Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fair Factor

Posted By on Sat, Aug 22, 2015 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Majestic food stall flags in the wind. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Majestic food stall flags in the wind.

You can smell the fryers from the parking lot as you stumble through the lumpy pasture toward the whirring rides and tinny pop music playing on the other side of the turnstiles. Once inside the Humboldt County Fair, the maze of traveling food stands and the barrage of signs for jumbo and beer battered everything can overwhelm. How do you best use the limited real estate in your belly and will you be able to keep it down if you hop on the Tilt-a-Whirl? 

click to enlarge John Williams gave his chicken and fries a thumbs up. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • John Williams gave his chicken and fries a thumbs up.
Here are some of the heaviest hitters scored 1-5 for three criteria: fair factor, or how on-theme the food is; value, the cost vs. satisfaction and/or bragging rights, keeping in mind that most prices are slightly inflated at these things; and fair tummy, the gentlest way to describe how much this treat is going to hurt you, especially on the Gravitron.

click to enlarge Sausage and peppers on a roll. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Sausage and peppers on a roll.
Banger on a roll with onions and peppers, $8

Available at a stand that also advertises "Kurly Fries," the hefty pork sausage is snappy and peppery, and the bun is soft, though nothing special. It's a solid actual food item on the off chance you are truly hungry and not just driven by midway hedonism. Sausage and peppers still has that classic street food cachet without a crippling amount of grease.
Fair factor: 4
Value: 4
Fair tummy: 3

click to enlarge Lamb from the Lions. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Lamb from the Lions.
Lamb burger, $7

The Ferndale Lions are selling lamb — there's a joke in there somewhere. In any case, they're keeping it rural by parking their yellow truck right by the livestock barns and offering locally raised lamb patties a bun's throw from the wool stand. Follow the grill cook's suggestion and just add salt, pepper and a deep red slice of tomato. It's juicy and not too gamey, plus the 4-H atmosphere ups its fair factor. Shucks, it's downright wholesome.
Fair factor: 4
Value: 4
Fair tummy: 2

click to enlarge Dairy Princess Sarah Richardson scoops away. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Dairy Princess Sarah Richardson scoops away.
Humboldt Creamery ice cream, free

Dairy princess Sarah Richardson is in her crown and sash scooping four flavors of the local ice cream every day of the fair. If there's something more county fair than that, let us know. The crown is very sparkly, and she and the other servers are handing out little paper cups to fairgoers at no charge, blithely pretending not to notice the same faces returning for multiple cups. The scoop is modest, so if you get back in line and make yourself ill with five servings, that's on you.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 5
Fair tummy: 2

click to enlarge A gator you can wrestle. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • A gator you can wrestle.
Alligator tail nuggets, $9 

Is it really alligator? Go ahead and ask to see the frozen packages of meat. The eight surprisingly tender bits of white meat are fried in a highly salty, spicy batter and served with — what else? — chipotle mayo. And just as you suspected, it kind of tastes like chicken. How can something that can drag you into a death roll taste the same as a chicken? In any case, this is one of those only-at-the-fair things and some of its cost is justified by checking an item off your bucket list. And didn't you just pay $1 to see the giant alligator in that trailer? Just go easy if you're going on any rides more jostling than the carousel.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 4
Fair tummy: 5

click to enlarge Marionberry cobbler for sweet-tooths. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Marionberry cobbler for sweet-tooths.
Marionberry cobbler, $6

While a berry pie or cobbler carries serious fair creed, this one looks better than it is. The filling is tooth-achingly sweet and the dough is heavy and bready. It's a generous portion, to be sure, but only the most committed jam freaks will be able to finish it, and they will pay for it in the end.
Fair factor: 3
Value: 2
Fair tummy: 5

click to enlarge Fried pickles. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Fried pickles.
Fried pickles, $6 

If nothing else, it's truth in advertising. And if you're not ready to commit to a massive pile of pickles, you can talk the guy at the counter into selling you a half order for $3. The pickles are hot and crispy, salty and sour, but maybe too much so. The batter is a little hard and seriously greasy. Those who want even more vinegar, salt and spice can give the "awesome sauce" bottle a squeeze. If nobody in your party is CPR certified, you may want to keep moving.
Fair factor: 4
Value: 3
Fair tummy: 5

click to enlarge Behold: funnel cake. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Behold: funnel cake.
Funnel cake with powdered sugar, $6

All hail the ultimate fair food. It's at once down-home and bizarre, like a frizzled coral reef of deep-fried batter. The first few bites are spent marveling at the crisp lightness of it as you pick at the edges. Next thing you know, you're gasping for air with a face full of powdered sugar resembling Al Pacino in Scarface. But we both know you're going to get one anyway.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 4
Fair tummy:5

click to enlarge Deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick.
Deep fried Snickers bar, $4

Dear God in heaven. All is lost. You might think this will be like those fried Oreos you tried at BarFly. Instead, it's like being struck square in the chest with a deep-fried sledge hammer that's been dipped in chocolate, peanuts and caramel, and then having someone drizzle chocolate syrup over your broken body. Is it worth $4? Maybe for the bragging rights or if you're planning on a Leaving Las Vegas-style exit via insulin shock. And make no mistake, if you get on a ride, you will regret it. Just listening to them rattling and shaking in the background might do it.
Fair factor: 5
Value: 2
Fair tummy: 5

click to enlarge Fried peaches count as health food at the fair. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Fried peaches count as health food at the fair.
Fried peaches, $6

The same stand that sells the Snickers bar will fry you up two canned peach halves in batter topped with soft-serve ice cream and whipped cream. The sprinkle of cinnamon sugar is gilding the lily a bit, but it's the fair, after all. And after the Snickers bar, this is practically a salad. It's not half bad and the generous portion doesn't make you want to go into the light, but give it another 30 minutes before you risk the Pharo's Fury. That thing goes faster than it looks. 
Fair factor: 4
Value: 5
Tummy: 4

In fact, follow the 30-minute rule for everything, including the bumpy ride out of the parking lot. 



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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal.

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