2017-08-11 / Family

Sampling the fare at the fair while sticking to a diet

Sweet and savory tempt taste buds
By Becca Whitnall

DIG RIGHT IN—Katie McIlhaney of Camarillo and George Neeson of Thousand Oaks share a grasshopper shake made with mint and chocolate gelato from the Fabe’s booth at the Ventura County Fair on Aug. 6. 
ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers DIG RIGHT IN—Katie McIlhaney of Camarillo and George Neeson of Thousand Oaks share a grasshopper shake made with mint and chocolate gelato from the Fabe’s booth at the Ventura County Fair on Aug. 6. ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers Corn dogs, funnel cakes, deepfried Twinkies. For some, the once a year fried feast is the reason to come to the Ventura County Fair.

“It’s all about the food,” said Tony Gomez, 48, of Newbury Park. “The kids like the animals and the rides, but where else are you going to get your fix of baby sugar doughnuts and fudge?”

He was referring to the sweet treats that have been located to the right of the Commercial building’s main entrance since I began coming to the fair as a kid—back in the days when it took place in the fall, closer to harvest time, and we got Fair Day off from school to watch the parade—or even march in it—and attend the fair that day.

As a kid, I’d have been right there with Gomez, his own two adult children and three grandchildren, trying the new or new to me food items this year’s fair has to offer. Heck, most years I’d do that.

Ice cream sandwiches made with coiled churros for the “bread” and sundaes stacked atop cinnamon buns beckoned me and my sweet tooth, and I’d usually be game to try the chocolate-covered bacon caramel apples offered at one of the booths along the main drag had I not just started a(nother) new diet.

Instead, I ate before entering the fair, thinking I’d remove some temptation. It worked for a while but after some hours, I was ready to join my friends and eat again.

They hit up the Dippin’ Dots ice cream booth first. Then someone got a pineapple Dole Whip and another stood in line for a potato that had been cut into a spiral and fried. It was served wrapped around a stick to keep it standing tall. Meanwhile, I sipped my Aquafina.

Later, I managed to pass on the fried watermelon, one of the new offerings Public Relations and Marketing Director James Lockwood had told me about before the fair opened.

“A company called Planet Cookies will have a lot of different food things, like Belgian waffles on a stick, and another company has gourmet licorice by the yard,” he said, extolling sugary delights before getting to the fried fare. “Also this year, to go with the fried Twinkies and things, is deep-fried pineapple and watermelon.”

The thought of breaded and hot watermelon does nothing for me, so it was easy to pass up, but not too far from that booth, I spotted some fresh fruit. I began to think just maybe the choices weren’t limited to either giving in to temptation or staring longingly at the slowly disappearing strawberries and whipped cream topping a piping-hot funnel cake a friend was devouring.

I began to stop feeling sorry for myself about what I couldn’t have and started to realize there were actually quite a few things I could eat that wouldn’t cause eternal guilt.

First, I saw the Spencer Makenzie’s booth. I’m too squeamish to order the ahi poke— something about raw fish at the fair being against my better judgment, even as reputable as Spencer Makenzie’s is—but I could see myself ordering a fish taco there or at one of the other booths that sold them.

The roasted-corn booth could work as well. It offers corn covered in butter and even powdered Doritos, but without those toppings I could stay on my eating plan.

Corn was on the menu down the way at another booth that sells garlic chicken kabobs and turkey drumsticks. Peel off the skin and the turkey leg is pure lean protein. Yes, please.

For those not watching their waistline, it also offers baconwrapped pork belly, which a friend noted was basically baconwrapped bacon. I failed to see a problem with that concept—other than that whole diet thing.

In the end, I found plenty to fit in my plan and, with that out of the way, I could go back to focusing on the fun versus the food.

It’s not too late for you to do the same.

The fair runs through Sunday. Hours vary by section, but generally the fairgrounds open at 11 a.m. and close at 11 p.m.

General admission is $12, and tickets for children 5 to 12 and seniors 65 to 99 are $9. Admission is free for kids 4 and younger and seniors 100 and older.

Parking is $10 per car, or visit venturacountyfair.org to see where to catch a free shuttle.

Whitnall, a reporter for the Acorn, is a Ventura County native.

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