Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TBG Eats: The 2012 San Diego Fair

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing VI

Current Weight: 169.8 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. 

2011 -- Deep-Fried Pigs in a Blanket, Deep-Fried Kool-Aid, Pink's "Rosie O'Donnell" Hot Dog, Baby Ruth-filled Jalapeños, Maple Bacon Donut, Meatball Sliders. 

This year's San Diego Fair food report almost went unfinished. 

For the sixth straight year, my wife, our eight-year-old son and I made the trek from Stately Bootleg Manor to the coastal town of Del Mar.  As usual, I got down to gluttony as soon as the gates opened.  Mrs. Bootleg and Jalen joined me for my first meal.  She ordered what appeared to be a wholly mediocre Philly cheesesteak (...and you can be judgmental when you've been to the mountaintop) while Jalen predictably went with pizza.   

Before long, Jalen was off attempting to ride...every...ride.  Twice.  And, sometimes thrice.  During the week, the crowds don't appear until late afternoon, so my son had the run of the park.  Until he tripped. 

After yet another spin on one of the fair's spinniest spinning rides, J was looking a little green.  This was an unhealthy, unflattering green that heretofore had only been seen here.  I was just two meals into my fried food festivus and nearly undone by someone else's stomach issues. 

Thankfully, J felt better after two bottles of water and an extended break from self-inflicted dizziness.  Later, I bought him a brownie ice cream sundae in a bowl and -- hands be damned -- he proceeded to eat it using only his mouth.  Here's a reasonable facsimile of the instant replay for those of you who might've missed it. 

Now, step aside, son.  Let dad show you how it's done. 

Deep-Fried Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich -- A few years back, in response to posts like the one you're currently reading, I wrote about the handful of foods that even I wouldn't eat.  Now, I'm not saying I should've found a place on the list for peanut butter, but it's one of those foods that I'm nitpickingly particular about. First, it must be "creamy" not "crunchy".  Are you familiar with that chalky-textured, obscenely sweet stuff crammed inside a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup?  That ain't peanut butter.  And, most importantly, there IS a proper peanut butter-to-jelly ratio inside of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

In what's become an annual tradition within this annual tradition, the Chicken Charlie's stand was once again the spot for my first meal of the morning.  Breakfast would be a battered up and deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich that's then finished with an additional drizzle of jelly and a pinch of powdered sugar. 

Unfortunately, the first bite didn't floor me.  The ubiquitous fair batter that enveloped the P, the B and the J was, as always, deliciously dense and decadent.  But, simply put, there was too much peanut butter.  I admit to being in the minority on this matter, but the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich is made with one part peanut butter and [pause for melodramatic effect] one-and-a-half to two parts jelly.  [Pause for boos.]  Wait, let me finish.  Without the added gelatinous sweetness, the flavor profile is just a salt sammich with subtle sugar notes. 

Here, the peanut butter overwhelmed the jelly and -- when dropped into the deep fryer -- the PB became caramel-like in its consistency, oozing all over the place.  By the end of this mess, all I could taste was hot, runny peanut butter -- not unlike those abominable "natural" peanut butters that require stirring before spreading.  (And, if you peanut butter believers are going to boo anything, it should be that.)  Grade 1.5 (out of 5) 

Meat Lover's Hot Dog on a Stick -- With no end in sight to America's hyperbolic bacon fad, it's high time we collectively decided on which group is more annoying: the over-the-top pro-bacon crowd who show their support with the 'caps lock' key on and an extra helping of exclamation points or the hilariously haughty bacon traditionalists who recoil with horror at the sight of bacon anywhere beyond a mediocre chain-restaurant cheeseburger or the breakfast table.  Let's call it a "push" and cut to the chase -- a bacon-wrapped hot dog should work...but, here, it doesn't. 

"Salty" is not a strong enough adjective for this.  I'd say it's appropriate to use salty's full name.  Hell, my first bite felt like a foreign object had been flung at my face.  The flavors seemed to even out by the end -- either that or my palate had tapped out -- but, curiously, the hot dog might've been more than just bacon's unwilling sodium accomplice as it was ridiculously salty on its own.  Still, this was a MUCH higher quality hot dog than the fair usually produces with a nice snap and better-than-acceptable texture.  The beer-battered bacon was fine -- crunchy on the outside, somewhat soggy on the inside with none of the fat trimmed away.  Better bacon/hot dog taste delineation would've saved this from a subpar rating. And, it was screaming for something sweet (a squeeze of maple syrup?) to cut the saltiness. Next year, I'll bring my own Mrs. Buttersworth, yo. Grade: 2 

Deep-Fried Chili Asteroids -- For those of you who don't know, the theme of this year's San Diego Fair is/was outer space.  That doesn't excuse this unfortunately-named appetizer/punch line, even if the description sounded absolutely divine: 

Award-winning homemade chili and cheese, deep-fried in a hushpuppy batter. 

Admittedly, my standards are high.  Mrs. Bootleg makes an amazing chili that's the perfect autumnal accompaniment when the November thermostat sinks to 66 degrees and we briefly consider closing the living room window.  My hushpuppy expectations are equally lofty as I once knew a guy who worked at Long John Silver's. 

Predictably, there's more hushpuppy here than chili as I assume the extra batter was needed to contain a food usually found in a bowl.  The chili was a bland mix of ground beef, beans, chili powder, cumin and whatever else Homer Simpson sniffed in the air 15 years ago.  I really liked the hushpuppy crust, though, as its cornmeal origins were a natural accompaniment for the chili.  However, the side of nacho cheese dippin' sauce was ultimately superfluous as it suffocated the other flavors and textures. 

This was the perfect mishmash of "awesome" and "meh", so we'll grade it accordingly.  Grade: 2.5 

Sweet Potato Tater Tots -- At this point, panic is starting to set in.  We're halfway through the afternoon and I hadn't eaten anything that I'd score better than average.  And, considering my previous experiences with sweet potato fries, this would be the proverbial roll of the dice.  When done right -- thin-cut and crispy -- sweet potato fries can be fantastic.  But, too many establishments serve them up as thick-cut sponges that retain a quart of grease apiece. 

The sweet potato tater tots were almost executed perfectly.  The exterior was light and crisp -- almost potato chip-like -- while the interior was texturally fantastic.  The heavy, fibrous characteristics inherent within Thanksgiving's favorite root tuber were nowhere to be found.  In its place was a mildly sweet airiness that bordered on addicting. 

Oh, but the execution.  The tater tots desperately needed salt.  Not a lot, but singular shot from the shaker -- two, tops -- would've elevated the flavors.  And, much to my surprise, the tots weren't served with any sort of dipping sauce.  I've been spoiled by the creamy pumpkin-spiced sauce that several places serve, so I'd have settled for something simple and citrusy. Not even one lonely lemon wedge?  My, what could've been.    Grade: 3.5 

Fried Pineapple -- Both the sun and my stomach were starting to set and I was unsure if I'd ever find the one annual menu item that would knock my socks off.  Every year something edible earns one of my exaggerated "500 (out of 5)" scores.  Could last year's maple bacon donut EVER be toppled from its sticky, porcine pedestal?  It's up to you, inexplicably fried Hawaiian fruit. 

By themselves, pineapples are in my pantheon of favorite fruits.  And, the fried pineapples were certainly the most visually appealing meal I ate all day.  Perfect golden-brown rings lightly topped with a bittersweet chocolate sauce and a pinch of powdered sugar.  It took a few bites for me to adjust to the crispiness, but the pineapple's natural flavors were mostly unchanged. 

If anything, the heat from the grease muted the pineapple's already mellow notes.  It also led to the evaporation of some of the fruit's juiciness.  In simplest terms, this was really a pineapple upside down cake turned inside out.  In my terms?  Dee-LISH!  Grade: 4 

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Peppers -- These were referred to as "Porky Poppers" on the menu, but I'm proud to report I kept my dignity and ordered using their literal description.  That same dignity was temporarily misplaced when I popped one of the porkies, whole, in my mouth.  See that toothpick-looking thing running perpendicular to each jalapeño pepper?  Turns out it's an actual toothpick.  And, when mindlessly munched on, they're more abrasive on the inside of your mouth than a bowl of Quizno's-cooked Cap'n Crunch. 

I appreciated the use of fresh jalapeños.  They're hotter and more flavorful than the pickled imposters found on ballpark nachos.  The bacon was bountiful and the peppers were stuffed with gouda.  Unfortunately, the sweetness of the gouda was mostly smothered from the saltiness of the bacon and the spiciness of the peppers.  Given a choice between two of the three flavors coming through, I'd have preferred "sweet" and "salty" or "sweet" and "spicy".  The "salty" and "spicy" territory is already well-trodden convenience store turf.  Grade: 2


SHough610 said...

Someone else who believes the j to pb ratio is 2:1? This must be what it's like when doves cry.

Lew B. said...

Yeah, nothing this year "wow'ed" me. Actually "The Big Rib" was pretty good. It was nearly 2 pounds of meat on a giant bone. I couldn't find that bacon-wrapped dog. I agreed about the PB&J. The deep-fried Cinnamon Toast Crunch was also disappointing. The Frog legs were actually pretty good.

Elena said...

I'm sorry you didn't have a 500-out-of-5 moment this year, but I was *so* excited to see this post up. (In fact, I was thinking the other day that it was about that time of year!)

As far as improving the jalapeno poppers, I reckon you could do a nice version yourself on the grill. A friend in Sydney used to move us all to tears with her grilled banana peppers stuffed with feta - the grilling gives the peppers a bit of that roasted-pepper sweetness. If you used a nice applewood/maple bacon, that would enhance the contrast. You could even puree a touch of fig or something similar with the feta for a bit more distinction.

Thank god it's almost lunchtime.

Aaron C. said...

@Sam -- There's also an aspect of mouthfeel. I need the extra jelly to make the peanut butter palatable. I tried to finish one of J's peanut butter (only) sandwiches awhile back and -- almost literally -- barely choked it down.

@Lew -- I was concerned that the fried cereal wouldn't work and I *love* Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Haven't had much success with fried sweets (Oreos/Twinkies/Klondike Bars). Lots of folks told me I should've found the red velvet funnel cake. I saw it and passed. Now, regret it.

@Elena -- Grilled banana peppers stuffed with feta, you say? This sounds like something I would absolutely annhilate. Someone figure out appropriate beer pairing!

Carrie said...

"JUST a salt sammich with subtle sugar notes"?! Salt sandwich with subtle sugar notes is all I want in life.

JPinAZ said...

Cam, I'd suggest a Wit or Saison to go with those feta stuffed banana peppers.

Aaron C. said...

@JP -- Thanks! I'm planning to give the grilled peppers a shot after Jalen and I get back from San Francisco. As for recent pairings, I've been sipping Stone's vanilla bean smoked porter while eating candied nuts. Glorious.

@Carrie -- It occurs to me that my peanut butter bias might come from Jalen eating them with a gallon-of-milk chaser and all while chewing with his mouth open. It's...a disturbing sight.

Elena said...

I feel you on the effect that kids can have on your food choices: I worked in a daycare a long time ago and once had a one-year-old sneeze spaghetti all over me. As in, spaghetti strands coming out her nose. From a meal she'd had *two hours previously*, with only a nap in between. It took me a while to shake that one off, let me tell you.

Keep us posted on the beer pairing for the peppers, hey? I have a housewarming coming up and that might be a nice little treat for us all.

Jag said...

The annual food fair blog post is the most enjoyable one you do.

But I can almost feel your disappointment that you weren't wowed this year.