Monday, August 24, 2009

The World's Biggest Feed Bag -- L.A. County Fair

Wed-Sun Through Oct. 4
1101 W. McKinley Ave.,
Pomona, CA 91768
(909) 623-3111

Apparently people are beginning to wonder if I still blog about food. I do. The late spring and early summer were totally taken over by producing and narrating the audiobook of my novel, My Name Is Will, and taking on a bit of work with my old friend Stitch, the little blue alien dude. Apologies to those who have gone hungry since my last post in April!

I hope to make up for it spades. Read this, and you will be primed to eat more in one day than you have all summer. Because that's what you're supposed to do when you go to the Los Angeles County Fair.

I freakin' love the County Fair. What's not to love? The crowds, okay. Aside from the crowds, what's not to love? The heat, sure. The traffic going in, yeah. And the parking, fine. Aside from the crowds, the heat, the traffic, and the parking, what's not to love? There's entertainment galore, hot tub sales, real trains to climb around on, livestock to marvel at, pig races, dogs jumping into pools, ferris wheels, miniature trains, the wine and beer pavilion, and most joyous of all, a racetrack where you can wager on the ponies if that's your perversion (it is mine!), all for your 17 dollar entry fee. (Sa and I got season passes for this year: 25 bucks.)

But for me, it's all about the food. I have been looking, on Chowhound and elsewhere, for a one-stop set of recommendations to "what to eat at the LA County Fair," and haven't found it. So this year I decided to compile my own, based on recommendations and research from all over the food blogosphere, and a couple of days of my own research on the Fair's final weekend last year and opening weekend this year. I'm including exterior shots of all the mentioned vendors so you can recognize 'em when you stumble upon them.

Of course the County Fair is notorious primarily for various deep fried foods-on-a-stick. You can, it's true, have Deep fried Snickers Bars, Deep Fried Coca-Cola (to answer everyone's question of "How...?", it's frozen solid, then battered and fried), Deep Fried Oreos, Deep-fried Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwiches, or god knows what else Chicken Charlie's will come up with as a specialty item this year. And sure, you can get a pork chop on a stick.

Take my advice: don't waste stomach space on that crap. It's as awful as it sounds. Instead, try some of this.

If you're there early, and of a sweets-for-breakfast mindset, head straight to Old West Cinnamon Buns outside the Jurassic Planet exhibit hall. The bun served here, I guarantee, is the best you've ever had. Hot, sinfully buttery, cinnamony, not too sweet, and melt-in-the-mouth soft with just enough of a bake on the outside to remind you it's there. Order dry, without frosting, which would be truly gilding the lily.

Midmorning snack, or second breakfast if you're a hobbit: a bit of roasted corn on the cob. This stuff is everywhere, all over the fair, and is pretty much the same everywhere. We ate ours here, just east of the Clocktower.

Fire-roasted on the grill, husks pulled back but still attached, a few kernels slightly charred, tender and juicy and sweet inside. Most purveyors have a varied selection of condiments. I use 'em all. Why have corn with butter and salt when you can have it with butter, salt, pepper, lime juice, garlic powder, chili powder, and seasoned salt? It's delicious, California-grown, and healthy for your colon -- you're gonna need that.

It wouldn't be a trip to the Fair without two things: visiting the animals and eating BBQ. I recommend doing them in succession. There's nothing like sharing a moment or two with some cute, snoozing pigs to ratchet up your appetite for pork.

I'm not that great an authority on BBQ. I generally find it to be either too dry or too gloopy (yes, "gloopy"), too sweet even when it has a spicy kick, and generally a killer to the subtle flavor of the meat. Last year people I was with raved about the pulled pork (or sliced pork) sandwiches to be had from the stand that proudly trumpets "Pork Butts!"

Personally, I wish the bun were of more interest, and the pork required too much added gloopy sauce to make it interesting.

This year, I went with the suggestion of a post in the helpful Fair thread on Chowhound, recommending this Texas style BBQ spot conveniently located near the entrance to the big animal barn at the Blue Gate.

Sa's pork ribs were tasty and had a nice dry-on-the-outside, tender-on-the inside-texture.

My Beef Brisket Dinner Plate at 12.95 was pretty awesome. I rarely eat all of an order at the Fair, preferring to share and split to make room for more tastes later on. But I made "all gone" with this stuff.

Flavorful, the sauce tangy and not too sweet, and the meat cooked to falling-apart perfection. Slaw, good; Corn bread, eh; beans, canned and bland. Although they do sell a brisket sandwich, $7.95, I wish they sold the sliced brisket a la carte, as they do the ribs.

Instead of the bland beans as a side order, I suggest sending someone to find an order of Tasti-Chips, available in various locations.

These are amazing: freshly sliced potato chips cooked to order. They're like no potato chip you've ever had, and no two alike. They range from light and crispy to chewy and savory, like a basket of fresh-baked cookies that have come out of the oven at slightly different, but recent, times. Douse with salt, coarse ground black pepper, maybe some malt vinegar, and consume. Arguably the best single dish at the Fair.

If chips aren't your style, and you want something a little heftier, you could opt for fried artichoke hearts, or better, some fried sweet potatoes from around the corner.

And if you're the type who likes to have dessert after lunch, just down the road in the Fair View Farms area, is Dr. Bob's Ice Cream.

This stuff is usually delicious, the perfect antidote to a hot day.

But I'm officially warning you off their sorbets. My friend had one on Sunday, and, well-- I'm pretty sure this glutenous strap-like stuff is not the consistency they were shooting for.

By this time, you've probably laid down a good base and couldn't eat another bite for awhile. Time to head to the wine pavilion, where you can sample one or several of the (hundred or so) gold medal winning wines from the wine and spirits competition. $11 gets you a tasting of five wines of your choice, and it's a great opportunity to try wines from locales and countries that you might not otherwise. My favorite this year was an '05 Adelaida (Central Coast) Syrah, rich with intense berry flavors and a chewy mouth feel. After ordering a glass of Bordeaux (a dozen or so wind=es are available for reasonable prices by the glass) and sitting out on the wine pavilion's verandah and watching bungee jumpers for a bit, I was ready for a snack.

My favorite, available at any of the supposedly "Thai" food vendors, is this New York style eggroll, with a thick, chewy wonton skin, and a simple cabbage and carrot filling, and a delightfully old skool sweet and sour dipping sauce. And don't forget to eat those innocent looking cucumbers with your roll... they're spicy and delicious.

Really, that egg roll just warmed up my appetite, kinda got me ready for -- well, another egg roll. But THEN I was ready for the big guns. I was tempted to visit one of the Pink's outlets -- an opportunity to get a Pink's dog without waiting in line for a freekin' hour! But instead I opted for King Taco, the truly great chain distant East LA -- a great opportunity to get me some. There's one in Park Square, right around the corner from the Grandstand, and another at the Yellow Gate entrance. Maybe more besides.

Tacos ordered: two asada, two al pastor, and one chicken. At $1.49 each, and washed down with an horchata from the stand or a Dos Equis from nearby, there's no better way to end the day. The carne asada is a 9 out of 10, with a light char on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. The al pastor is, perhaps, a little dryer than some might like it, but right in my wheelhouse of toothsomeness. Pardon the messy plate; it was late, and I failed to dress the set.

One warning: that red salsa that come "with everything" is wickedly spicy. L.A. Food Crazy loves it, but then, he's, you know, crazy! Saner foodies might wish to order it on the side.

Finally, the chicken, the best of the three, a wonderment, pieces of tender, stewed chicken with juicy onions and mild chiles and cilantro in a green sauce. If you haven't had a memorable chicken taco in a long time (I hadn't) this one will remind you what the bird is all about.

Next time, I shall surely have a torta if I have room; it comes with sour cream, lettuce, onion, and guacamole (which I've never had at the King).

Oh, and if you have room for another dessert after all this, three words: "hot gingerbread." Okay five words, with whipped cream. From the Gingerbread House right around the corner from the Grandstand on Birch, and across from King Taco. You can't miss it.

I'll go back next week and bring back some more ideas and updates. Recommendations, most welcome!

I wonder if my Fair Season Pass comes with a free rental of one of those I'm-Too-Fat-To-Walk motorized cart jobbies?