The Gossiping Gourmet: Fair food not all about all about being fried

It's fair time in Orange County, and that means it's time for fair food, which is pretty much synonymous with fried food.

This gastronomic orgy is truly death-defying if you choose to indulge in such artery-clogging temptations as the deep-fried Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich, which consists of a jelly-filled Krispy Kreme donut serving as the bun for a fried chicken sandwich, or a half-pound hot dog with a side of deep-fried Australian battered fried potatoes topped with melted "cheese" and ranch dressing.

Perhaps you'd rather nibble on a White Castle burger dipped in batter and, of course…deep fried. If you prefer your burger a tad larger, you might wade into a Monster Burger, a two-pound, four-patty construction that would even finish off a teenage boy.

Truth in advertising begins and ends at the Heart Attack Café, featuring an attractive nurse on the billboard, where you can find Widowmaker garlic fries that have been cooked in oil fortified with bacon drippings, or the bacon-wrapped chocolate-covered Oreos. Other menu items feature titles like the Triple Bypass, the Flatliner and the Coronary Combo.

Top off your meal with deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried S'mores or a deep-fried Snickers bar. We couldn't resist frozen chocolate-covered bacon (dark chocolate with salty notes). Yummy! The classic fair dessert is the funnel cake: fried dough spirals topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream. Strawberries are optional.

We were privileged to watch two well-proportioned gentlemen each attempt to finish off a humungous funnel cake called Fried Decadence in less than 20 minutes. The reward for successfully completing this challenge is a free one.

Unquestionably, the longest lines at the fair were for the newest treat — deep-fried butter! Too afraid to sample it ourselves, we were delighted when the folks who were sharing our table braved the lines and returned with the much-anticipated dessert.

One of the women took a bite, moaned and sighed, "Heaven!" We were surprised to discover it was not exactly a stick of battered butter but a frozen finger of butter dipped in churro batter and deep-fried, dusted with powdered sugar and smothered in whipped cream.

Healthy fair food is pretty much an oxymoron, but if you'd prefer that your visit to the Orange County Fair not be a life-threatening experience, we may be able to steer you down a path that doesn't lead to CPR.

There are actually a number of choices, including the Sushi Bar, where we sampled a California roll. The rice was excellent and the crab was fresh, as were the slices of avocado and cucumber. Our only complaint was too much mayo. On our way to Chicken Charlie's, we passed on another healthy alternative (if you share it with a friend or two): giant barbecued turkey legs. Just skip the extra sauce.

At Charlie's, we had grilled chicken kebabs with onions and peppers. The hefty portion consisted of six nicely cooked two-inch cubes of breast meat. Flavor it with hot sauce and lemon if you choose.

Grilled corn or corn and vegetable skewers are everywhere. The corn we tasted was terrific — fresh and sweet, even though the cob was enormous. Pepe's Mariscos serves chicken, beef and fish from the grill, which can be served as a plate with beans and rice or in soft tacos.

We tried the marinated shrimp ceviche tostada, which had little baby shrimp in a really good salsa fresca on a crispy, but not at all greasy, thin corn shell. They also have shrimp, abalone and octopus cocktails.

Another popular venue is the Greek Gourmet with chicken or lamb skewers, Greek salad, hummus and tahini.

At Terri's berries, in addition to a wide variety of candied desserts, there is a fresh fruit bowl with every kind of berry, grapes and cherries. There is also frozen nonfat yogurt. Just skip the sprinkles and chocolate dip. We don't want to spoil your fun, but it doesn't have to be all fried!

Orange County Fair

Where: 100 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Noon to midnight Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 15

Food prices: High for no tablecloths, plates or service


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