In the words of Templeton the rat and Goose from the children’s book "Charlotte’s Web," the fair is “a veritable smorgasbord” of food and the Kern County Fair is no different, offering a wide variety of delicacies ranging from sweet to savory to deep fried to meaty and more.
Tucked away with the popular classic fair food such as the corn dogs, cinnamon rolls, funnel cakes and turkey legs — and local favorites such as the Boy Scouts' baked potatoes and the Basque and barbecue offerings — are lesser-known hidden gems that are awaiting more adventurous crowds, or those just wanting to try something different.
Here is a sampling of hidden gems of the Kern County Fair:
Deep fried grilled cheese sandwich — Maddy Moo’s on Main St. ($6.50)
Let’s dive right in on what would be classified as classic “fair food,” and one of my favorite items at the fair. Maddy Moo’s specializes in various cheesy snacks such as mac and cheese, rainbow grilled cheese, and even sells cartons of milk.
However, their most unique item is the deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich, which is, you guessed it, a regular grilled cheese sandwich that is battered in a cornmeal-like batter and deep fried, served with a side of pickles.
The strange thing is that it works. The batter is hearty but allows the bread of the sandwich to melt into it, creating one big fried cheese triangle. Think a larger and more filling version of cheese on a stick from Hot Dog on a Stick in the food court of Valley Plaza.
One note: It will be hot and greasy when you get it, but letting it cool down some eliminates the extra grease. I enjoy this with a side of ketchup for dipping. Obviously not the healthiest thing to eat, but it’s classic fair food you won’t likely find anywhere else.
Marionberry Pie — Willamette Valley Pie Co. on Grand Ave. ($8)
Coming into town all the way from Willamette, Ore., which is about a half hour outside of Portland, is the regional specialty fruit the marionberry, which is a hybrid berry mixing an olallie blackberry and a chehalem blackberry.
Described to me as a “blackberry on steroids,” it certainly lived up to that hype, providing a sweet, yet tangy flavor but it wasn’t too bitter like a regular blackberry. It gives off a beautiful dark purple hue inside the flaky homemade crust of the miniature pie, which can also be served a la mode with ice cream.
For a more tolerable and flavorful version of a blackberry pie (they also serve it in cobbler form), and a taste of Oregon’s finest produce, give this one a try.
Pizza Bombs — Mac’s Fine Food next to Hall 2 in main entrance ($7 for order of 3)
Mac’s is a well-known establishment at the fair, but with so many different options, some fall through the cracks. One of those is the pizza bombs. The bombs are small spheres of cooked pizza dough filled with mozzarella cheese and a slice of pepperoni. The dough is then brushed with garlic, butter, and Parmesan cheese and is served with a side of marinara sauce.
Think small calzone bites or what a restaurant version of a frozen pizza roll would be. As a pizza lover, I enjoyed these; however, they could have used a little more cheese inside to add to the gooeyness within. However, it is a quick, easy snack to pop in your mouth, especially if you’re just looking for a snack on the go and aren’t interested in sitting down or having to hold food.
Jalapeno Bombers — Teen Challenge on Main St. ($5 for an order of 3)
A fair warning for this item: If you don’t like spicy foods, this is not the choice for you. If you are a fan, however, then get ready because these are jalapeno poppers taken to the next level. Recommended to me by my college newspaper adviser a couple of years ago, they take a full jalapeno pepper, gut out the insides and fill it with a heaping serving of cream cheese. It is then wrapped in a long strip of bacon and coated with their fried chicken batter then deep fried and served with a side of ranch dressing to dip.
I’ll admit, I cried a couple of times eating one of these behemoths, and not because I had learned at the same time that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a possible torn ACL. Regardless, this dish is one of the better deals in the entire fair at $5 price for three bombers that will truly test your limits of spiciness.
Spiral Spud — Pastrami King on Main St. ($8)
While more popular than the other items on this list, I see it as a hidden gem for the presentation alone. A potato is spiral cut then woven on a stick then fried and seasoned with your choice of eight spices (salt and vinegar, ranch, jalapeno nacho, barbecue, Parmesan garlic, sour cream and onion, pizza and bacon cheddar), leaving you with a large homemade potato chip on a stick. Pastrami King also helps Congregation B’nai Jacob so it also goes to a good cause as well.