Fair menu not short on creativity

For the self-proclaimed "mad scientists" of the Orange County Fair, their latest creation drew many interested, if not wary, visitors eager to try their latest concoction: the deep-fried Kool-Aid.

Chicken Charlie's has been a fairgrounds staple for the past 14 years, and is a family operation — employing Charlie, his brother Tony, Charlie's wife Dawn, who is seven months pregnant, and Jerald Smith, who is Charlie's "brother from another mother."

Among the only-at-the-fair foods Charlie's is cooking (or frying) up include Totally Fried! avocados, veggies, frog legs, Oreos, Thin Mints and Twinkies. Oh, then there's the Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich, consisting of a chicken patty between two doughnuts with honey. The fried BBQ ribs is one of the new additions, consisting of fried baby back ribs.

The real draw for many patrons, however, is their latest creation, the deep-fried Kool-Aid.

How do they capture Kool-Aid into a solid fried ball?

"That's the question of this whole thing," Smith said.

First, cherry Kool-Aid powder gets mixed into batter with a couple special, secret ingredients. Then the balls get deep-fried and turned into the golf ball-sized pink snacks.

"The Kool-Aid you're used to drinking, you can now eat that," Smith said.

For Cami Garner and Jennifer Duhaime, who were at the fair with friends, the rosy globes were too tempting to resist.

"It's the newest thing." Garner said. "You've got to try the newest thing."

For Garner, the taste of the fried balls was less like punch, but more like vanilla cake with strawberry frosting.

While she wouldn't get them again, "it's definitely worth a try," she said.

For Garner and Duhaime, eating at Chicken Charlie's is part of the fair experience.

"You gotta try them all at least once," Garner said of the vendor's annual surprise dishes.

The variety of options was a bit overwhelming for Eva Chaidilok, who is from Thailand and studying in Torrance.

"I cannot choose one," Chaidilok said.

She opted for the chicken and waffles.

"It's a strange combination for me, chicken and waffles," Chaidilok said.

Nearby rival the All Deep Fried Butter Stand — formerly the Heart Attack Café — sells bacon-wrapped Oreos, beer-battered bacon, sour cream and bacon French fries, the Michelle Obama Nightmare Combo and deep-fried pigs in a blanket.

Their biggest seller, though, is the deep-fried butter, which is dipped in a cinnamon sugar batter and resembles the taste of the amusement park classic: the churro.

Other dining choices include Hawaiian chicken bowls, kettle corn, funnel cakes, Mexican food, bratwurst, deep-fried Reece's and breakfast sundaes — complete with bacon and carmel — scattered throughout the eating area.

The charbroiled corn was Angie Nuñez's choice.

"I was waiting for this," she said.

She and her husband traveled 90 miles from Victorville with their children to come to the O.C. Fair this year.

"It's always fun," Nuñez said.

Battered foods were not on her on menu this Saturday, however.

"I'm on a diet so I can't eat battered food," she said, adding that she appreciates the variety of choices the fair has. "It's good to have your options, and here you have your options."

Though the fair is entering its last week of its Let's Eat! theme, Smith said Chicken Charlie's will still be coming out with eyebrow-raising treats next year.

Among the suggestions from patrons include deep-fried licorice, but that has yet to go through the rigorous testing that dishes get before making it to Charlie's menu.

"As with any mad scientist, you don't know what will pop up next," Smith said.

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