Even in supposedly health-food obsessed Southern California, there are places you can find greasy excess without apology. The county fair is one such place, with fair season starting in June in San Diego, then moving up through Orange County and finally Los Angeles by the mid-September. I hit this year’s OC Fair to indulge in the gluten and grease-filled gloriousness, hoping all the walking around looking at pygmy goats, giant alligators and place setting competitions would mitigate the caloric damage. Here is what I found.
This kind of deep-fried novelty tends to take the shape of dough balls, usually of the pancake variety. Which is a bit of a cheat, but at least with the deep-fried coffee, they get points for presentation.
Three sugary dough balls, stuck on a skewer and presented in a paper coffee cup, garnished with lots of whipped cream. Surprisingly light, and reminiscent of marble cake with a strong ribbon of coffee flavor laced through the pastry.
Less fancy presentation than the coffee, just more dough balls, this time brightly colored by whatever Kool-Aid they’re using (likely cherry). Not that satisfying, unless you’re into sour pancakes.
When it comes to deep-fried foods at the fair, the vendors seem to reserve their creativity for the sweet stuff. But here are some interesting savories.
This is not as weird as it may seem, since calzones, or pocket pizzas, are sometimes deep-fried. But this is different, because it’s an actual open-faced slice of pizza, beer battered. After puzzling over how they kept everything from sliding off in the battering process, I realized the pizza is already baked, so the melted cheese holds everything together. The overall effect is weird but not unpleasant, especially served with ranch dressing. It might be a way to perk up leftover pizza, if such a thing ever existed.
Not that outrageous, since tempura vegetables are so popular. Even the California Avocado Commission has a recipe for this. Still, a nice combination of creamy and crunchy.
Battering and frying an entire burger seems even more logistically tricky than a slice of pizza, but this is a bit of a cheat. Only the burger patty is battered and deep fried, making it a chopped chicken-fried steak. Nothing that interesting about it.
Deep-fried bacon-wrapped pickles
Reminiscent of rumaki, everyone’s go-to appetizer in the ‘80s, where you wrapped water chestnuts in bacon, skewered the whole thing and hoped it wouldn’t fall apart during cooking. The pickles are more substantial, though, and tangier. But be warned: Wait before eating, and be careful when biting into these, because boiling pickle juice will spurt all over the place.
A comprehensive, if not all-encompassing list.
Deep-fried birthday cake
Surprisingly tasty, and the jaunty presentation, complete with sprinkles and a birthday candle, is fun. The cake itself is unremarkable, but thankfully pretty light.
Deep-fried red velvet cake
Same principle as the birthday cake, except bright red, and served on a stick.
Deep-fried Twinkies (with caviar for charity, for $125)
We weren’t willing to spend $125 on this, even if it was for charity. But regular deep-fried Twinkies are an improvement, if you’re not a fan of the snack cake, taking off the chemical edge and slightly stale texture.
Like deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried Oreos are for those who aren’t that fond of the cookie. The battering and frying process softens up the wafers and melts the filling, making for a great result.
Deep-fried Klondike bar
Tasty and chocolaty and creamy, but if you expected any sort of ice cream to be left, even a minute after digging into it, you will be disappointed.
Deep-fried SlimFast bar
Like the deep-fried Twinkie and Oreo, this an improvement on the original Chewy Chocolate Crisp bar. Unfortunately, it also adds 500 calories. Will the SlimFast shake be next year’s novelty deep-fried drink?
A.K. Whitney is freelance journalist in Southern California. She spent more than a decade as a food editor and columnist for the Los Angeles News Group. You can follow her on Twitter @AKWhitney.