Smack dab in the middle of the San Fernando mountains sits the Los Angeles County Fair — about thirty minutes east of downtown Los Angeles located in the city of Pomona California at Fairplex Park.
On the day I visited the weather was perfect, not too hot (thank god) with the temperature hovering in the upper 70’s. In either direction the skyline was painted with huge mounds of ominous looking low hanging clouds.
The setting created a picturesque backdrop — occasionally I managed to catch a glimpse of a strike of lighting especially at dusk — and yet the fair grounds remained relatively sunny my entire visit.
The LA fair was the first I’ve attended in ten years of living in Los Angeles and only the second fair I’ve experienced since childhood. So my recent experience was like reconnecting with a lost part of my childhood. As a kid I would have immediately ran straight for the cotton candy – I mean it is considered to be the “signature fair food” after all. But now that I’m all “grown up” I felt it important to accomplish two things straight away.
Eat something substantial and get the lay of the land — in that order. So with the air thickly perfumed with mesquite and grilled meat I felt that a generous helping of barbeque was in order and I found it at Rib Ranch.
Once I approached the counter I was immediately greeted by a real sweet lady by the name of Cathy. I quickly told Cathy that I was spending the day reviewing fair food and I asked for recommendations but — with one stipulation — I wanted try something other than traditional ribs and sausage links so she suggested I try the Ortega Beef sandwich.
The sandwich offers several slices of extremely tender slow cooked smoked beef — reminded me of corned beef actually, served on a soft Kaiser burger bun, topped with Swiss cheese and you guessed it — Ortega chili’s.
You can request the sandwich to be served either ala carte or with several traditional sides (like fries, baked beans or cole slaw, etc.) I opted to try the slaw — unfortunately as much as I enjoy a good cole slaw this one offered very little in the way of flavor. On the other hand –the accompanying barbeque sauce (served by request) was quite pleasant — not overly smoky and kind of sweet.
Again my server Cathy was very helpful as she graciously provided me with the “lay of the land” of the fair grounds and gave me several suggestions on other food items to try.
After my sandwich I felt it important to follow it with something sweet and so with Cathy’s blessing I opted to try the chocolate dipped bacon.
Admittedly I’ve always been quite curious about this seemingly odd combination and its exactly what it sounds like — strips of smokey bacon cooked then cooled, then dipped in dark chocolate where it’s finally refrigerated until the chocolate hardens like a candy bar.
The chocolate was rich and creamy and primarily what you taste, but then you get this back hit of salty meat. I have to admit it feels like it doesn’t belong there, but not in a bad way, just in a very unusual way. Of course if you’re a bacon lover like myself and you love chocolate you’ll probably feel as though you just died and gone to pork heaven with this combination. As for me — I’d prefer an old fashion BLT and a slice of chocolate cake on the side.
Next up belly up to the Sushi Bar!
I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want focus solely on typical fair foods like corn dogs and burgers so when I spotted a stand serving hand rolled sushi I decided today was going to be the day that I step outside of my comfort zone.
Admittedly I am not particularly fond of Sushi but after examining the menu for several moments I realized I was going to have to ease my way into this experience – for me that meant selecting something that wasn’t going to taste too’ fishy’. The counter attendant sensed my trepidation and offered several suggestions before I made my final choice.
I must warn you before I reveal my final choice that for true sushi lovers my selection may be considered tame at best (but be patient with me, I’m getting there)
Ultimately I opted for the “Surf n Turf”a hand roll that consists of fresh crab, slices of avocado and cucumber, green onion, tempura shrimp, Unagi sauce and dynamite sauce (a combination of Sriracha — Thai chili sauce and mayonnaise) all rolled in soy paper (sorry, but I can’t deal with the seaweed) and sticky rice. Finally the whole roll is layered with thinly sliced pieces of steak and adorned with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Admittedly I was quite pleased with my selection. The roll was extremely fresh and quite substantial – just enough so that I didn’t feel stuffed afterward. So if you’re looking to take a break from overindulging in the deep-fried I suggest exploring the variety of fresh food offerings now found at many fairs .
This is the best part: You won’t feel weighted and you’ll probably find that you have room for an extra sweet indulgence or two.
Speaking of sweet indulgences next up on my pick for unusual desserts –Deep Fried Watermelon! This is a very popular invention that’s getting a lot of attention not only at the fair but by the media. The sweet treat was created by Cardinali Pizza.
Imagine walking up to a stand that smells like a cozy wood burning fireplace – that’s because it is, Cardinali Woodfire Pizza cooks all of their pies in a wood-burning oven, actually their pizzas are considered to be some of the best at the fair. Understandably so since they only use the freshest ingredients and all of the pies are cooked to order.
But remember, that’s not the draw. It’s the deep fried watermelon.
When I approached the counter I was immediately greeted by Tammy. She generously gave me the run down on the best way to describe this popular treat – by saying “Imagine a watermelon flavored Jolly Rancher candy collided with a beignet”. Beignets are the traditional donuts New Orleans is known the world over.
Picture it — a generous wedge of watermelon is skewered on a stick, then batter dipped and deep-fried — creating a donut wrapping that encases all the sweet juiciness of the summery fruit. Then while still hot from the fryer the whole thing is lightly dusted with powdered sugar and finally drizzled with a sweet strawberry sauce. No matter how odd it sounds, it’s totally amazing just take my word for it!
I have to admit this was the best thing I ate at the fair and I can totally understand why this decadent treat haa captured the attention of the Food Network as a featured fair food item.
As a matter of fact Tammy agreed to speak with me later about all of the media attention this popular treat is getting in a separate interview (so be on the lookout for that)
Now you know it wouldn’t be a fair if there weren’t beer involved, the two just go hand and hand. So after I filling up on succulent barbeque, chocolate dipped bacon, hand made sushi and deep fried watermelon I felt it was time for a little break (I had to pace myself — you understand)
Beer Lovers: The perfect place to enjoy an adult beverage
If you want to enjoy a tall cold one in a relaxed environment you must check out the Wine Beer Food and Spirits Marketplace in the Home and Garden building. The setting is very grown up — set up as a chic outdoor garden lounge the space is decorated with contemporary chocolate brown wicker chairs and tables overlooking the amusement park portion of the fair grounds.
I truly appreciated the comfort of the space because it offers a nice respite from having to stand in long lines waiting in the hot sun and guzzling your brew.
I first suggest when you venture to the bar that instead of browsing the menu, ask the bartender for his/her recommendations based on your flavor preference.
Before I placed my order my bartender graciously offered me a sample tasting from a variety of imported and domestic beers.
I opted for the Blue Moon Belgian White — considered an artisanal beer — this light citrusy brew is in my opinion the perfect accompaniment for fair foods like grilled meats and veggies like the corn on the cob for example — which you’re able to bring and enjoy in the open air lounge.
Speaking of veggies one item I was eager to try for the first time was an onion blossom – a creative twist on onion rings. An Onion Blossom (sometimes referred to as a blooming onion) is sliced into thin strips then peeled back to create the appearance of a flower.
The only place I found that offered them was Fresh Frys that uses a whole sweet Vidalia onion, slices it, batter dips and deep-fries it until each crispy slice can stand on it’s own. In the center of all this deep fried goodness rests a small serving of ranch dressing. Another popular item on their menu is the Marshy-Yammy – sweet potatoes cut French fry style and deep-fried – of course, but then the fries are covered in marshmallows and melted to gooey, artery clogging goodness.
Admittedly I was beginning to tire of smoked meats and deep fried everything so for my next selection I opted for a taste of New Orleans. The aroma of gumbo captured my attention and I literally had do nothing more than turn around to discover Harold & Belle’s - and their amazing Crawfish Etoufee.
The best way to describe Etoufee (pronounced: [e.tu.fe]) is to say that it resembles and tastes like a seafood chili. With just a hint of spice the rich rue was loaded with crawfish and topped by a heaping mound of fluffy white rice.
Another signature item on the Harold & Belle’s menu is the Louisiana whiskey bread pudding. Loaded with golden raisins and topped with decadent caramel sauce (also made with whiskey) the pudding is finished with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and was the perfect finish to an amazing Cajun meal.
At this point in my fair experience I truly felt I couldn’t possible eat another bite of anything but the taste of Italiano was calling my name and I looked at no further than Colossal Gelato. The popular flavor of choice was Champagne Peach — will immediately remind you of peach schnapps made with real fresh peaches that you can see small bits of skin and pulp right inside the icy treat.
Other great flavors not to be missed is Birthday cake, watermelon and chocolate Cherry brownie batter just to name a few.
Having trouble deciding what flavor to try? Don’t worry, I got you covered because Colossal Gelato is coined as offering the worlds largest waffle cone that can easily accommodate nine scoops!
Yes, you read correctly, 9 scoops of Gelato in one cone!
So if you love Gelato there’s no need to hop a flight to Milano, Colossal Gelato is great choice in the meantime.
My suggestion when you arrive at the fair is pick up a fair guide to orientate yourself and get a lay of the land if you will.
Be willing to explore, ask for recommendations. I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful people were in recommending other items I should try.
Finally, step outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to try something new.