candy, or unconventional treats like cotton candy ice cream tacos. Go healthy with a bowl of shrimp and pineapple or corn on the cob, or go extreme with fried butter or buffalo chicken macaroni served in a waffle cone.

I’ve dined on extravagant entrees at previous fairs, including a three-tier cheeseburger with crispy cream donuts as buns courtesy of Chicken Charlie’s, whose food stalls always have a healthy serving of “only at the fair “. But that’s the point – these are things you would normally never consume, so attend the fair guilt-free and have fun.

That was my goal on the opening day of the OC Fair: to have fun with food.

Cap’n Crunch Cereal Fried Chicken

I started my culinary journey at Biggy, who always has something new to try from their usual favorites. This year it’s the Cap’n Crunch Chicken Sandwich: a fried chicken sandwich with Cap’n Crunch cereal on top, with a drizzle of raspberry sauce.

Good concept, but the execution needs work. The chicken was good, but the sprinkle of cereal didn’t add much spice, and the sauce made it a sticky mess. For $16.50, I was hoping for something a little more satisfying, a little bigger.

I sipped my $6 Pepsi and walked across the fairgrounds to the ever-reliable Bacon-a-Fair stand, where everything comes with bacon.

I had their fried cheese bacon bombs (so good), but this time I ordered the garlic butter bacon fries cooked in oil and bacon fat.

Garlic Butter Bacon Fries

Decadent? Yes indeed, and for $13 I was happy with my decision.

Went back last Thursday for Taste of the Fair. Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., each food stand offers a tasting of one of their products for $4. My goal was to sample five items for a total cost of $20, about half of what I spent on my first visit.

I started at Tasti Burgers, which had a mini burger on offer that day for $4. Their regular burgers are good, but I was disappointed with the taste version. Basically a very small burger patty on a bun, the patty was devoid of any toppings including sauce. Even a pickle and a small piece of lettuce would have dressed it. I spread ketchup on the almost tasteless pancake and ate it in three bites.

taste crisps

Next door was the Tasti Chips stand, always a favourite. Their $4 taste is a generous portion of really tasty potato chips that are hot and crispy but with a chewy center. I smiled as I consumed every last morsel of goodness.

Fried Oreos

Then there was Chicken Charlie’s and an old standby: fried Oreos. For $4 you get two gorgeous fried cookies, gloriously melted in puffed batter. It is a sweetness not to be missed.

A few yards away was the Chuckwagon stand, which still serves up reliable barbecue fare. Their $4 taste was a 3 oz. BBQ Pork Sundae, basically a small mound of pork on mashed potatoes. It was satisfying and a decent choice for $4.

Finally, to complete my $4 foray into fair food, I tried the Fruity Pebble Dole Whip at the Nitro stand. It’s a generous swirl of whipped ice cream with lots of Fruity Pebbles cereal on top. A tasty and refreshing end to my Taste of the Fair odyssey.

To burn calories, I strolled through the showrooms, stopping in the Culinary Arts building to browse the baking and canning contests, wishing they had tastes of some of the cookies and cakes exposed.

Yes, I plan to return for another Taste of the Fair excursion. On my list: Fried Twinkie, Pulled Pork Slider, Oreos & Cream Funnel Cake, Fried Zucchini and more Tasti Chips!

Dole Whisk with Fruity Pebbles

The OC Fair website has a section dedicated to the many food vendors attending the fair: https://ocfair.com/oc-fair/things-to-do/food. On this page, you can access a list of all the $4 tastes offered on Thursdays.

Admission to the OC Fair is $12 general admission on Wednesdays and Thursdays, $14 general admission on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, $7 for seniors 60 and over and children 6 to 12 years from Wednesday to Sunday. Free for children 5 and under. Admission must be purchased in advance online. Parking is $10.

The OC fair runs until Sunday August 14th. Visit www.ocfair.com.

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