Some things are sacred. Like fair food.
Cheesy bacon bombs, Krispy Kreme sloppy Joes and deep-fried pineapple are just a few of the belly-busting items on the menu as summer fair season hits full swing: The Orange County Fair opens Friday in Costa Mesa and runs through Aug. 11, followed by a nearly monthlong run for the Los Angeles County Fair.
And you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining.
New York’s mayor may want to crack down on oversized sodas, First Lady Michelle Obama wants us to pile more veggies on our plate and calorie counts are popping up on menus from coast-to-coast to nag us into eating healthier.
But no one, it seems, is willing to tangle with the time-honored American tradition of gluttonous fair food.
We asked some of the nation’s foremost nutritional experts about fair food, and all of them said there’s room in a healthy diet for battered-and-deep-fried Oreos, battered-and-deep-fried bacon, and battered-and-deep-fried sliders.
But note that this is not your permission slip to go hog wild, so to speak, and eat it all. Experts, take it away:
“If you want to eat something like this once a year, I’m going to roll my eyes but not comment other than to suggest sharing it with friends rather than eating it all yourself,” said author Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.
Los Angeles author, dietition and nutritionist Ruth Frechman, who is additionally a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said: “I wouldn’t put a wet blanket on people going to the county fair and having fun. Just share it. Make the most of it, and have fun, but pick just one thing and share it.”
Even the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which says it is dedicated to transforming the American diet, declined to “bite” when asked to weigh in on fair food. (Remember, this is the group that routinely scores media headlines with studies about the dangers of movie popcorn and which recently declared fast-food chain Long John Silver’s to be home of the worst restaurant meal in America.)
Orange County Fair spokeswoman Robin Wachner said the fair gets zero complaints about the deep-fried indulgences, but does get plenty of requests to add foods that fit special needs diets, such as gluten-free or dairy-free.
“No one is going to touch fair food, that would be un-American,” joked Charles Boghosian of San Diego, better known as the man behind Chicken Charlie’s, the deep-fried purveyor who is ushering in the Krispy Kreme sloppy Joe, arguably the star of this fair season.
It’s just what it sounds like: A mound of ground beef, seasoned sloppy Joe style and piled high atop a Krispy Kreme donut, then doused with a heap of shredded cheese for good measure.
Each year, Chicken Charlie’s tries to outdo itself by introducing a mind-blowing dish, and the Krispy Kreme sloppy Joe is it. Also new this year: a bacon-wrapped pickle, deep fried cookie dough and the waffle dog, as in a hot dog wrapped in a waffle. Past years have seen him bring deep-fried Kool-Aid, deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos, and deep-fried avocado.
He also has an expansive line of healthier fare too, via a second concession stand called Pineapple Express, just one of the scores of vendors that will be hawking their wares at the Orange County and Los Angeles County fairs.
Boghosian says the chicken kabobs at Pineapple Express clock in at around 300 calories, and there’s also shrimp cocktail, and a teriyaki chicken bowl dramatically served up in a pineapple. Other vendors are offering up veggie kabobs, barbecued chicken and Big Chic on a Stick -- 24 ounces of chicken breast skewered, grilled and served up at Biggy’s Meat Market.
“The chicken kabobs are one of my bestsellers,” he said. “People want choices.”
He added: “I love to cook, I love what I do, and I’m always looking for ‘What can I fry next?’ ” he said. He added: “You can write this down: Chicken Charlie says you shouldn’t eat this stuff every day. But once or twice a year? Why not. God bless.’”