We’re doing things a little different this year. Normally, I grab a bottle of Tums and head out to the San Diego Fair to try some of the wackiest new foods coming to the OC Fair.
With the fair kicking off Friday, July 14, the Food Team thought it would be a nice change of pace for me to experience my gluttonous eating marathon the same as you. My plan is to spread out my meals over the fair’s opening weekend. (Follow me @fastfoodmaven on Twitter and Instagram). My stomach is already thanking me as it is common for me to sample up to 20 items in one day in San Diego.
I won’t enter the fair blindly. I’ve done my research to figure out what looks crazy and crave-worthy.
For 2017, a theme appears to be emerging: unicorn food.
Yep, there are at least four unicorn-themed concoctions. I hope to try them all. They include a Unicorn Pineapple Bomb, a Unicorn Nitro Pop, a Unicorn Freeze and a Unicorn Leg. The latter is a 5-pound custom butchered pig leg smoked for 10 hours then grilled.
“It’s definitely the biggest meat product on the fairgrounds. We’ll probably go through 10,000 of them,” fair vendor Mike Peterson said of his magical pig’s leg.
Why call it a Unicorn when it looks more like a turkey leg wrapped in bacon?
When Peterson came up with the idea to serve a roasted pig’s leg at his Bacon-A-Fair booth, he found it difficult to find a butcher. It turns out, front pig legs are uncommon cuts of meat. “Suppliers basically said that it doesn’t exist. So we joked it was a unicorn. It was elusive. It’s magical because you can’t find it anywhere,” said Peterson, who eventually found a California supplier willing to work with him.
Peterson, who I’ve nicknamed the Flavor Bomb King of the Fair, is offering a few other tasty sounding showstoppers: bacon-wrapped Brussels sprouts, bacon-wrapped pineapple
on a stick and bacon-wrapped asparagus. The latter has been one of the most popular sellers in San Diego as Peterson has been promoting the fruit and veggies as a “farm to grill” menu.
In Orange County, he expects the produce items to be popular, as well. However, the Unicorn Leg is geared for our appetite. “There are more carnivores in Orange County. They want big over the top items,” said Peterson.
“There are more carnivores in Orange County. They want big over the top items,” Peterson said.
Because we like meat, Peterson created two last minute items exclusively for our fairgoers: bacon-encrusted corn and bacon back ribs. The corn on the cob is dipped in butter and rolled in “fried bacon chunks,” Peterson said. The St. Louis ribs are tossed in barbecue sauce, crisped over an open flame then rolled in chunks of bacon.
We know where my first fair stop will be.
Food I Can’t Wait to Try
I’ve received a list of some 30 new items expected to make their debut at the OC Fair. Besides the new pork-centric items at Bacon A-Fair, I’m also drawn to several others.
The foods I most want to taste include fried octopus on a stick at Pignotti’s Pasta, a corn dog served with spicy buffalo sauce with blue cheese dressing, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos corn on the cob at The Corn Shack, a new flavor (spicy chipotle sauce) at the Australian Battered Potatoes booth and liquid nitrogen kettle corn at RCS Cowboy Kettle Corn stand.
I recall tasting a version of the frozen kettle corn last year at The Concessionaire’s Cup, an annual bragging rights contest that pits OC Fair vendors against each other. Last year I was a judge, and the item was called Freeze Pop. The innovative treat is flavored kettle corn frozen using liquid nitrogen. This year, it looks like the chilled item is nearly the same but with a twist in flavors.
Cowboy Kettle is playing a lot with liquid nitrogen this year. The booth is also selling an intriguing item called a Nitro Whip. Yes, dollops of whipped cream are frozen using liquid nitrogen. The cup is rimmed with colorful Lucky Charms marshmallows. Then, there’s the Unicorn Nitro Pop. This showstopper is a clear cup filled with nitrogen popcorn, then topped with cotton candy spun with a special machine designed to fill the cup. It is then topped with cereal marshmallows and a horn-shaped lollipop.
“It is magical, whimsical and beautiful,” fair vendor Dominic Palmieri, who operates a string of food stands at the fair including Cowboy Kettle Corn and Biggy’s Meat Market.
I’m also looking forward to checking out new fair food stand, Eddie’s Asian-Inspired Cuisine. The booth is selling classic Chinese dishes such as Kung Pao Chicken and chow mein.
Foods That Scare Me
There are always a few gimmicky fair items that give me pause whenever I try them. Caviar-topped Twinkies, deep-fried dill pickles stuffed with peanut butter and Fireball whiskey doughnuts come to mind.
This year is no exception.
I’m most frightened of the Maui Cowboy Ghost Pepper Cheeseburger. That’s surprising because I normally can’t wait to try foods from Tasti Burger, a concession stand known for its flavorful — and massive — burgers. One of the most memorable was the Chili Relleno Pretzel Cheeseburger, a two-time champ of the Concessionaire’s Cup. But I’m not sure I can handle a burger infused with one of the hottest peppers in the world. (Ghost peppers are 107 to 417 times hotter than a jalapeno.)
For fear of ruining my palate, I might pass on this one or save it for my last bite.
Another stomach-turning item, the Krispy Kreme ice cream chicken sandwich, comes from the venerable Charlie Boghosian. Nicknamed “Chicken Charlie,” the legendary fair vendor is known for creating outlandish food combinations. In fact, Charlie is so well known, I found his face sketched on a restaurant wall while vacationing a few weeks ago in Ithaca, New York. The restaurant, near Cornell University, was called (I kid you not) Luna Inspired Street Food.
Naturally, I was attracted to a sign with my surname. We walked in, looked at the menu and realized the concept sold copycat versions of famous street foods from around the nation. A version of Chicken Charlie’s deep-fried cookie dough was on the menu; a cartoon version of his image was sketched on the wall, along with other famous chefs such as Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ.
But I digress. Each year, Boghosian never disappoints when it comes to debuting wacky fair foods. He’s created a Krispy Kreme burger in the past. With fried chicken so popular these days, it makes sense for him to toss breaded chicken inside two glazed doughnuts. But that’s way too simple. Chicken Charlie raises the buzz factor by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the sandwich and sprinkling Fruity Pebbles on top of the doughnut.
I have to wonder how you can finish this sandwich without melted ice cream splattered all over your face and clothes.
Chicken Charlie is also serving fried peanut butter meatballs. I’m not a peanut butter fan, so the thought of this repulses me.
But my taste buds are different than yours. So I’d love to get your feedback this year on OC Fair foods — both new and classics.
Let me know by tagging me on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven. I’ll post your fair food photos and comments on my next OC Fair food story.
More OC Fair info: The fair runs July 14-Aug. 13. On opening day, the fair will offer free admission and parking from noon-3 p.m. CLICK HERE for more details on parking, admission and events.