As I walked through the gates on opening day of the Orange County Fair on Friday, I felt a need.
A need to feed.
Sure, this year’s theme — “Acres of Fun” — continues the OC Fair & Event Center’s recent focus on the county’s agricultural heritage, but the only thing I was focused on growing was my belt size.
For the third time since joining the Daily Pilot, I grabbed a pen and (figuratively) tied on a bib to sample some of the strangest and most sumptuous offerings the Costa Mesa fairgrounds has to offer.
My previous foodie forays have introduced me to the decadently delicious — the Krispy Kreme ice cream chicken sandwich at Chicken Charlie’s remains a personal favorite — and to items that have no business tasting as good as they do, like the PB&J Sriracha funnel cake that debuted at Dutchmen’s Funnel Cakes last year.
One thing’s for sure, none of my culinary quests have been boring. Thankfully, this year was no different.
Let’s get two things out of the way: Yes, I’m a millennial. But no, I don’t spend a disproportionate amount of my income on avocado toast. In fact, I’d never had it before Friday.
Ten Pound Buns gave me the opportunity. I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about.
Don’t let the name fool you. This isn’t some dainty bite served up by a flannel-clad steward at a pop-up, monosyllabic eatery. It’s a sizable portion: basically a half-loaf of bread smothered with a flavorful avocado spread.
The bread is great — light and fluffy — and the lemony, peppery schmear was refreshing on a warm summer day.
It’s all delicious — obviously the best avocado toast I’ve ever had.
No sampling of O.C. Fair food is complete without a trip to Chicken Charlie’s, which has long been at the forefront of crafting genre-busting, mouthwatering meals.
This year, the stand has two eye-catching additions. While I strongly considered the Buffalo chicken chimichanga, my curiosity wouldn’t let me pass up the chance to see how one can fry chickpea dip.
The answer, it turns out, is pretty well.
I didn’t know what to expect, but the fried hummus resembles a hush puppy in look and texture. The hummus taste is strong and clean without being overpowering.
It’s good, though a bit dense. The ranch dressing it came with was fine, but I would have welcomed a zesty dipping sauce for another layer of flavor.
Waffle. Pizza. Is there any combination that better typifies the fair’s patented brand of appetizing audaciousness?
The waffle pizza at Pignotti’s is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a waffle topped with marinara, cheese and pepperoni.
In other words, it’s great. The waffle is sweet and airy and meshes well with the pizza toppings. It falls apart rather easily, though, so I’d recommend using a fork.
My only real criticism is that I wish the marinara had been more robust. The sweetness of the sauce gets somewhat lost in the waffle.
It also would have been nice to have a choice of what to put on the waffle. Pineapple would have been delicious on this. Maybe next year?
Many of the best-known items on the fair’s expansive menu seem to fall into one of three categories: Take something and deep-fry it; take something and serve a lot of it — preferably on a stick — and take something and mix it with something else to create something that doesn’t sound like something you would want to eat.
It’s refreshing, then, to see Bacon-A-Fair offer something relatively simple and sans all the Instagram-able bells and whistles.
One of El Salvador’s most notable dishes is a pupusa, a flatbread stuffed with fillings. Bacon-A-Fair’s rendition includes cheese and beans and is topped with julienned vegetables and served with a somewhat spicy sauce.
It’s probably the best thing I ate Friday. A bonus is that it’s fairly light. Not everything needs to be smothered with Cheetos, you know? Speaking of which …
Hot Cheetos caramel apple
I approached this dessert course with a bit of trepidation.
I’ve been burned by candy apple concepts in the past, like last year’s chili chamoy concoction. As it turns out, this one also burned me, and not, unfortunately, because of its spice.
Dusting delicacies with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos has been all the rage on the fair food circuit recently, and this year the Candy Factory decided to join the fun.
The result is disappointing. The Cheetos seemed muddled and didn’t bring the fresh heat I was looking for. When combined with the caramel, they formed an armor-like shell around the apple that was hard to get through.
The apple, once I did finally gnaw my way to it, didn’t help things much.
As I tried a few more bites to make sure my initial impressions weren’t misguided, a line from “Jurassic Park” popped into my head: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Replace “scientists” with “confectioners” and that sums up my feelings.
I’m sure there are people who will think this one is delicious, but it just didn’t do it for me.
IF YOU GO
What: Orange County Fair
Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Wednesdays through Sundays through Aug. 11; noon to midnight Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays
Cost: General admission is $12 Wednesdays through Fridays and $14 on weekends. Several specials and discounts are available. For details, visit ocfair.com/oc-fair/discounts.