The San Diego County Fair officially opens June 7, but members of the media were able to get an early taste. Here is a rundown of some of the goodies that “carnie-vores” can gobble during the month-long fair.
Triple-decker Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger:
This meat monstrosity is the creation of Chicken Charlie, the Michael Bay of carnival foods. Each year, this carnival king creates a gut-busting culinary version of a summer blockbuster.
Charlie’s creations are supposed to inspire shock and awe from a public that wants see if something that sounds so wrong can be so right.
This year’s tentpole hit takes three burger patties, sliced American cheese, and shoves them between Krispy Kreme donuts.
Is it good? Well, it’s not bad. It’s like the new version of Godzilla. You feel some chills and thrills, but, ultimately, it’s not bad, it’s not good. It’s just OK.
Deep-fried Chicken Skin:
Chicken Charlie just can't stay away from the deep fryer. He deep fries ribs, Oreos, avocados and, now, chicken skin.
Like many of Charlie’s creations, the concept is more “dangerous” than the follow-through. Yeah, it’s basically deep-fried chicken fat, which has fallen out of “flavor” with health-conscious foodies. But all those cooking contests on Food Network stress a cook’s ability to properly “crisp” chicken skin.
This is more memorable than the Triple Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger. It comes with a slightly spicy dipping sauce. Plus, kids, if you’re going for thrills and chills, this is the item that is more likely to gross out your friends.
Deep-fried Cookie Dough:
Of Chicken Charlie’s new items this year, this is the most successful. It’s simply chocolate chip cookie dough that’s breaded and dipped in a deep fryer. It’s sweet, it’s chocolatey and really, really melty after you bite into it.
This is actually Chicken Charlie’s workhorse and the secret to his success.
The crazy deep-fried whatever he uses to attract people is just a loss leader. In a group of, say, eight people, maybe two are “daredevils.” That’s the schmo who tries the deep-fried bacon-wrapped broccoli cookie (not a real item — this year!).
The others mill around and decide the kabob looks at least, uh, normal and buy that.
The kabobs are pretty good, not as flavorful as I’d like, but the white meat chicken is meaty and moist and, unlike many of the other menu items, non-threatening.
Smoked Jack Daniels Bacon-wrapped Churro:
Bacon-A-Fair has the best-looking food booth at the Fair. It screams: “Do you dare to eat this? You could die, you know that, right? OK, sign this waiver and dig in.”
Whether their bacon is up to that sterling challenge is up for debate. I like bacon that is crispy but moist with thick pieces of fat curling up at the end. The needs of the mass market makes it hard to customize the bacon to my exacting specifications so I usually pass by the booth.
This year, they are offering a churro that’s been infused with Jack Daniels flavor (no real booze — sorry!) and wrapped in a skimpy piece of bacon.
It comes with a syrupy dipping sauce. You’ll be happier if you convince your friend to buy it and snag a bite rather than putting down the cash yourself.
Yeah, they sell pizza at the fair. Yeah, it’s not that great. Kinda doughy and undercooked. You know who buys pizza at the fair? People who will eat anything and people whose kids won’t eat anything else.
The corn dog is the quintessential fair food and the best place to buy it is Hot Dog on a Stick. No, it’s not that they have a secret breading, nor an artisan frankfurter. But the retro Austin Powers costumes worn by the employees are really stylish.
There are other corn dog businesses around the fair. One sells a foot-long corn dog. Don’t try it: it sends the signal you’re desperate. Leave a little mystery for the other fair-goers.
California Corn Dogs is trying to break out of the mold (not a word you want when talking about any kind of carnival food), by serving a cheese corn dog with a marinara dipping sauce.
It’s one of the those ideas that sounds better in theory than practice. The sauce is sweet, not tangy, and the breading reacts to the cheese and the sauce like a person who’s shocked to be invited into a threesome.
Tri-tip and BBQ Chicken:
The Ranch is the place to go for BBQ tri-tip and chicken sandwiches.
Actually, it’s the place to go if the line at Chicken Charlie’s is too long or if you just want something that seems meaty.
The tri-tip lacks flavor, but the chicken is peppery in a good way. The sauce is watered down and has no flavor, like something served at an old folks home or other places where people have sensitive stomachs.
Special Note To Vegetarians:
If you are on a restricted diet, you will feel even more restricted at the Fair. There are lots of potato spots serving up chips or fries, but you may have to repeatedly remind the employees not to soak them in Ranch dressing or cheese sauce.
There is a Mediterranean place with some non-meat items and Charbroiled Corn sells lots of corn. Just repeatedly remind the employees you don’t want butter.
Palapa Taco has a decent fish taco and also a tasty vegetarian burrito with beans and rice, but again, remind the employees of any restrictions.