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Reporter’s Notebook: O.C. Fair’s ‘Taste of Fair’ not for the weak

Antonio Sotomayor prepares a bacon-wrapped jalapeno on Thursday at the Orange County Fair.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Former professional boxer Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

When it comes to the Orange County Fair, I think everyone has a plan until they try a bacon-wrapped jalapeño with cream cheese filling.

I tried to prepare for Thursday afternoon’s assignment at the fair the best I could. It seemed simple enough. I was tasked with going around to different food vendors for the “Taste of Fair Food” program that’s returning every Thursday this year.

For just $3 each Thursday, patrons can get a fun-sized portion of some of their favorite fair foods from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I brought a $20 bill and was ready to have some fun.

Disclaimer: I also bought a large soda which was just a bit more than $3, to make the grease go down just a bit easier.

The deep-fried Oreos from the Chicken Charlie's at the O.C. Fair.
The deep-fried Oreos from the Chicken Charlie’s at the O.C. Fair’s $3 “Taste of Fair” on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Was it a mistake to start with the deep-fried Oreos from Chicken Charlie’s? Maybe, but it was a delicious mistake. Not only were they deep fried, but they were topped with powdered sugar, chocolate syrup and rainbow sprinkles. The portion was satisfying for the price.

From there, photographer Scott Smeltzer and I went to the Australian battered potatoes booth. I had never had this before, and what I got was two fried potato pieces with a generous heap of ranch dressing on top. It looked a bit like fish and chips to me, but the potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. A Facebook friend tells me these are called “fritters” in the United Kingdom. Two thumbs up.

The battered potato with ranch dressing from the Australian battered potatoes booth at the O.C. Fair.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

We walked around until we found the Texas Donuts stand, where my $3 got me half of a “Big D” doughnut. That half-size serving was still about as big as my hand. And I have big hands. It was all right, a bit too chewy for my liking and not fluffy.

The plan was not to get two desserts in my first three samplers, but the heat might have been getting to me. I headed back to the Family Fairway area to Bacon-A-Fair, ready to experience heat in a different form — the bacon-wrapped jalapeño with cream cheese filling.

The first bite was mostly jalapeño and my mouth was scorching. I thought the cream cheese would somehow balance it out, but no dice. At least the bacon was delicious as always, but this was the first time my stomach started to murmur, “What are you doing to me?” It was still a standout, though.

The bacon-wrapped jalapeno pepper with cream cheese from the Bacon-A-Fair booth at O.C. Fair on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Around the corner I heard a cover band playing “All the Small Things” by Blink-182, and I knew my waistline was not one of said small things. I decided to slow it down a bit.

I got the grilled pineapple on a stick from Hawaiian Chicken Bowls, located in the Centennial Farms area. Honestly, this was the favorite food I ate during my two-hour gorging session.

The pineapple was sweet and juicy, some of the best I’ve tasted, and two large skewers were a generous portion. The only pineapple that came close was from a Brazilian steakhouse I visited around 2005 before my friend’s wedding, but that’s a different story.

Jacob Fesili prepares grilled pineapple on a stick from the Hawaiian Chicken Bowls booth at the O.C. Fair on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

My 40-year-old digestive system could take maybe one or two more samplers. I love hot dogs, so I got the deep fried hot dog bites from Pink’s.

The teenage boy working as a cashier asked me if I wanted mild or spicy. “Spicy!” I said with a grin. I got nacho cheese on top instead of ranch, which I’d had with the potatoes. Sometimes you have to switch it up.

The hot dogs were good, but I tasted the batter more than the dogs.

The spicy hot dog bites with nacho cheese from Pink's at the O.C. Fair's $3 "Taste of Fair" on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Scott left, and I started making my way toward the Green Gate exit, too. I passed the shave ice stand and decided to go for one more treat. Once the ice melts, the water can help the food go down, right? It sounded good in my head, at least.

The line was 20 strong, yet I would not be deterred. I was cutting it close on time, but it was about 3:45 p.m. when I got to the front of the line and ordered a Taste of Fair-sized cherry shave ice, which was still a decent portion for $3.

I exited the fair and drove home, and laid down a bit. I didn’t need Pepto Bismol, but then again, I tried to pace myself.

So, see you in Costa Mesa next Thursday? Who’s driving?

Daily Pilot reporter Matt Szabo tries the grilled pineapple on a stick at the O.C. Fair on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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