Fried indulgences

COSTA MESA — The way Jim Volz sees it, it's either in the genes or it isn't. It's all one big roll of the familial dice.

High cholesterol runs in his family. Even though his mother ate well all her life, she has to take pills for it. So on Wednesday, in a damned if I do, damned if I don't fashion, Volz ate a few fried cinnamon crisps and dipped a few fried chips into some garlic sauce before handing over the orders to his grandchildren, who gathered like a pack of hungry wolves.

It was a purchase Volz made at The Heart Attack Café, a colorful stand at the Orange County Fair where hundreds of fairgoers have been gravitating toward, if not salivating before, since opening day.

"My doctor looked at me and laughed the last time he saw me," said Volz, his head tilted back as he dropped the chips into his mouth. "He was, like, 'What have you been eating?' I think my cholesterol was 300 and something."

But then Volz qualified his actions: "Hey, man, that's what the fair's all about, isn't it? It's for eating"

"And the rides!" quipped his granddaughter Alyssa Simmons, 9.

If it's any consolation to those carefully watching their diets and counting their calories, Volz, of Glendora, said he takes medication for high cholesterol. He also clarified that it's not often that he indulges in fried foods.

What's more, would you believe that what he ordered at The Heart Attack Café was minor — at least on the Richter scale as far as the menu was concerned?

At the café, there's all sorts of major artery-blocking items, including deep-fried butter and deep-fried, chocolate-covered bacon.

And if that's not enough, there's always the sausage on a stick – after it's been dipped in pancake dough and fried, says Damian Diaz, one of the cooks inside the café.

"It's not that good for you, I'll admit that much," Diaz said between orders. "But it tastes very, very good."

But the health effects can be anything but.

According to Cynthia Stamper Graff, author of three bestselling diet books and president of Lindora Medical Clinics based in Costa Mesa, an order of deep fried butter has 443 calories and 38.5 grams of fat.

"To work it off," says Stamper Graff, "you'd have to stay on the Stairmaster for one hour."

As for the chocolate-covered bacon, it's 638 calories and 41 grams of fat, and it would take at least 2 1/2 hours on the Stairmaster to come out equal.

She added: "While we all like to enjoy ourselves at the fair, we need to understand the consequences associated with this trend of deep frying just about anything we can get our hands on … Such indulgences may seem fun, but, at the same time, can play havoc with our diets."

Stamper Graff said the most important thing is to eat in moderation.

At the café, the names are catchy, if not daring: "The Triple Bypass," "The Big One," the "Flatliner."

If you brought a baseball bat up to the Heart Attack Café, the employees there would deep fry it for you if you asked nicely enough.

And it would probably taste good.

This sort of concept of eating improperly or unhealthful isn't exactly new at the fair.

But Michael Peterson, the owner of the business, took it one step further when he invented the great headliner for his stand: 'The Heart Attack Café."

"This is our first year," says the 35-year-old Peterson, who grew up in San Clemente and now lives just outside of Escondido. "We were all just sitting around and somebody tried our chocolate-covered bacon and said, 'Wow, that's a heart attack just waiting to happen!' And we looked at one another and we were, 'Yeah, let's go for broke.'"

So far the café has been a huge hit, especially the deep-fried butter, whose reputation has somehow preceded itself as a daring experience, the equivalent of trying frog legs or cooked insects

Stephanie Monette, 21, of Costa Mesa ordered the butter on a stick and never looked back.

"I just had to come out here and try it just so I could say I tried it," said Monette, who attends Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "I have a feeling it will just taste greasy."

After a minute of ordering, and another minute of deliberating with her friends, she downed the deep-fried butter.

"Hmm," she said. "It tastes like a churro with hot butter inside."

Monette mostly sticks to healthy eating, such as fruits and vegetable, but every now and then she'll splurge.

"I have a weak spot for French fries," she says.

That weak spot is what Pearson aimed for when he opened the Heart Attack Café.

Even Bill Nolasto, a diabetic for almost three decades, couldn't resist the lure of the café as he passed by it in the early afternoon.

"Ah, what the heck," he said, as he bit into a sausage into the chocolate-covered bacon. "You only live once."

That's for sure. Some less long than others. But Nolasto isn't too worried about his blood-sugar levels; pills and one insulin shot a day have helped him to keep it under control.

"You have to stay away from the bread," he said. "Bread is bad for you. It's got too many carbohydrates, nearly 15 grams a slice. You don't want too many carbohydrates with your meal. Remember that."

Thursday At The Fair

Bull riding: 2 and 8 p.m. at the Action Sports Arena. Reserved seats are $12.50 and include free Fair admission.

Kids Day: Children (ages 12 and younger) are admitted to the 2010 OC Fair for FREE all day each Thursday. Thursdays also feature $25 unlimited rides and $1 games in the Main Midway and Kiddie Carnival until 8 p.m. Unlimited ride passes sold until 5 p.m.

Martina McBride: 8 p.m. at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Gates open an hour before showtime. Tickets start at $45.

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