Readers are about to be let in on a not so well-kept secret.
Reporters like to eat.
We will tackle any story if it means there’s food involved. So when assignments were being chosen for the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, a review of fair grub had to be done.
Editor Marc Lutz, reporter Davis Harper and “Stretch” columnist Corissa Davidson joined gastric forces to sample a cross section of sweet and savory fare at the fair, giving their opinions after each taste test.
It was decided they would try two traditional fair offerings and two that aren’t normally considered fair foods. The outcome? Any food is better on a stick … or in a bowl … or caked in powdered sugar.
Along the fairway of food, there was the typical grub found at any county fair. That’s why the chef cooking up a mix of Asian cuisine drew attention. Lumpia, a traditional Filipino dish (but not a traditional fair food) is like a spring roll, but a little smaller. For $5, six bite-sized pieces of Shanghai lumpia were doled out. We tried one with sweet chili sauce and one without.
Davis: Immediate thoughts – meat heavy, right? I kind of expected there to be more vegetables, but that’s probably what’s in the vegetable lumpia. It’s good.
Marc: It’s got a good flavor. It’s got a good crunch.
Corissa: I was expecting more flavor. I think it’s better without the sauce.
Marc: It is. It almost has more flavor without it. It’s almost like the sauce takes the flavor away.
Davis: The chicken’s good.
The entrée and main course
One vendor down from the appetizer cart was a stand advertising “hand-dipped corn dogs.” Run by Timothy Elwell and his daughter, Jorden Elwell, of Clovis, the stand also serves up regular hot dogs and other treats.
Elwell and his family sell their food at county fairs and other community events all over, and though there’s a moderate draw at the Calaveras County Fair, he said it’s still a steady flow of hungry folks that come through.
Along with a regular-sized corn dog, a super-sized corn dog was ordered for the main course. Chili cheese fries were ordered for the entrée. The fries took longer to cook, so the main course was sampled before the entrée. All rules were out the window.
Biting into the dark brown fried batter of the corn dogs, an audible CRUNCH was heard.
For a week leading up to this assignment, Harper talked about his love of corn dogs. How did it stack up to his expectations?
Davis: The ratio of corn to dog is fantastic. It’s crispy, and the meat is juicy and flavorful.
Corissa: Crunchy, good breading, I had a good ratio of batter to hot dog. Since they are hand-dipped each one will have a different ratio. It met my expectations. I’ll be getting these for the kids later. This is the perfect fair food.
Marc: I’m impressed by the crunch. It’s exactly what a corn dog should be. When I want a corn dog, this is exactly what I want.
As stellar as the corn dogs were, the chili cheese fries weren’t so thrilling. Whereas every bit of the corn dogs was gone, two bites of the chili cheese fries was enough.
Corissa: The chili was fine, but it was canned, and cheese was blah. It took away from the fries, which were soggy. Disappointing.
Davis: These are standard chili cheese fries, with canned chili and nacho cheese.
Marc: I have to confess that I’ve never had chili cheese before. I was hoping for more. They’re not bad, but not something I would have again.
With the first few courses eaten, it was time to tackle dessert. This was one category where traditional and non-traditional would be consumed. On the traditional side would be funnel cake (two varieties – yes, they come in more than one flavor) and hand-dipped cheesecake on a stick.
At first, the Enterprise crew picked maple and bacon funnel cake, but the vendor told us, alas, they didn’t have that flavor. It was a permanent marquis item, and they couldn’t remove it. So the choices were regular, powdered sugar-topped funnel cake and whipped cream and strawberries on the other.
Davidson talked about how she makes it at home, and it’s really good (in her humble opinion).
Marc: This is really good. Each of these is just the right amount of sweet and a touch of crispy. How do they stack up to yours, Corissa?
Corissa: (She’s quiet for a moment) When I was a kid we used to go to Knott’s Berry Farm and get the funnel cakes. These taste like those. They remind me of being a kid again! Perfect texture, perfect flavor; these are better than mine. I’m definitely going to be getting some more of these.
Davis: Magical. Five out of five corn dogs for this review. There’s a winter wonderland of powdered sugar spread on this crunchy funnel cake. It pairs perfectly with the strawberries.
After the funnel cake, one sweet eat was left. Although it was agreed that the funnel cake should have been the experience topper, the crew was willing to try the new sensation of cheesecake on a stick.
A wedge of cold cheesecake was impaled on a stick, dipped in chocolate and laced with sprinkles. The presentation was glorious, but the taste was less than sensational.
Davis: This one was unique, but the chocolate and sprinkles seem to take away from your standard cheesecake experience. Beautiful display, but I’d rather do chocolate-coated ice cream on a stick. Keep it simple.
Corissa: The chocolate and sprinkles were good, but it took away from the cheesecake flavor. I’m not sure I would want to eat this alone … maybe a treat to share with someone.
Marc: I agree. The chocolate and sprinkles overwhelm the cheesecake taste. You get more cheesecake the further into it you eat, but I was looking for more of a mix of the three flavors.
No matter what fair attendees are looking for in their food experience, there really is something for every palate. Trying to stay healthy isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible with smoothie and other refreshing options available. There are also burgers, sandwiches and plenty of other goodies.
Keep in mind that the prices aren’t inexpensive, but it’s not impossible to get a couple of items for under $20. For three people eating seven items (one order of lumpia, a regular and super-sized corn dog, one order of chili cheese fries, two funnel cakes and one cheesecake on a stick) came to around $50.