Everyone knows that the big draw for the Kern County Fair — any fair really — is the food. From the sublimely sweet to the fantastically fried, few can resist the rich confections and outrageous combinations. Even the Food Network and Cooking Channel have hopped on board with shows devoted to carnival delicacies.
And locals will be happy to know that some of those TV-worthy treats are headed to Bakersfield as soon as Wednesday, when the 12-day Kern County Fair kicks off.
Each of the fair’s three new concessions have received the TV star treatment: Mariah’s Fair Treats, with its funnel cake bacon cheeseburger and ice cream doughnut sandwich; the jalapeno cheese pretzel with a cinnamon candy dip from PHD & Me; and Willamette Valley Pie Co. with pies bursting with berries grown in Oregon.
Of course, you don’t have to trust the TV shows. Take it from Willamette Valley Pie Co. owner Michael Compton, who runs his concession with wife Stephanie.
“My favorite is Oregon berry cobbler,” Compton said of the menu of pies, cobblers, turnovers and cookies. “It’s a mixture of marionberry, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and boysenberry.
“It is so good that at the Ventura County Fair, they dubbed it ‘crack in a bowl,’” referring to its addictive quality.
“And the name stuck.”
Fair concessions supervisor Jeannie Burton is excited to welcome the new food vendors as well as novel items from returning vendors.
“Mac and cheese is big this year,” she said. “We have fried mac and cheese balls from Southern Comfort Kitchen. And Southern Sierra Boy Scouts is doing a potato this year that will be topped with mac and cheese.”
Even with hundreds of options and new treats, fairgoers still have their favorites, Burton said.
“Fried items are the most popular menus on the ground,” she said. “And barbecue, anything barbecue, and the sweets.”
A look at the list of last year’s top 10 concessions by sales supports Burton’s assertion.Among the most popular spots: Golden West BBQ, West Coast Bubba’s BBQ, Martin’s barbecue booth, JP’s Old West Cinnamon Rolls, Toucan Enterprises’ funnel cakes, Golden West’s fries concession and Steve’s, which serves corn dogs, burritos and other fried goodies.
Burton said people are also drawn to destination spots, which they may visit even if the menu items are not unique to the fair.
“A couple of them (in the top 10) are destinations because they really enjoy the food. Even baked potatoes from the Boy Scouts. You can get a baked potato any day, but it just seems to be something that people gravitate to when they’re here.”
Burton also praised Strassner’s B-B-Q (No. 11) and its deep pit, the Kern County Basque Club (No. 12) with pickled tongue sandwiches and Senor Carlos in the Villa Festiva with his steamed corn.
“They’ve got a table with hot sauce, mayonnaise, butter, cheese — you name it. Six to eight different toppings.
“The Kiwanis does corn. Noel’s has his Mexican corn. Corn is very, very popular.”
Although she didn’t have numbers on the corn, Burton said a related product — corn dogs — sets the record as a top seller.
“It’s unbelievable the number of corn dogs that are sold,” she said, noting that 120,000 were sold last year at a number of stands.
Matching those numbers, dog for dessert, are the cinnamon rolls, which come from the Pismo Beach-based JP’s two locations.
“In the evening, we have a cinnamon roll location inside building Number 2. The majority of people will line up there to buy boxes of cinnamon rolls to take home.
“That’s the last building we close at the fair.”