I suspect there is a lot that Jeannie Burton, fair concessions supervisor, and I would agree on but nothing more so than knowing that food is the No. 1 draw for the Kern County Fair. For any fair really, since the carnival/livestock/community exhibit extravaganza can make you feel like a kid again, with the appetite — albeit not metabolism — to match.
Along with our favorites — DeMolay corndogs, Old West cinnamon rolls, Trench Rats cheeseburger — there is always the allure of the new. What wacky combination or spin on a classic has made its way along the fair circuit to our fair Kern. Here's a look at some of the new items.
Cinnamon bun waffles (Teen Challenge): If you love the Old West cinnamon rolls — and if you don't, what's wrong with you? — you'll appreciate these waffles, new from Teen Challenge. Made fresh in their booth in Building 3, these waffles are packed with cinnamon flavor and served as crisp wedges topped with a cream cheese glaze. Each order ($6) is two wedges, which are easy to share or scarf, as the mood takes you. The concession is also selling plain waffles, which you can top with strawberries and whipped cream ($2 more).
Chicken in waffle cone (Teen Challenge): Speaking of waffles, the concession at its Main Street stand is offering a savory version of fried chicken strips in a waffle cone with coleslaw or tater tots ($8). I opted for coleslaw in the one I tried, which was quite good. My suggestions: Ask for a paper boat with your cone. As you start eating, you'll want to take out a strip or two to make it manageable. The boat is also good for pouring in your Tapatio hot sauce for dipping. Also get the maple syrup for that bit of sweetness.
Dole whip (Lynn's Udder Delight, Egg Roll on a Stick): In a surprise move, there are actually two concessions serving Dole whip. I recommend Lynn's, which is on Grand Avenue near the Union side entrance. They serve it as a float ($8) with pineapple juice and that makes it the best slushie consistency. It's as close to Disneyland's version as we can get locally. (Why doesn't one of our local yogurt shops jump on this bandwagon?)
Award-winning mac 'n' cheese (Countryside Market): The local market chain, which has taken top honors at the Mac N Cheese Fest in both Bakersfield and Avila Beach with its chile verde mac, has a concession on Main Street on your way to the carnival. They're serving the winning mac along with a superior butter chicken mac ($8 per bowl), spiced with curry and packed with succulent chicken. Plan to share a combo ($10), which includes the decadent peanut butter cream cup dessert ($2 on its own). Served in a small cup, it's also portable enough to take to go (along with your cinnamon roll, baked potato and karmel korn).
Gelato milkshake (Fabe's Churros & Gelato, Work to Give): The concession formerly known as Colossal Gelato is back with a bigger rig, umbrellas and a bigger menu that includes a pizookie (cookie topped with gelato), doughnut gelato sandwich and massive gelato milkshakes. The shakes ($12), available in six varieties, are the Instagram-worthy indulgences, served in a commemorative mug piled high with toppings. The LAPD has a full doughnut garnish and the s'more and Oreo options have a marshmallow stack. Ask for at least two straws and share; these babies could send solo sippers into a sugar shock.
Chicharron chalupa (Noel's in the Villa Festiva): This was the biggest surprise for me. Although the concession has a photo up of this new dish ($9), I wasn't sure what to expect. It's a massive chicharron (pork rind) topped with lettuce, crema, cotija, tomatoes, avocado and hot sauce. Noel's also has its own salsa you can add but I was worried about how I could eat it. If you like pork rinds, this is one for you. Definitely shareable — use a utensil to break it into segments — or you can go to town and claim it as your own.
What I didn't get to — yet: I didn't make it to Noel's Foods (on Grand Avenue) to try the Flamin' Hot Cheetos corn. I'm a big fan of Mexican street corn and intend to try this popular spicy combination (that is also offered the rest of the year at Dos Tacos on California Avenue, known as flamin elote). I also didn't get to try Toucan Enterprises' deep-fried fruit punch since the concession was not ready to go on frying the punchy treat when I was there Thursday (but I will be back).
Must-try: Mill Creek Christian Church, with the Christian Men's Fellowship has stepped up its popcorn game. The longtime concession — 76 years! — known for its Original Karmel Korn is now offering 25 different flavors. Volunteer Mark Jones is the flavor finder, concocting such unique options as French bread (garlic and butter), pepperoni pizza, dill pickle, ghost pepper, chocolate marshmallow and a variety of fruits. Bags come in small ($3.50), medium ($6.50) and large ($7), with the option to customize the mix. I'd recommend Chicago style (caramel and cheddar).
Locals get in on fair time
Local businesses often bemoan the fair when it claims many residents' expendable income during its 12-day run. But a few savvy business owners know if you can beat 'em, join 'em. In the past, Moo Creamery has run fair-themed specials offering items to compete with popular carnival fare.
This year, two downtown spots stepped up their fair-time promotions. The Hens Roost, known for providing the best vegan food downtown, threw down the gauntlet with a vegan corndog, fried in a tempura cornmeal batter. It also heated up the fryer with a deep-fried cinnamon roll.
The plan going into the second week of the fair is egg rolls on a stick, baked potatoes, funnel cakes and churros. If you want to check out what they're experimenting with, visit the shop (1916 G St.) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday or 9 a.m to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
Tiki-Ko, long known for its tasty tiki drink specials with fun names, took inspiration from the fair's musical acts. It unveiled a trio of tribute drinks: Bourbon Smash(mouth), a mix of bourbon, muddled mint and lemon, fresh lemon juice, and house made simple syrup ($8); Sour of Power, with Plantation Stiggin’s Pineapple and Don Q Gold rum, house-made passion fruit syrup, and hearty squeeze of fresh lime juice ($9); and Gin Vogue, combining gin, fresh lime and orange juice, pineapple juice and house-made grenadine with a float of Grand Marnier ($10).
Once you take the family to the fair, drop the kids off with the grandparents or babysitter and chill out in the dark with these drinks. Tiki-Ko is at 1919 K St.