Thursday, July 21, 2016

New Food Items to Try at the 2016 OC Fair

OC Fair
88 Fair Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

There are certain signs in Orange County that let you know that summer is in full swing. There's less traffic on the freeways during the morning commute, there's no trace of June Gloom when you wake up in the morning, and of course the OC Fair opens. This year the June Gloom dissipated, I shaved ten minutes off my drive to work, and the fair opened, all in the same week. It was karma's way of making sure that I knew that the calendar had finally made it to mid July.

A lot of you probably like the concerts at the Pacific Amphitheater,  yes they do have Earth, Wind and Fire, UB40, and the B52's coming up during this years run of the fair. Others of you might like the exhibits, which are spread throughout the six exhibit halls on the grounds of the fairgrounds. You might be into all the animals that are here too. I've heard the wallabies are one of the highlights, but for me, the thing that brings me back to the OC Fair every year is the food.

I'm sure this is not shocking to anyone, as this is a restaurant blog, and when you mention that you have been to the fair, the first question someones asks is, "What did you eat?" I'm always amazed at seeing what these talented vendors come up with. Every year I think they would have run out of ideas, but the next year they show up and top themselves once again. We were recently invited to sample some of their newest creations, and of course some of their classic items as well. This is one of the food events that I get really excited for, so let's see what's new at the OC Fair this year.

The food media at this event were exchanging stories about the best items they have ever had at the OC Fair, and Tasti Burger's Chili Relleno Cheeseburger kept coming up as the best thing they have eaten here. Well, Tasti Burgers & Tasti Chips have two new burgers added to their already impressive lineup this year. The Bacon Cheddar Brat Burger is great for people that can't make up their mind as to whether to have a bratwurst or a burger. Why not have both? This burger has a burger patty, which is topped with a bacon and cheddar bratwurst, bacon, sliced cheese, Sriracha bourbon sauce, lettuce, tomato, and a chipotle sauce. This was a very solid burger, with a myriad of favors, each coming through at different spot. This is the burger to beat at the OC Fair this year. The All American Reuben Burger was right on its heels, with its eight ounce beef patty, corned beef, Swiss cheese, lettuce, and two deep fried pickles. This was a good representation of a Reuben, with the fried pickle acting as the kraut on this. It's always a good idea to pair their burgers with their Tasti Chips as well. There are now three varieties to choose from, Classic, Parmesan Garlic, or Cheddar Jalapeno. Tasti Chips are always served hot and crisp, and there's always a line, but well worth the wait.

Chicken Charlie is like the mad scientist of the fair circuit, and this year was no exception. Chicken Charlie probably had my favorite savory item I had on this afternoon, the Bacon Wrapped Chicken Leg. This very manageable chicken leg was easy to handle, had crisp bacon on the outside, and featured some of the most tender and flavorful chicken inside. Really a well done food item. The Chicken and Waffle On A Stick kind of missed the mark for me. Even though it's easy to eat, when it was picked up, the syrup runs down all over your hand. No problems with this flavor wise though. Now things get a little weird. Chicken Charlie gets a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, adds a cheese sauce, then has two versions for you to choose from. The Surf and Turf comes with lobster and steak, while the Black Tide version comes with escargot and caviar. Yes, you read that right, caviar and escargot. I tried both, and felt the surf and turf version was the better of the two, but both were pretty salty. Definitely something you might want to try, just to say you did it.

It's really a shame that I have never made it to Pink's in LA, because I always enjoy their hot dogs at the OC Fair. This year they are premiering two new hot dogs to the crowds at the fair, the first of which is the Lord of the Rings Dog. This simple hot dog comes with some the crispiest onion rings I have had, along with a tangy barbecue sauce. This simply prepared item allowed the high quality hot dog to shine, and I loved the snap of the dog when I bit into it. Heat seekers will want to try out the Daenerys Mother of Doggies. This Game of Thrones inspired hot dog packs some real heat, which is probably why it is named after the mother of the dragons. On this one they use a spicy Polish Dog, then top it with sour cream, kraut, onion, spicy alfalfa sprouts, and drops of Sriracha. This will definitely have you breathing fire like a dragon after consuming this one.

Bacon-A-Fair is definitely a booth that you want to hit up, at least if these two offerings are any indication. The Pepsi Cola Donut Dog is one of the most unusual hot dogs I have ever had. It starts with two glazed donuts used for a bun, then the hot dog, which is marinated in Pepsi, is then joined by peppers and onions, and topped with a Pepsi reduction sauce. It's also served in a half hollowed out Pepsi cup, so your fingers do not get all sticky. I liked the contrasting savory and sweet, yin and yang thing going on here. Neither side really won out, so a balanced taste to this hot dog was achieved. The French Toast Bacon Bombs were another of my favorite items on this afternoon. Little balls of dough are filled with some frozen cream cheese, then wrapped in bacon, fried to a dark brown, and served with whipped cream and maple syrup. These were pretty addicting. I was afraid the cream cheese was going to overpower, but it was subtle. An ultimate brunch item that I hope catches on around at other restaurants.

You either love pickles or you don't. I'd rather not have them, but for the pickle lovers out there, you have to head to Pickle O' Pete's. This will be your Pickle Nirvana, Fried pickles are so yesterday, now it's all about Pickle Fries. Even I kind of liked this version of a fried pickle. The crispy breading and ranch dressing helped me drown out the sometimes overbearing pickle flavor. I did not dare eat the Pickled Cheese on a Stick though. They hollow out a pickle and then stuff it with cream cheese, batter it with a corn batter and fry it. My friend Tom loved this, but I was too chicken to give it a try.

Biggy's is an OC Fair mainstay, and if you love pork, you will be hard pressed not to visit this iconic booth. Pork mania starts with the Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly Dog. A slab of pork belly is impaled with a skewer and then wrapped in more than enough bacon to to cover the whole thing at least two times. This is some hot pork on pork action, and because this is a manageable size, it does not over power like the time I ate a one pound, one hundred percent bacon burger. If the bacon wrapped pork belly seems a little too much for you, then you might want to try the Pork Belly Corn Dog. This eliminates one layer of pork for those who are trying to watch their pork intake.  Even with the one less layer of pork, this was delicious and rich.

My favorite sweet item of the afternoon were these Fried Butter Balls from Fair Fix & Fried A Fair. These racquetball sized orbs of dough came with more than enough butter inside of them, but were not too way over the top. Kind of like a pancake ball when dipped into the provided maple syrup. These can become dangerous when I'm around, because I wouldn't be able to stop inhaling them. A must try at the OC Fair.

There's nothing like a giant sized donut to get food media to audibly gasp when gazing upon its magnificence. This was the case when the S'moreo Texas Donut from Texas Donuts was introduced to us. This glazed bad boy was loaded with marshmallow creme, chocolate sauce, graham cracker and Oreo crumbs. It definitely had the feel of S'more's, without the campfire smell that permeates your clothes after a long night at a bonfire.

When I was driving home after leaving the OC Fair, I was still struck by the way that these vendors come up with new items every single year, and they get more outrageous as the years pass. I was even more struck by the fact that this is some pretty high quality food made in fast time to feed hungry fair goers. I'm definitely not going to try to dupe you all into thinking this is healthy food, but it's the OC Fair after all, and it only comes around once a year, so some debauchery is definitely permitted, and in my case maybe a couple more times during the run of the fair.

The OC Fair runs through August 14th, and they go dark on Mondays and Tuesdays. Fore more information about tickets, concerts, and all other things fair related, head to their very well done website here:

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