Tuesday, July 5, 2011

TBG Eats: The 2011 San Diego Fair

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing V

Current Weight: 166.0 lbs.

2007 -- Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich, Garlic Fries, Funnel Cake, Foot-long Hot Dog, Fried Twinkie, Fried Rattlesnake.

2008 -- Deep-Fried White Castle Slider, 14-inch Corn Dog, Fried Oreos, Street Tacos, Frog Legs.

2009 -- Oatmeal Cookie Chicken Sandwich, Fried Catfish, Chocolate-Covered Bacon, Fried Macaroni and Cheese, "Zucchini Weeni".

2010 -- Deep-Fried Pop Tart, Hash Brown Fry Dog, Buffalo Chicken Indian Fry Bread, Deep-Fried Klondike Bar, Chocolate-Dipped Pickle, Deep-Fried Butter.

My family's annual visit to the San Diego Fair was a bit of a grind this year.

From 11:00 AM until 1:00 PM, I was on and off my Blackberry with work, putting the finishing touches on a pair of proposals. My smug self-satisfaction at a job well done was immediately muted by the hot summer sun. Just after 1:00 PM, the last patches of coastal marine layer dissipated as the temperature climbed into the mid-80s. (And, yes...I know it's hotter where YOU live.) The back of my neck was so badly sunburned that now -- several days (and layers of skin) later -- it
resembles this.

We received a bit of a boost in the mid-afternoon. First, my wife spotted former Major League outfielder
David Justice and called it to my attention. She's seen him several times in our neighborhood -- shopping with his wife at Target or walking his daughters to school -- but, in Mrs. Bootleg's words, Justice always seems "unapproachable". I'd argue he's not even the most threatening guy with a "Justice" surname, but then again my wife probably has no idea who this guy is.

Later, we met up with some friends and their two adorable daughters -- who provided a much-needed lift in the legs of my son Jalen. They actually dragged him onto a roller coaster despite Jalen's inappropriately loud "roller coasters make my penis feel funny!" protestations. This is the fifth consecutive year I've written a San Diego Fair food review. Many thanks to my wife and son for filling in all the gaps among the empty calories.

Deep-Fried Pigs in a Blanket -- I've been riding a bit of a winning streak with my opening meal. The deep-fried White Castle Slider (2008), oatmeal cookie chicken sandwich (2009) and deep-fried Pop-Tart (2010) each assumed breakfast responsibilities and each ended up earning my highest grade of the day. I targeted the deep-fried pigs in a blanket* for my culinary
curtain-jerker not long after reading this description on the San Diego Fair's website:

Thick-cut bacon, dipped in pancake batter, then deep fried and served covered in butter and syrup.

This is essentially 80% of the recipe for my
most beloved restaurant breakfast on earth. We're four-fifths of the way from a perfect score before I place my order! And, then...disappointment. There was an odd, occasionally unpleasant flavor from the pancake batter. It left a mildly sour aftertaste, hinting that buttermilk was a key ingredient. The bacon was fine (and appropriately fatty), while the syrup was thinner in consistency and not as sickly-sweet as I prefer.

As Mrs. Bootleg can attest, I was almost inconsolable after this let-down. Grade: 1.5 (out of 5)

* -- Grammatically speaking, I have a few pet peeves. Superfluous apostrophes and "I could care less" probably lead the pack. Let's hope that "singular vs. plural" doesn't start making my list, as ONE strip of bacon on a stick is not "PIGS in a blanket", people.

Deep-Fried Kool-Aid -- Across the country, as fair season approached, this item seemed to be getting the most mainstream media attention. I'm not sure why since deep-fried Coca-Cola has been a state fair staple in recent years -- and has presumably satisfied America's fried beverage fix. I originally intended to avoid this one. Most of the deep-fried sugary treats I've sampled at the fair (Oreos, Twinkies, Klondike Bar) have been unexceptionally indistinguishable from their un-fried original forms -- like superheroes who don't appear to have a
secret identity. Deep-fried Kool-Aid actually works, though.

The ubiquitous red drink mix is blended with batter, fried into five hush puppy-like nuggets and dusted with powdered sugar. The end result is heavy in texture, but nicely mild in sweetness. The powdered sugar gives a nice lift, but a drizzling of strawberry jam would've been a terrific accompaniment. Grade: 3

Pink's "Rosie O'Donnell" Hot Dog -- Pink's Hot Dogs is proud of the fact that they've been in business for more than 70 years and still operate from the same Los Angeles location. (Also more than 70 years old: the
template of their website.) I first heard of Pink's back in the mid-1980s when Nickelodeon's short-lived children's program Out of Control aired a feature on "the world's best hot dog". But, despite living in Southern California all my life, I've never been to Pink's. So nice of Pink's, then, to come to me.

The "Rosie O'Donnell" is topped with chili, sauerkraut, onions and mustard. The first bite "snap" from the hot dog's casing was
worthy of an All-Pro endorsement. The toppings were an inoffensive mix of lightly salted and lightly spiced. This was a solid little lunch. Grade: 3

Baby Ruth-filled Jalapeños -- I am not ashamed to admit that I printed out -- and walked around with -- a map of the fairgrounds with individual identifiers for the more than 100 different food stands. I am also not ashamed to admit that I panicked when I discovered the one menu item/location missing from my map was the Baby Ruth-filled Jalapeños stand. I don't know what the world did before smartphones (openly violate Miller Lite's
man laws and ask an attendant for directions, I suppose...) but, after a quick Google search, I was standing at the fair's "Mexican Funnel Cake Stand" placing my order.

This might've been the most aesthetically pleasing fair food I've ever eaten. Two large jalapeño peppers -- cored, seeded, sliced open and grilled -- with two-inch pieces of Baby Ruth candy on top and served on a warm bed of churros. I made the mistake of eating the first one immediately as the flavors hadn't yet had a chance to meld. I let the second one cool down which allowed the chocolate and nougat to soften into an edible velvet. The smoky and spicy and sweet notes were almost equally balanced, creating a savory -- albeit, dense -- delight. Grade: 4

Maple Bacon Donut -- This wasn't even on my radar until the day before we went to the fair. One of my co-workers casually clued me in and thought the maple bacon donut would be something I'd like. Years earlier, during an episode of Man vs. Food, I first learned about the
maple bacon bar served at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. The maple and bacon donut combination seems like a deliciously obvious fit, but here in San Diego, the donut shops are predictable and unimaginative. Those two adjectives don't apply to the enormous donut -- served with a knife and fork on a full-size paper plate -- that soon sat in my lap.

The donut held a light crispness on the outside and a perfectly pillowy yeastiness on the inside. Somehow, the donut's integrity remained intact despite the suffocating load of maple spread. Just the amount that pooled on my plate could've covered a pair of regular maple bars. The overwhelming sweetness of the glaze was almost too much, until the bacon was factored in. Every centimeter of this dessert was covered with coarsely chopped bacon. The bacon's contrast in both saltiness and texture with the soft sugary spread allowed the decadent flavors from each bite to linger for several extra seconds. Finally...fair food worthy of my obligatory grading hyperbole. Grade: 500

Meatball Sliders -- As we made our way towards the exit, I convinced Mrs. Bootleg to wait out one more meal. I'd wanted these last year, but couldn't find the food stand. Unfortunately for me, Jalen homed in on two of his favorite things: meatballs and marinara sauce. Here's a
quick video that accurately depicts how territorial my son is with his favorite foods. So, we split the sliders. The meatballs were small, but flavorful. Seasoned well and made with finely chopped green peppers and onions. The sauce was fine, too. A hint of sweet with a good tomato flavor. My favorite part was the bun -- miniature slices of garlic bread that brought everything together. Judging by the speed with which my son crushed his slider, I'm confident that this annual TBG feature will be in his capable hands, one day.

In fact, I've already lined up a sponsorship for him.

Since the "King of Beers" is already advertising on the back of kids' go-karts at the fair...


mathan said...

It hurt my stomach just to read what you ate.

That said, I do love your annual trip to the SD Fair. I just hope that your insurance company doesn't read your blog.

SHough610 said...

Damn you, Cam! I'm trying to lose weight again and the deep-fried kool aid, baby ruth-filled jalapenos, maple bacon donut, and meatball sliders made me hungry.

This is one of my favorite lightly-read blog staples and once again you killed it. Though i might have captioned the last picture, "beer and driving, what could go wrong?!"

Lew B said...

the jalepeno/ baby ruth now makes me bummed that I missed the fair this year

CrazyCanuck said...

Thanks to Jalen, I will never be able to look at a roller coaster the same again.

Once again, my favourite write-up of the year (at least amongst those I know are coming).

that mexican guy said...

I'll echo everyone else and say that the SD Fair post is my favorite TBG feature -- other than anything Jalen-related.

(1) The Budweiser-sponsored kid ride is awesome. Also: does it say "HOOKER" on everyone's license plate? I can't make it out entirely (and I'm sure it's some harmless brand) but that would make that pic 100x better.

(2) I'll be kicking myself for the next 365 for missing out on the maple bacon donut. No clue it was there.

(3) HATED the pigs in a blanket. I couldn't get that sour milk taste out of my mouth for awhile.

(4) Jalen is absolutely right about roller coasters. I didn't ride one for the first time until I was 18. Freaked. Me. Out.

(5) Finally, a "Blankman" reference. Now you can die in peace.

Elena said...

The maple-bacon doughnut looks and sounds like the apex of human civilization to date. Want. Want *now*.

Aaron C. said...

@Elena -- The best part is that California doesn't have those pesky "disclose all calories" regulations like in New York. The twinge of remorse I might've felt if I knew how many calories were in the maple bacon donut might've dropped my grade from 500 to 499.

@Mex -- The Fair doesn't disappear, it just moves up the I-5 to Orange County and LA. Maple bacon bliss is just just a 90 minute drive from Stately Mex Manor, yo.

@Canuck -- Jalen HATES roller coasters and he's made the same loud "penis" declaration in theme parks all over Southern California. I'd like to see how his act would play on the road.

SHough610 said...

Jalen is the voice of his generation

CrazyCanuck said...

"Jalen is the voice of his generation"

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have an epiphany!

Anonymous said...

I didnt know how lucky I was to be able to get maple bacon donuts at my local donut shop. I will definetley be even more grateful for them next time I stop by!