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Oct 5, 2009 09:24 AM

Has the LA County Fair Jumped the Shark Foodwise

Okay, maybe the phrase "jumped the shark" has also jumped the shark, but in any case, I've been to the fair every year for at least the last seven or eight years, and I always have fun, but I think the food has gone for style over substance, or more appropriately, weirdness over quality. Here's my report from

Back to the Fair: Fear and Loathing at the LA County Fair

I love the LA County Fair and head out to Pomona every year for the festivities, but this year, I am worried that the fair food at has officially gone overboard. It all dates back six or seven years ago when the first fried Snickers bar appeared at the fair. The fried Snickers bar created food-oriented media coverage that went beyond the typical corn dog and barbecue fair food staples and people flocked to the fair to check it out. That is the earliest I remember the fair being a real food destination.

The thing about the battered, deep fried Snickers bar is that it is terrific. When done well (which is not always the case), the innards melt into a mash of chocolate, caramel and nuts which soaks into the fried batter in a most pleasing way. There are several fried Snickers purveyors at the fair, but the best is the Texas Donuts stand, near the Blue Gate parking entrance. This year, the stand added a new candy bar, identified only as a Fried Reese's. Now, this was not a peanut butter cup, so it must have been one of the Reese's bars. Since I don't really eat Reese's candy bars, I couldn't really tell which one it was, but based on an internet search, I'd guess a Fast Break. In any case, it was delicious; peanut butter cream and melted chocolate oozed out into the battered covering and made for a gooey, peanut butter treat. I've always wondered why they fry all manner of inappropriate things at the fair but don't fry more candy bars. Clearly they should.

But I digress, the fried candy bar is a good product, but it started a trend of frying more and more absurd things simply to get attention. Then, they started covering equally absurd items with chocolate. Now, the fair food pavilions look more like something from "This Is Why You're Fat" than anything you would want to eat. It is a victory of shock value over taste.

This year, selections included chocolate covered bacon, cotton candy, pickles and Cheetos. The new fried item of note was the Zucchini Weeni [sic], a battered, deep fried hot dog stuffed zucchini. I couldn't bear to try one.

The battered, deep fried zucchini was courtesy of Chicken Charlie, the fair's most prominent fried food vendor. Charlie is the one who first brought deep fried Twinkies, Oreos, frog's legs, Coke, s'mores and White Castle burgers to the fair, as well as the monstrosity that is the Krisy Kreme fried chicken sandwich. Charlie gets a lot of publicity for his efforts, but the truth is, I've never really enjoyed anything that I've purchased from his stand. The Oreos are not bad, but most of the food is lackluster. It's high concept, low quality, and a symbol of what has gone awry in Pomona.

So what was good at the fair this year aside from the deep fried candy bars? Well, I finally stopped at the cute little gingerbread house near the farml. The warm gingerbread cake was moist and nicely spiced, but it was topped with an ultra-light tasting whipped cream. Had it been topped with a heavier whipped cream, or even better, a homemade one, it would have been great.

And Dr. Bob's ice cream is always a fair treat. I was looking forward to the soy sauce ice cream I had heard reports about, but they weren't serving it the day I went. Instead, I had some wonderful blueberry ice cream, with strong blueberry flavor and lots of mashed blueberries throughout.

Even though I've grown a bit cynical about fair food, I look forward to the experience every year, and I will undoubtedly be back in 2010 to try the chocolate covered, deep fried ostrich fillets or whatever next year's specialty happens to be.

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  1. My pick remains the tasti-chips - thank goodness they are not covered with chocolate! I did enjoy the gingerbread but I do agree about the topping. There were some very good pumpkin whoopie pies sold in one of the shopping buildings too!

    1 Reply
    1. re: shebop

      Pumpkin Whoopie pies sound good. Was that a regular fair vendor or one of the baking competitions?

    2. Mrs. O tried the Zucchini Weenie and found it okay, but then anything with a hot dog inside of it has her vote. She also tried the deepfried White Castle, and let me have a bite. We agreed that the flavors essentially cancelled each other out, the result being much less than the sum of its parts.

      The only "novelty food" we tried we thought was truly good (though hideously expensive) was the chocolate-covered bacon. At $5 per small slice, it's a good thing that one or two is really quite enough. But Dr. Bob's is definitely the class act there, both in price (relatively speaking, of course) and quality.

      1. My favorite food there was Pink's. Wish there was one closer than L.A.

        1 Reply
        1. OMG! The soy sauce ice cream! I am sorry sku you did not get to taste its wonderment. I can still taste it on my tongue. OTOH you can't go wrong by any flavor of Dr. Bob's. Best ice cream I ever had. King Taco's tacos was another tasty and afforable treat at $1.75 a pop.